With companies like WeWork and Spaces entering the Canadian market, entrepreneurs now have an alternative to renting a traditional office. Shared workspaces are cheaper and offer a chance to interact with like-minded individuals, potential customers and even investors. These advantages drove a 16% rise in the number of co-working spaces in the U.S. last year and a 36% increase around the world.
Beyond the industry giants like WeWork, there are now shared workspaces that cater to specific demographics, such as parents or female entrepreneurs. Freelancers, self-employed individuals and start-ups all have plenty of options in this booming industry. Below, a guid to five niche Canadian co-working options.
Amanda Munday had two kids—aged two and four—and a job in the tech sector. She struggled to find a co-working space that catered to working parents as well as affordable and flexible childcare options. So she founded the Workaround, a shared workspace with breastfeeding suites and childcare. Munday says the space provides parents with “high-levels of care for their children, while also having a place to work.”
Located in Toronto’s East End, Munday says The Workaround solves a number of problems for working parents, particularly mothers. “Women really have these feelings of being torn between leaving their job and staying at home to care for their kids,” she said. “The Workaround is able to keep women in the workforce while also keeping their children in good care.”
The space is increasingly popular. Since its opening back in Oct. 2018, more than 300 members have used it; more than half are now paying monthly members. Roughly 33% of those members use the centre’s child care options, but it attracts other parents interested in supporting Munday’s vision.
Munday says she’d like to eventually open another Workaround space in Brampton or Mississauga, where options for flexible and affordable childcare options remain sparse. As for competition from other co-working spaces, Munday says she isn’t intimidated by bigger names in the industry. The Workaround is run “by parents for parents,” whose needs may be otherwise overlooked by larger players.
Make Lemonade founder Rachel Kelly used to freelance out of coffee shops, but missed the sense of community that came with a traditional office setting. Looking to find that community online, she joined a number of support groups for entrepreneurs but then noticed there wasn’t a physical space for them to come together. Feeling dissatisfied with the other co-working spaces she had frequented across the city, Kelly decided to open up her own space. “There was something else that I needed and wasn’t able to find it in the city, so I decided to create it.”
After opening in 2017, Kelly says progression was a slow in attracting a steady membership, while also learning how to run a business and navigate the shared workspace industry. But in the months since building the space and sharpening their marketing strategies, she says the space’s membership has grown to include just under 200 monthly members.
Putting an emphasis on the community aspect has also been a big motivator in attracting more members. “Sure, we have a great space and free Wi-Fi, but people join because they want to connect and are looking for a community,” she said.
Located in Vancouver, The Hive is a non-profit for socially conscious business owners focused on providing its members with a strong sense of community. The space was founded by Eesmyal Santos-Brault and Jeremy Murphy, business owners working in the energy and sustainability sectors who wanted to house their companies in something other than a conventional office setting. After a series of volunteer-led renovations and paint jobs, The Hive came to exist. The entrepreneurial pair who helped to found the space continue to work out of it today, alongside other businesses owners.
While the space’s membership isn’t strictly limited to socially-conscious companies, most businesses operating out of the space subscribe to the vision. If individuals self-identify as being socially-conscious while not working for a company that reflects their values, they’re also welcome in the space. “If you think you belong at The Hive, you probably do,” says Melissa Hope, director of operations at The Hive. “The people here want to make the world a better place.”
Since its opening back in May 2011, the facility has gained around 200 paid members representing more than 150 different companies. But physically expanding the space and its membership list hasn’t been top priority for The Hive. Hope says they’re more focused on “providing the best community we can” for their members. Today, that translates to co-working parties and lunch and learns that allow for members to “share their passions with each other.”
Opened in 2015, The Fold caters to the needs of interior designers, architects and landscapers in the west end of Toronto. Co-founders Vanessa Fong, an architect, and Ryan Taylor, also in the design industry, identified this gap in the co-working market. Despite opening the space based on anecdotal advice and little market research, Taylor said he knew “that it would work”.
Creating a space that is accommodating for design-focused entrepreneurs has involved careful planning. Taylor said they’ve invested in custom-made desks with large square footage. They also offer ample storage space for wood samples, tiles, windows, and paint chips designers use as samples for their clients.Another feature differentiating the space from competitors are the high-end, quiet and professional areas available for meeting with clients. They provide an alternative to the “hustle and bustle” of other co-working options, Taylor says.
While it took about a year after the space’s opening to grow its membership, it’s been filled to its 16-member capacity for the past two years. The appeal of the space, says Taylor, has been in its distancing from the “cram-packed” and “hodgepodge” cluttered environment he’s seen around similar spaces. “We wanted to cater to a higher-end client and offer the best look and feel for their clients,” he said.
The Amp in Vancouver has a similar mission to The Hive—its membership consist primarily of social enterprises and non-profit organizations. The members are working towards “the greater good” as the space’s community manager, Anna Collingridge, describes it. Although not all of the 90 or so permanent and part-time members using the space are social enterprises and non-profits, Collingridge says that around 90% of its membership base is. Those that aren’t still share the space’s vision of creating positive change, and addressing some of the economic, social and environmental problems in Vancouver.
Among the members are Lighthouse, a company specializing in sustainable building practices. Or EcoTrust Canada, which offers consulting services to Indigenous communities and fisheries. The company also works on community energy projects that promote healthy and safe heating projects in rural communities. There’s also B.C. Cycling, that promotes non-fuel powered methods of transportation, such as cycling and carpooling.
Unlike other shared workspaces, The Amp doesn’t have any hot desks for outsiders to drop in. Its permanent desks for members are designed to foster a sense of community among the “change-makers” that frequent the space. And with the facility currently packed at 90 per cent capacity, they’ve managed to create that close-knit sense of community.
Collingridge says The Amp doesn’t yet have the capital it needs to expand and grow into a bigger space, but she isn’t intimidated by the competition that comes with bigger names in the co-working industry. Non-profits are drawn to The Amp because of its mission and reputation.