Synergising a working style
The idea of co-working, different businesses and individuals operating side-by-side under the same roof, is an on-the-job style which has gained momentum and converts over the past decade.
For many it is a way to afford to do business in the middle of a city freed from fixed location and space expenses required when signing up to a two to five year lease.
For others it is a way round the single side of working alone - socialisation as a consequence of being alongside others.
Of course, for some the forced ‘togetherness’ and lack of their own defined office and desk area is a stress-inducing challenge to their own sense of security and best way of working.
For James Walshe, owner of two co-working spaces under the brand ‘The Settlement’ the working style is all the above, plus more.
Because James is, and will continue to deliberately target, non-central-city locations for his flavour of co-working, and build upon the advantages he sees for like minded individuals and businesses to leverage all the positive aspects of flexible workspaces.
His Technology Valley Petone and Porirua ‘The Settlement’ locations are “building a really good reputation; partly because our members have chosen to be outside the CBD,” James says.
“They realise they have all the amenities you have in a central city location, but you don’t have to battle the traffic or pay for parking.
“Those are valuable cost savings.”
At the same time any of those CBD clients who do require a face to face visit are quite readily accessible at off-peak hours, while getting to and from home is a breeze for the majority of The Settlement residents. The latter point, especially in an earthquake-prone region such as Wellington, has been another positive factor in The Settlement’s growth says James.
Such growth has been organic and obviously need-fulfilling in the 18 months the Petone site has been open since November 2017 (Porirua opened in October 2018).
Petone’s now home to 80 individuals and about 32 business, and at near capacity for its permanent residents.
Co-working members have the option of being either hot-desking (pack up their gear at the end of the day) or permanent (set up and leave their monitor in place).
“I originally thought we would have about a 50:50 split between permanents and hot-deskers,” says James, who set up Scratch Design in the early 2000s after returning from overseas travel. Scratch was one of Petone The Settlement’s first residents, but has recently been sold to a former team member.
“Many people start out hot-desking, but soon realise the advantages of becoming permanent - even though it does cost more.
“There’s many benefits that fulltimers receive, such as after hours access, and a majority of our residents have now taken that option.”
Businesses range from one-person operations, through 2-3 people, and one company, ‘Align’ has 14.
James says this urban planning consultancy also occupies co-working spaces in Christchurch and Auckland, and “being in that line of business are passionate about people working in and around the city.”
Limited number of start-ups
Contrary to some people’s perceptions of who adopts a co-working model, hardly any of The Settlement’s residents are start-ups.
“Instead, business owners often they have families, their own home, and are likely to be established in their business,” he says.
“They’re from a diverse range of industries including designers, engineers, PR and marketing. We have a comedian, and a very interesting company called Taska who are making and selling a prosthetic robotic hand which sells around the world.
“There’s also social enterprise businesses, and we’re particularly appealing to business owners who find they can quite often be lonely but who like to be around others.
“Coming to The Settlement they find they socialise and interact with others. They become more productive because there’s a really good vibe happening. It is a space that inspires people to get things done.”
The other advantages of a co-working space is residents don’t have to worry about any of the myriad things that can eat up valuable working time...people can concentrate on their work. It is the job of The Settlement’s management to attend to issues such as the internet, electricity, heating, paper in the printer, and the general ambiance and look of the place.
People also only need to sign up on a month by month basis, there’s no long lease required and a single bill covers everything...including tea and coffee!
Another, actively managed component of The Settlement is what is loosely worded, but often hard to define, ‘community’.
Some residents have very little or no engagement with other residents or activities which might be on offer.
Other residents are active participants in freshly-baked scones and coffee put on fortnightly by The Settlement, the monthly (diaried and arranged) drinks, or even an arranged bus trip and visit to ‘BrewTown’ in Upper Hutt - ‘where a good night was had by all,” says James.
“If people don’t want to take part though, we don’t force them. People can be as social or as unsocial as they want.”
Another increasingly important feature is the use of The Settlement as wider community hub. The co-working space has partnered with WREDA (regional development agency), Creative HQ (incubator) and Hutt City Council.
At least once a month a specially invited speaker provides a presentation of interest to benefit the wider community around subjects such as, but not excluded to, business continuity, intellectual property protection and wellbeing.
James says there’s a good attendance at such events, especially from outside the resident population - which indicates how valuable the presentations are and a positive environment for The Settlement to be able to provide.
In summarising, James says not everyone understands how co-working works, or what it is like.
“When they come in our doors though, they find it quite compelling.
“If they try it for a week, they’re going to want to stay. They become addicted.
“It’s an environment where people can comfortably come in, take risks, try something new...even try to develop something on the side of their main gig.
“The Settlement’s a space for local businesses to gather, a space to inspire.”
(Picture - James and Meredith Walshe, owners of co-working space The Settlement)