Coworking in New Zealand: The Evolution of the Office Space

Updated: Mar 13, 2020

By now, most people will be familiar with the concept of coworking. This economical, shared office model has been embraced in Wellington by Bureau since 2016.

Since the first shared office space was established in 2009, the coworking trend has been growing exponentially in New Zealand, suggesting this is more than just a fad. It’s great for freelancers and start-ups, but because the benefits of coworking are so far-reaching - from a marked decrease in feelings of isolation to an increase in creative thinking - the model has been adopted for small and large businesses alike. 

Coworking as a concept is relatively new, but outside of New Zealand, it has been growing steadily since 2005, when the first coworking space was opened in San Francisco by software engineer Brad Neuberg.

Neuberg was struggling financially, and made a deal with Spiral Muse, a feminist collective, to have access to a space inside their building two days a week for $300 a month. Any money he made on top of that was his to keep. 

Demand grew quickly, and Neuberg and others who worked in the space moved to a full time location. 

And thus, coworking was born. 

The coworking movement, on the whole, remains similar now to what it was like in its infancy. But there are so many different types of spaces now - from large, community and networking-focused environments, to smaller, more focused drop-in spaces. 

The common thread, of course, is that a lot of people are done with working from home, libraries, and noisy cafes. 

The premise of coworking is simple - making a physical space available to anyone who wants to sign up and work. Usually, this will include certain perks and facilities, but what these are will vary from one space to another.

Some memberships will be fairly bare-bones, and these are designed to keep costs low and provide a place to work that isn’t at home. 

You can move your way up the luxury coworking ladder until you see facilities that have every perk you can imagine - yoga classes, an in-house barista, a fully stocked bar, and more.   

Okay, so while you can take coworking to whatever level you like, the original spirit of coworking was all about saving some dough while inspiring freedom, independence, and a sense of community for freelancers. 

Spaces that stick to a more traditional model in New Zealand are usually found in smaller centers rather than in cities, where competition is higher. The community environment is very much led by the members, and the feeling can change when members turnover. 

Some teams and businesses require a private area to work in due to elements like noise levels, confidential conversations or sensitive information. For these people, the traditional coworking won’t be quite right - people around you can hear your conversations, for example, or might be able to see your screen. 

However, if this situation sounds like you, you’ll still be able to take advantage of coworking spaces that offer private office rental. These are usually more corporate environments and come with a higher price tag, but you’ll know exactly what you’re getting. These spaces are generally less concerned with networking or bringing people together - they just want to provide an effective work space that anyone who needs it can use.  

Smaller coworking spaces could be anything from a few like-minded friends or business acquaintances renting an office space together, to a small, functional business. The lower head count in these spaces makes for closer relationships between the members, and events are relatively easy to coordinate and more affordable to host. 

In New Zealand, smaller coworking spaces often spark in a similar way that the first coworking space did -  from an individual who is sick of working from home but can’t afford an office, or from somebody who has a small team and requires somewhere for them to work. By renting a space that is larger than they need, they are able to rent out the extra space and turn it into a small business. 

Coworking on a big scale is risky business just like any other big investment. In this case, so much depends on demand. If you have a space that can fit 4000 people, you need to be sure you’ll be able to find those people, and that they will prefer this model of coworking over smaller, more intimate settings.

The way that some larger coworking spaces address this is by encouraging whole teams or businesses to join, regardless of how many people are involved. You’re unlikely to find 4000 freelancers or remote workers who will agree to swarm to one place in New Zealand, but you might be able to find a few businesses that want a cool place to put their larger teams.

This starts to look more like individual leases - kind of like what bigger businesses were already doing before coworking took off. However, the influence of coworking has modernised and tweaked the traditional office model, and now there are options for just about anything you might ever need. 

The scope for growth is also a wonderful benefit of this model - if you start with a team of 30 but it grows to 100, there is no need to move premises like there might have been in the old days - you’d just extend the space you already have. 

Scaling a business can be stressful enough without having to think about where on earth you’re going to put your employees, or having to anticipate your growth and expand before you’re quite ready to. Most coworking spaces have the capacity for their members to occupy more desks as they need them, so you’ll never have to pay for more space than you need. Similarly, if you have remote workers or your staff need to travel, they can take up a desk at a different location for the short or long-term.

Anyone who has ever worked from home knows how difficult it can be to get motivated to work in the same space you relax or spend time with family. Even if you are amazing at your work routine, the temptation to keep your PJ bottoms on, or do some chores during the working day is ever-present. This can lead to decreased focus (or that scatterbrained feeling), and dragging your workday out longer than is necessary.    

Coworking really does combat feelings of isolation and loneliness for freelancers and contractors. For larger businesses, it means a pool of talent you might not otherwise have access to - and this often translates into learning opportunities for staff. 

Certainly, coworking is less pricey than renting your own office, whether that’s for one or multiple people. This is because the shared facilities and resources keep the overheads lower per person. 

Whether the space you choose is a more professional, focused one, or it’s jam-packed with events and meetups, you’re still putting yourself into the sphere of other people every day.

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