Opening the door to coworking spaces

A random walk along Dundas St. West towards Chinatown made me notice something bright out of the corner of my eye.

photo (1)I thought it odd yet refreshing to see something colourful framed against the overall winter drabness of connecting buildings.

First impression made me think it was some sort of event or workshop. The signage was posted behind a glass door and the words “gizmo” popped right out.

So I thought, “cool! @Gizmodo‘s hosting an event in the city.. who knew, right?” Wrong.

A closer look made me realize that I’ve stumbled upon a local coworking space. I was thrilled at how visible the startup community can be, almost anywhere you are—even right in your own backyard.

So I decided to take a snapshot and share it on Twitter. Naturally, in the due course of social media serendipity, I ended up connecting with @gizmolabsTO and one of their founders @amirhabibz.

Because of my longstanding interest in the forms and dynamics of workplaces, I referred Amir to an archived copy of a ReadWrite article that envisions the workplace of the future and what elements it may entail.

Amir sees a general trend of the “workforce moving towards a leaner team. Most leaders in the modern workforce are wearing two hats since innovation is becoming big.”

Whether or not leaner teams are a direct byproduct of innovative efforts remains to be seen. But as I suggested before, there has indeed been a growing trend in many work environments for workers to become ‘generalists’.

Of course, there are pro’s and con’s to this trend. And the increase of generalists may have even influenced the growing emergence of coworking spaces and how its modern format incubated and hatched.

But on to my local discovery..

gizmolabs2aWho is Gizmolabs?

Amir tells me that Gizmolabs sprouted from a small community of makers and young startup fanatics and was created to provide startups, entrepreneurs, freelancers, designers, and independents with the much needed space, community and resources.

“We fill our space with passionate and dedicated people to help each other grow. Our space has been around for a year now and we have connected with a lot of great leaders and creatives.”

It’s no wonder there is a strong creative flavour to Gizmolabs. Their physical location is in fact right beside the two local bastions of art: the Art Gallery of Ontario (the whale skeleton) and the Ontario College of Art and Design (the floating cow).

But how exactly does one “help each other grow” when sharing work space?

“Networking is an essential component for all independents and entrepreneurs. A coworking space gives you the opportunity to meet and connect with people who you wouldn’t usually have contact with,” Amir points out. For example, we have talented marketing startups in our space who help others through referrals and advice. This usually comes in the form of generosity to create business relationships. These relationships are what help small companies and independents grow one step at a time.”

More than just cost-savings

The concept of sharing work spaces is actually not that new, especially within artistic circles. I have known many artists (painters, artisans, dancers and fashion designers) who have joined forces with others to share space.

gismolabs1Admittedly, the most practical reason behind a communal format is to share the cost of using the space itself. But is that really the only value proposition that makes contemporary coworking spaces more viable, long-term options for entrepreneurs and self-employed professionals alike?

“Coworking is about an innovative collective of independents who work in an open collaborative environment. This is something you can’t get in a regular work place,” Amir notes.

But in what specific ways do open collaborative spaces benefit those individuals and groups who opt to work in this set up?

“There are more benefits to a coworking space than just the space. Some independents can’t stand working at home and become more efficient in a coworking community. Others use the networking and information aspect of the space and some just use the resources. In terms of collaboration, we have developers who work independently and help each other when faced with technical issues,” says Amir.

Not just for startups

At hindsight, coworking seems almost exclusively conducive to individuals, independents, startups and freelancers.

“Coworking is not just for a certain type of entrepreneur or organization,” Amir points  out. “We have members from big companies such as Intel who work remotely and need a space to work in. We’re also giving space to designers, agencies, and sometimes teachers who need a community-driven space.”

Having been used to studio spaces where artists would only literally share the space and its maintenance, the modern day “coworking office” clearly offers more sophisticated advantages in comparison.

Like most other coworking spaces, Gizmolabs is set up to be flexible and modular depending on their member’s needs, offering a number of resources from standard office hardware to conferencing.

$T2eC16JHJH0FG1)sTCqvBSD81dygUw~~48_2“Some coworking spaces have a theme. In other words they’re only for designers, makers, startups or gamers. So if you’re not in any of that you can’t join. We’re still experimenting with that idea ourselves. We mostly have developers and startups in our space, but we haven’t excluded anyone from our space yet,” confirms Amir.

Coworking Phase 2

The sharing economy—highly popularized by the startup denizens of Silicon Valley—has given rise to many popular services that have successfully broken into the mainstream, like Uber and AirBnB.

Given need and demand, coworking spaces could surely evolve and offer more different types and services to help expand its market share. So I asked Amir’s thoughts on  how straightforward it would be for coworking orgs to start other locations in other regions/markets. And how practical it would be for coworking spaces to expand to offer overnight accommodations for members or the public.

“If there is demand then growing it is simple. It’s not that complicated to setup a coworking space and make resources available. The hard part is creating a warm community and gathering people over one roof. Currently we have daily membership for people to use the space. Although there hasn’t been much demand at the moment, I can see that in the future overnight accommodation can be a possibility.”

Gizmolabs is located on 298 Dundas St. W – Level3, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5T 1G2.

Are you a local Toronto or Canadian startup, independent, freelancer or self-employed entrepreneur? Tell me you story. And I’ll help you share it: @autom8

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