Growing trend: creative collaboration

Charlotte Kan
Charlotte Kan
Pop-up, collaborative and co-working spaces are byproducts of the ‘sharing economy’, where individuals with flexible schedules, different occupations but shared values can interact and work alongside each other for a few hours, a day or a year. Vision.ae investigates these part café, part high-tech business incubators that are mushrooming in the world’s most innovative cities

Thanks to the advent of the internet and collaborative technologies, a growing number of individuals are able to work when they like, wherever they like. However, despite the attractions of home working, many house-bound workers feel unfulfilled.

A recent international survey by business analyst Mindmetre commissioned by Regus, the world’s largest provider of flexible working spaces, shows a number of distractions are an obstacle to productivity when working from home, with the biggest hurdle being children or family members demanding attention (59%).

“In addition to the results from our survey, there are reports that people who work from home feel isolated and suffer from too little social contact that would normally occur on an everyday basis. In flexible, multi-user environments they get to make new acquaintances,” says Michael Barth, CEO of Regus Germany.

Co-working

Hence the success of co-working. According to online magazine Deskmag, the movement has roughly doubled in size each year since 2006, and there are now more than 1,100 co-working spaces worldwide. Deskmag’s recent Global Co-working Survey shows that most users feel they are more motivated (85%), have better interaction with other people (88%), and earn more money (42%) since they joined a co-working space.

Featuring in the 2012 Start Ups 100 list, Central Working has just opened its third ‘members-only club’ in the trendy East London area of Shoreditch, the capital’s own mini-Silicon Valley. “We provide an environment that stimulates business growth and collaboration,” explains Steve Pette, who co-founded the business.

Described by Kevin Eyres, founder of LinkedIn Europe, as ‘like LinkedIn for the real world’, the place is welcoming, with bespoke and colourful furniture livening up the industrialist-style first floor of a nondescript building. Jazz music can be heard in the background while young people are busying themselves in front of MacBook Airs.

Members are an eclectic bunch. Ravinder Roopra, who sits next to venture capitalists, coders and web developers, is an ex-barrister who “gave up the rat race” to develop Audaca, a range of natural skincare products for men. On the other side of the office, a group of young Italians are developing a business Pette describes as ‘Instagram meets eBay’. There is also a pirate-hunter: “Someone who has developed an app mapping the area where pirates operate. He then sells the information to shipping companies.”

Three thousand, four hundred miles away in Dubai, Australian-born Leith Matthews has also created a space nurturing entrepreneurship. The Make Business Hub located in Al Fattan Tower in Jumeirah Beach Residence, caters for the local ‘mobile working community’.

Inviting space

Make, self-described as ‘the home of young business & big ideas’, says it takes the best of both café and office and “wraps it up in a cool urban space”.

Leith, who worked in hospitality in London and Australia before moving to the UAE, has certainly created an inviting place. Using raw materials to achieve the industrial look characteristic of many collaborative workspaces, Make has concrete flooring and crisp white ceilings. The minimalist wood furniture is sparse.

Make, officially launched in February this year, sells snacks and meals (‘Make Food’), drinks (‘Make Espresso’) and ‘designer items for the modern worker’, such as laptop covers, books, notebooks (‘Make Store’). Various events and workshops are also held here.

“The place is about making connections, inspiring people into entrepreneurship,” Leith explains. His customers fall into three categories: entrepreneurs at the early stage of starting a business – either physical or digital; freelancers, mainly media creatives (Make is close to Media City); and, surprisingly, he notes, as it is possibly the biggest group: employees of big, forward-thinking companies like Google, Microsoft and Apple.

“The mobile working community is definitely growing,” Leith Matthews says. "More and more people are excited about doing business for themselves.”

Freelance segment

In the freelance segment, he notes that larger companies are more conscious about headcount and will therefore focus on “smaller and smarter teams” and will increasingly outsource or subcontract non-core work. He adds companies may also want to spend less on office rents hence the rise in employees working remotely.

Leith believes that Dubai and the rest of the region, which built themselves on the back of big multinational corporates where most expats worked under a contract, are seeing a second wave of economic development with the creation of more and more small to medium enterprises.

Furthermore, as the world’s well-established cities struggle with growth, emerging cities like Dubai attract more workers. Leith believes his concept would not have worked only two years ago. “People were not ready.” Well, they are now. “We are looking at another site in Dubai and one in Abu Dhabi,” the founder of Make confesses.