Go­ing it alone, to­gether

Le­banon’s co-work­ing land­scape is chang­ing

Executive Magazine - - Front Page -

Sa­mar Ibrahim doesn’t like her cur­rent of­fice. Since Fe­bru­ary, ne­ces­sity has forced her into a small space in the bow­els of ABC Mall, Ashrafieh. She sug­gests meet­ing for an in­ter­view in­stead at Ur­ban­ista on the top floor. It’s fit­ting that she’s cho­sen a cof­fee shop as a set­ting – she sounds like her own ideal client. Ibrahim man­ages the tem­po­rar­ily closed Cowork­ing +961, a shared workspace. An 11-year-old con­cept with ac­tivism in its gen­e­sis mythol­ogy, co-work­ing is gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity from Los Angeles to Sin­ga­pore and even boasts its own uni­corn in WeWork (val­u­a­tion as of writ­ing: $16 bil­lion).

DIS­RUPT­ING WORK

In 1989, Mark Dixon ob­served de­mand. The of­fi­cial Re­gus story has it that Dixon saw so many peo­ple in Brus­sels work­ing from cof­fee shops and ho­tels, he opened a ser­viced of­fice busi­ness. The idea was sim­ple: the pro­fes­sion­ally home­less (be they trav­ellers in town for a few days, the self-em­ployed or a small busi­ness who can­not af­ford a long-term lease) need a pro­fes­sional place to work. A pri­vate desk (or desks, de­pend­ing on the size of the ven­ture), shared of­fice equip­ment, meet­ing rooms for rent, flex­i­bil­ity and re­duced over­head costs were the main value propo­si­tions. And it worked. Re­gus went pub­lic in 2000 and re­ported 1.9 bil­lion GBP ($2.77 bil­lion) in group rev­enues for 2015. In 2005, Brad Neu­berg was work­ing for a startup com­pany out of a Re­gus lo­ca­tion and thought of a way to change the model: so­cial­iz­ing. He called it “com­mu­nity” in a 2012 in­ter­view with Deskmag, a pub­li­ca­tion that ded­i­cates most of its cov­er­age to Neu­berg’s in­creas­ingly suc­cess­ful con­cept. He was pitch­ing work meets ac­tivism in a ca­sual set­ting with a startup men­tal­ity, not a busi­ness cen­ter with bean­bags and an open bar. When a re­porter with the left-lean­ing US mag­a­zine TheAmer­i­canProspect cov­ered co-work­ing in 2007, there were but 12 or so co-work­ing spa­ces glob­ally (all in the US, com­pared to the es­ti­mated thousands around the world to­day). The au­thor de­scribed a so­cial move­ment, not a busi­ness model. Tak­ing a dig at ‘fly-by-night com­mer­cial cowork­ing spa­ces,’ the au­thor ques­tioned how long the “com­mu­ni­ties” be­ing cre­ated would re­main authentic, warn­ing that “re­lent­less com­merce is the sol­vent that loosens the ties that bind us.”

The “com­mu­nity” as­pect of cowork­ing is still an in­te­gral part of the con­cept. A “Cowork­ing Man­i­festo” – which ex­plains that the peo­ple who use these spa­ces “en­vi­sion a new eco­nomic en­gine com­posed of col­lab­o­ra­tion and com­mu­nity, in con­trast to the si­los and se­crecy of the 19th/20th cen­tury econ­omy” – con­tin­ues to garner sig­na­tures, but dis­dain for the cowork­ing space as a profit cen­ter seems to be on the wane. There’s no short­age of ad­vice on­line about how to make a co-work­ing space com­mer­cially vi­able. Karly Nimmo, founder of a failed space in Aus­tralia, of­fers con­cise guid­ance on the im­por­tance of mar­ket­ing: “Build it and they will come is bull­shit,” she writes on Deskmag.com. Ly­ing just be­low the sur­face of Nimmo’s ad­vice is again the no­tion of cre­at­ing the right sort of “com­mu­nity” for the space one is op­er­at­ing.

As for in­te­rior de­sign, co-work­ing spa­ces tend to be open plan. The “com­mu­nity” is all about min­gling, shar­ing ideas, net­work­ing and, for some, gen­er­at­ing new busi­ness. Many spa­ces bill

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