Co-working: Working from home, but better


The spread of shared office spaces in Brussels and Flanders reflects a change in working practices and brings benefit to solo workers

Sharing space and ideas

Faced with the hardships of the global recession, more and more entrepreneurs and freelancers in Brussels and Flanders are realising the power of human connections and are signing up to a new way of doing business: co-working.

Having started in San Francisco in 2006, the concept of co-working has grown to mean sharing not only space but also ideas. As the world of work becomes more mobile and the economic crisis forces people to find new and more creative ways of earning money, the idea of a traditional office has likewise had to adapt.

Self-employed workers are slowly leaving their living rooms, libraries and local coffee shops to head en masse to co-working spaces. Gone are the days of making a cappuccino last three hours while trying to start your business over a flimsy internet connection – co-workers now have a wealth of resources available to them.

Following this global trend, co-working is becoming more common in Belgium, with many sites cropping up around Flanders in recent years. Bernard Perelsztejn, owner of The Loft in Brussels, was looking for a new challenge, having just sold his publishing business.

“In 2010, I read an article in a business magazine about co-working, and I realised that it was exactly what I was looking for,” he says. “As an independent, I wanted to find an inspiring atmosphere and to work with people.”

At that time, there was only one co-working space in Belgium. The Loft opened in the following year.

Open space for open minds

Co-working spaces are intended to be calming and to inspire creativity, in contrast to the often uniform and rigid feel of corporate offices. Perelsztejn explains: “For the inside, I wanted a place where people could feel at home. That’s why The Loft looks like a real loft.”

It helps to run my ideas through people from different backgrounds

- Veronique Heynen-Rademakers

To find a style, he visited the other co-working space in Brussels and also did “virtual visits” online.  “It gave me a clear idea of the concept I wanted to develop: an open space for open-minded people.”

For Veronique Heynen-Rademakers, a trainer and practitioner in alternative medicine, the results are ideal. “The Loft is a big open space, nice white desks with comfortable chairs and lots of light,” she enthuses. “There’s a big ‘egg chair’ where I can go to think, and comfy cushions for when I need to relax.”

She had been working from home previously, where she found herself distracted and always multitasking. Co-working solved that problem, she says. “I’m more productive now. It helps to run my ideas by people from different backgrounds also. And it helps with networking. I don’t work there every day – my agenda is quite hectic – but the cost is right due to adaptive prices. I learn a lot from all the different people there. I can also share my knowledge with people I might not have met otherwise, all while working in a nice, welcoming environment.”

Meeting like-minded people also building their own projects and sharing skills are the main tenets of co-working. It’s a business version of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”.

“It’s interesting to hear the conversations between people having completed different activities and the collaboration they can have. It’s all about serendipity,” says Perelsztejn, referring to a term often bandied around in the co-working world. The more contact you have with people with similar goals, the higher the chance of meeting the contacts you need, and fast.

Experience and help on tap

For the co-workers, the benefits are plentiful: a workspace fully equipped with printers and high-speed internet, offices often open round the clock, meeting rooms and a kitchen, all for an affordable price. The shortcomings don’t seem to amount to much. “The main drawback is working in an open space: Other people talking on the phone can make you lose focus. A good headset was the solution for me,” says Brussels-based Laurent Lemaire, co-owner of technology company Elyotech.

It’s a great opportunity to share knowledge

- Simon Van Rillaer

For Lemaire, the daily challenges of working alone at home were hard to overcome. “Making a distinction between personal and professional life when both are sharing the same environment was the biggest issue,” he says. “It’s not easy to stop working at 19.00 when your desk is next to your couch.”

When he heard about the concept behind co-working spaces, he says, “I almost immediately signed up. I definitely recommend co-working for any young entrepreneur looking for a space where they will find people with experience and ready to help.”

There are also events to enhance the experience: training sessions and networking activities, all linked to the needs of the entrepreneurs. “It’s great to meet people working on their own projects every day,” says Perelsztejn, “and to see how their business evolves over time.”

Outside the capital, the concept has also flourished, with Flemish co-working chain Bar d’Office providing spaces across Flanders. The Leuven branch now acts as the main office for 11 locations across the region. The concept, in collaboration with non-profit organisation Flanders DC, is to give starters and creatives a place to work at low rates. Some spaces are even available at a daily rate of €1.

Each space has its own character. “In Leuven we even have grass on the floors! Every place has its own nature but with a Bar d’Office logo,” says Flanders DC’s Simon Van Rillaer. “It’s a great opportunity to share knowledge. Most people are starters and need a lot of information.”

Outside the box

Another co-working space in Flanders and one that adheres earnestly to the community principle of co-working is Kube8. Opened last August in Antwerp, the driving force behind Kube8 is Infectmedia, an online marketing agency from Antwerp. Kube8 is linked with Seats2meet, a Dutch co-working chain whose concept is based on “social capital”. The theory is that all independent professionals have a lot of knowledge, interests and experiences: their social capital.

It’s better to work ‘alone together’ in a co-working space than to work at home alone

- Bernard Perelsztejn

“All we ask of you in Kube8 is to be willing to invest or share that social capital,” says Infectmedia’s Ruben Ceuppens. “Talk to your fellow co-workers, discuss your project, use your experience to help those who need that in their own project. Collaborate where you can.”

Ceuppens explains the ways in which people can help each other: finding new business opportunities, launching new ideas, designing a logo, coming up with a good slogan. This concept of a group effort is reflected in Kube8’s co-working space, too. The owners worked with vintage furniture stores, photographers and designers to come up with the look and layout of the offices. 

They also organise networking events such as pitch nights, shared lunches, workshops and guest speakers. And there’s always time for fun, with a rooftop pop-up bar introduced last summer and also an aptly themed Klout-party, where one’s social influence was their ticket in. Ceuppens says: “For us, the concept of Kube8 is really important. It’s this new way of working together, instead of apart, how independent professionals can use their social capital and how we can put our own mark on the world around us.”

A growing future for co-working?  Back in Brussels, Perelsztejn is sure of it.  “I hope we will be able to convince all freelancers that it’s better to work ‘alone together’ in a co-working space than to work at home alone.”

Working it out

The Loft
Located in Vorst, this office also holds events and has an informative Facebook page with regular updates for members. Square Emile des Grées du Loû 5B, 1190 Brussels

Bar d’Office
With locations all across Flanders, you can co-work in different cities according to your schedule.

Based in a former flour mill on the old docks of Antwerp, Kube8 even offers free co-working, as long as you top up your ‘social capital’. Samberstraat 5, 2060 Antwerp

De Huyskamer
Co-working at its most stylish, within the tranquil surroundings of Bruges. Hoefijzerlaan 61, 8000 Bruges

Photo courtesy of Betacowork

Spread of shared office spaces in Brussels and Flanders reflects change in working practices and brings benefit to solo workers.

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