A Tale Of Two Coworking Spaces

First published on August 4, 2014 by Gilbert West. Context is important.

The Way We Work

Well, 5 spaces actually, but why ruin a good title.

So this week is global Coworking Week 2014 and I’m spending my day back at my coworking alma mater, Betacowork.

These days, I’m not to be found there so much as I spend most of my coworking time at The Mug, but I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at some of the coworking spaces I have experienced over the past 3 years. I’ve enjoyed them all, but usually in different ways as they offer something different for everyone.

I’m based in Brussels, but spend a fair bit of my time in New York and occasionally, London so I’ll cover those 3 cities.

Betacowork my Belle

As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, my first coworking space was Betacowork. It was the first coworking space in Brussels to really get traction and this in large part was due to the personality and drive of the founder, Ramon Suarez and the connection with the BetaGroup community of tech entrepreneurs.

I spent nearly 2 years there, on and off, and really came to understand what coworking is. Prior to coworking, I would A) spend a lot of time working alone B) compensate for this by spend a lot of time at professional events. Once I was installed at Betacowork, I stopped spending/wasting so much time at events. There was no need. My peer group and potential customers were around me and then the events started coming to me! Betacowork and the ICAB building in which it is housed quickly became the hub for tech startup events.

A crucial factor of coworking is the kitchen and food. You can’t just spend all your time making connections, you have to work some of the time 🙂 . Having others around you can have a great effect on your productivity, but when it comes to lunch time, this is where the best connections are made. People around you get to hear about the work you do, see and hear your passion for different subjects and the business usually follows.

Coparting is Such Sweet Sorrow

So if it’s that great why did I leave? Well I’m no longer a freelancer and I feel that coworking doesn’t work so well for people in growing companies. It also doesn’t scale financially for a growing company. If you are a small, distributed company coworking is a great solution, but I see the real value of coworking as the building of connections. It’s a kind of passive networking. Companies need this of course, but they do it as a defined activity, it’s called marketing and sales. However, freelancers are often bad at promoting themselves until the point where they need more work. Being present at a coworking space like Betacowork, even for 1 day per week, gives you that continual exposure to people who need your services and to your peers with whom you can exchange knowledge.

I left to work in a startup where we needed space to grow and the ability to put stuff on the walls!

I’m now with a different startup and we have adopted a new coworking space, The Mug, while we figure out how to grow. It’s cosy, like someone’s living room, and we chose it because it is very close to where the 3 partners live, flexible and cost-effective. It’s a quiet space, well suited to writers and journalists due to its proximity to Schuman, but due to its size, you don’t have the same flow of people that you get in bigger coworking spaces.

When we were figuring out where we would work, we looked at a number of different places. We needed to stay flexible for the Summer so coworking made sense. One place that we tried and struck us was TransformaBXL. They are aimed at social enterprises,  so it fitted our startup's profile well and the park in which the building is situated is gorgeous. It would have been quite a Summer there, but in the end, it was just too far for all of the team. It’s close to Boisfort, so if that’s your neighbourhood then it’s the perfect spot. They even have a microbrewery setting up camp there.

There are many coworking spaces in Brussels now, some not-so-coworking and community oriented, some more like a shared office. My advice if you are looking for one is to try a few out. They should all offer a trial day for you to test it out.

Getting Out of Brussels

Further from home I’ve spent a bit of time coworking in Berlin, but the places I went were very like café culture, but that is not viable in the long term as it’s uncomfortable, lacks power points and you spend a lot of money on food and drink that you don’t need.

Across the Atlantic, when in New York, I head straight for New Work City ( NWC ). It’s one of the oldest coworking spaces out there and the real asset for me is the people. It’s a great community and when you’re new in town, that’s just what you need. Perhaps spending time cooking and getting to know each other over food is more of a Belgian thing than a New York thing, but NWC has its equivalent. They have their own beers on tap and it serves the same purpose as the BetaCooks of Betacowork though usually at the end of the day rather than the middle of the day.

Coworking is a community and I’ve even spent time with Ramon from Betacowork at NWC where he launched his Coworking Handbook.

Back to Blighty

Finally, back in Europe and my place of birth, the UK, the final experience I wanted to relay to you is the Google Campus in London. It has a lot going for it and I highly recommend it if you are passing through London, or even going to London for a few days to inject some energy into your business.

The benefits of this place is :

It’s a great place to observe startups and see what trends are emerging. It’s a great testimony to what people will achieve if you just give them somewhere to sit, some electricity and good wi-fi. Also one thing that struck me was that it feels like half of the conversations there are going on in French. Which is strange coming from Brussels where half of the conversations are going on in English.

So What’s the Conclusion?

Well they say you never forget your first love. And if you’re looking for a coworking space that has a great community and is an ideal fit for growing your freelancing career or creating an early stage startup then I don’t think you can beat Betacowork.

But seriously, try them all and see what suits you best.

Need more coworking? Read, The Magic of Coworking