Issue 6, 2016. December-January

   

THE OFFICE OF THE FUTURE: THE RISE OF CO-WORKING IN GEORGIA

Working at home can be lonely, which is one reason co-working spaces are booming - a trend that is now also gaining foothold in Georgia.

Maarten de Boer

According to a 2016 global co-working survey, the worldwide number of co-working spaces is projected to be about 10,000 by the end of the year, with about 735,000 members.

As a core business, co-working spaces offer individuals a space where they can carry out their work, offering facilities like desks, Wi-Fi, conference rooms and coffee. This reduces the overhead costs that come with renting an office, and helps small organizations and individuals network and share experience.

Vere Loft in Tbilisi


McDonalds or Coffeeshops

The first co-working space in Tbilisi opened up in 2014 in the Karvasla Business Center under the name CoSpot. It proved hard to build a community, and the experiment ended a year later. However, with help of those behind CoSpot, the Georgian NGO International Center for Peace and Integration (ICPI) created the co-working space and social bar Generator 9.8 in October, 2015.

Natali Kenkadze and her friends, the founders of ICPI, came up with the idea because of their own experience. "At the beginning, we didn't have an office, so we were looking for such a space. We were just going to bars and cafes. Lots of people are now meeting up in McDonalds or coffee shops. Why go there if there is a meeting room or co-working space?" Since the concept of co-working is rather unfamiliar, they decided to combine the co-working space with a social bar, she told Investor.ge.

"The bar is used as a meeting place and a venue for events that help familiarize people with topics like startups or the sharing economy... Even the term "freelancer" is not so well known yet. We have them, but they don't see themselves as a freelancers, but rather as unemployed."

More than an Office

Many people believe that co-working spaces are a sign of a healthy entrepreneurial environment, where innovation and social impact are fostered.

"People do not just want a chair and a table," says Ketevan Ebanoidze, who is one of the founders of the co-working space ImpactHub Tbilisi. "People increasingly want to share ideas with each other and create something meaningful. They want to have social impact. In an open space you see other people working on ideas and projects and you start to think: how could I help them? Or how could they help me to realize my ideas? This has just started in Tbilisi."

International Standard

With the opening of VereLoft in January, Tbilisi gained its first co-working space that meets international standards. Founders and siblings Eka and David Tushishvili are convinced co-sharing has a future in Georgia. "There are so many unexplored niches here, and we are sure that within a few years there will be a boom of co-working places in Georgia." They want to set an example with their co-working space. "We want to show young people that there is not just good stuff abroad, and bad stuff here. If we start ourselves, if we work hard, then good stuff can happen here too," Eka says.

With a wide variety in subscriptions (from 30 GEL a day to 300-800 GEL a month), interest is increasing. "We now have 42 different occupations here, from graphic designers to architects. We also have a UN officer working here, and some people even record their music here, using their headphones," Eka mentions.

She believes that the design is very important for a co-working space. "The design creates a cozy atmosphere and it inspires. [As people,] we are not as productive in offices with white walls around us as we are when we are sitting on a terrace or in an open space, in a place where things are more mobile. Bringing the environment closer to how people would prefer themselves to work makes them more productive."

Tbilisi as a Part of a Global Network

In October 2016, ImpactHub (from 25 GEL a day to 390 GEL a month) opened up in the Fabrika Complex, an initiative that brought in more international-quality competition. ImpactHub is known as a global community of co-working spaces, not only with the aim to provide a workspace, but also to have a wider impact.

"We are connecting people in order for them to have a positive, social impact. This is the main idea of ImpactHub: to identify ideas, to share them and to encourage people," Ketevan Ebanoidze says. The hub connects members in Tbilisi to a global network of more than 50,000 people, making it easier to learn from— and cooperate with—professionals from 87 different cities, ranging from Amsterdam to Tokyo.

And with the government, businesses and universities increasingly supporting young people with innovative ideas, for example, by investing in startup incubators like TechnoPark or Vega Startup Lab, these innovative developments are only the start.

A Quick Guide to Co-working

Co-working has taken off around the world, with nearly million people around the world opting to work in co-work spaces, according to a 2016 global co-working survey. Here is a brief run-down on the history and current stats to bring you up to date on the phenomena.

- The first co-working space was in San Francisco, at Spiral Muse, according to Brad Neuberg, who is credited as the creator of the concept.

- Neuberg also claims that he came up with the term co-working to reflect the "new kind of space to support the community and structure" that he "hungered for."

- Huffington Post reported that 70 percent of people working in co-work spaces have said they feel healthier than they did working in traditional offices.

- The same report said 68 percent of co-work space users claim they are more focused and 50 percent reported higher incomes than they received when working in conventional office-space.

- Forbes listed the best co-working space in the world in 2016 as Proximity Space in Montrose, Colorado, USA.

- The magazine also included co-working spaces in Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Indonesia, Germany, Hungary, South Africa, Thailand and Tunisia.

- "The largest coworking spaces (measured by number of members) are in Asia and the smallest are in Africa," according to The Global Coworking Survey 2015/2016.

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