Being tied to a desk and chair isn’t for Andrew Tischler. Nor is working in a coffee shop. So the 41-year-old Toronto-based entrepreneur spends his days working in restaurants, ordering food when hungry, hosting client meetings and retreating to his condo if he needs a bit more quiet.
“I like the energy of the space,” says Mr. Tischler, whose recent startup happens to be an app, OOT (Out-of-office Thinker), that locates restaurants and other spaces that welcome remote workers like him. “It lets you daydream a bit or draw off the energy in the room. And it’s a good chance to meet people.”
“Everyone is remote now,” he says. “The co-working thing is just exploding.”
Mr. Tischler is part of a growing number of small-business types who are looking for creative approaches to work spaces. Traditional offices, with a phone and desk, “can be so cold and antiseptic,” he says. Many entrepreneurs want a place to work that offers opportunities to brainstorm ideas and meet clients outside of a conventional office setting.
It’s why Toronto developers hoping to cash in on the city’s fast-evolving condo market are introducing co-working spaces into their condo designs.
Developers are also encouraged by recent announcements by firms such as Google, Amazon and Thomson Reuters, who are expanding their footprints in the city. As this tech hub grows, more young employees will be seeking spaces where they can work remotely.
Shamez Virani, president of CentreCourt Developments, says the idea for integrated work spaces came from his own staff, who enjoy working in the property development firm’s open-concept office. The developer thought there may be a market niche to tap, and the outcome was 411 Church. The 38-storey, 541-unit condo development in Toronto’s downtown core will offer a collaborative workspace that will be open 24 hours a day, included in the building’s maintenance fees. It will provide users with access to tables, desks, office supplies, AV equipment and meeting spaces.
The development, which will be located seven minutes away from Toronto General Hospital, Ryerson University and the Eaton Centre, hopes to attract health sciences staffers, entrepreneurs as well as tech employees. It’s currently sold out and expected to be completed in two years.
Freelancers on the rise
For a city with a growing number of self-employed people, the future looks friendly for developers like Mr. Virani. Firms are also allowing more and more permanent employees to telecommute or work flex hours; over 1.7 million Canadian employees worked from home at least once a week according to 2010 Statistics Canada report, up 23 per cent from 1.4 million in 2000.
And these mobile staffers need space. “The average condo unit in downtown Toronto doesn’t offer a lot of work space,” says Mr. Virani, with many units in the 500-to-600-square-foot range. He says having a communal office area where you live means owners who want to work remotely won’t have to look for places like coffee shops or free space in the lobby of a condo building.
It’s that thinking that encourages developers. So does the rising popularity of collaborative work spaces such as the Foundery, Workhaus.ca, Verkspace and the East Room in the city, which offer not just space to work remotely but also to collaborate with other like-minded entrepreneurs.
These new spaces are reflecting lifestyle shifts in other ways too, says Kelly Cray of U31 Inc., a Toronto-based interior design firm. U31 recently designed the communal work space at Graywood Development Inc.’s Peter and Adelaide condo, a 4,000-sq-ft. space that can double as a recreation area catering to those seeking a more casual vibe. The condo is currently in the preconstruction phase and is slated for occupancy in 2020.
He describes the open-concept area as “playful,” with loosely arranged furniture, a mix of natural and artificial lighting, and foosball and billiard tables. “Aesthetically, it has to be pleasing,” says Adi Purnomo, Graywood’s vice-president.
Ashley Proctor, co-founder of the Co-working Toronto collective and a member of Foundry, a collaborative workspace, says what most users of collaborative spaces are seeking is the ability to network and make connections. “The reason people are there are for the other people,” she says. “They want emotional support.” She says that many workspaces offer a sense of community, where users can meet like-minded people and be inspired.
And Ms. Proctor says that the shared work spaces in condo developments may be just that – shared spaces rather than collaborative hubs. “Some people see it as a real estate play,” she says.
Ultimately the uptake of these new spaces will determine their fate. Mr. Cray feels that developers may decide to rent the communal work spaces down the road.
In the meantime, Mr. Cray says the shared workspace trend is spreading beyond Toronto’s borders, with a new project from Lamb Development Corp. and Movengo Corp. – Television City – in the works in Hamilton, Ont. Located on the former CHCH-TV site, the 30- and 40-storey towers will house 618 suites and a collaborative lounge area that will double as a workspace. Occupancy is slated for August 2021.
Mr. Purnomo says he foresees more condo-workspace collaborations – and not just in places like Toronto and Hamilton. “I think we’re going to see it more and more. It reflects where we are right now and how we live. The idea of being able to work anywhere and being social is powering the demand these days.