Kitchener-Waterloo

Miss the office? Co-working spaces in Waterloo region can help people get out of the house

Co-working spaces are a way for people to escape from the mundane realities of working from home. But, as interest increases in this non-traditional way of work, questions remain on who should ultimately foot the bill, and what is a reasonable price to pay.

As interest rises in joining, questions remain on who foots the bill

Workplace One is a co-working space based in Kitchener. Members are seen using the space before the COVID-19 pandemic in this photo provided by the company. (Submitted by Andrea Hennige)

As soon as the pandemic hit, 27-year-old Will Taylor shifted from working in the office to working remotely from his bedroom in Kitchener.

As a partner marketing manager for a U.S.-based tech company, working from home wasn't novel to him and many of his colleagues. But as the days went on and he continued to look at the same four walls each day, he realized work and life seemed to bleed into one.

"Although it's nice to be at home and be able to wear your pyjamas, sometimes you do actually want to put real clothes on and go out and be around other people," Taylor said.

So he started to search for workspace alternatives.

"I've had many conversations with my co-workers and they've been in co-working spaces from time to time. And that got me thinking," he said.

The appeal of co-working spaces

While people are being asked to work from home for the time being to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, when this wave is over, many may be eager to get out of the house.

Co-working spaces offer different memberships to both individual employees and teams, where people can book separate offices or work in a shared office space, with access to amenities such as Wi-Fi, beverages and office equipment.

This is the Workhaus space in Kitchener. Many co-working spaces offer additional amenities included in their memberships, such as access to coffee, tea and, sometimes, craft beer. (Submitted by Adam Mawer)

Instead of segregating employees based on the company they work for, co-working spaces essentially offer a modern version of the traditional office, says Adam Mawer, the director of Workhaus in Kitchener.

"[Even] with the flexibility that work from home offers ... employers still want to have a hub where their staff can go in and gather, collaborate, have creative sessions, even just see each other in person, because it does help overall company culture," Mawer said.

Rise in popularity 

According to a 2020 Canadian Flexible Workspace and Coworking report from investment management company Colliers Canada, Waterloo had the highest market saturation level of "flexible" work space real estate inventory at two per cent, exceeding the national average of 1.1 per cent.

In a place as concentrated with tech talent as Waterloo, interest in co-working has been on the rise for years before the pandemic, says Andrea Hennige, director of community at Workplace One in Kitchener, which opened about eight years ago. 

But, since the pandemic, she's noticed people outside of the tech bubble are starting to take notice.

"We're seeing different types of teams," Hennige said. "We're seeing teams who have maybe embraced more of a hybrid work model since the pandemic, or just people who maybe had the opportunity to work from home, and thought it was going to be really great, and then realized it maybe wasn't as appealing as they thought."

Co-working spaces — which are designated as meeting spaces according to Mawer and Hennige — have been able to operate throughout the pandemic adhering to provincial health and safety regulations, such as vaccine and mask mandates.

In a time where connecting with others is harder because of pandemic restrictions, co-working spaces are a natural place to connect with others again, Hennige says.

"I think that's what we've noticed a lot in our spaces. People value having different types of people around them, and not just the same type of person who works in the same industry," she said.

Who foots the bill?

Taylor's U.S.-based colleagues told him their costs for monthly co-working space memberships work out to about $100 a month. However, it's not uncommon to see monthly memberships average around $250 a month, both in Canada and the States.

In Kitchener-Waterloo, the base rate for a membership at WorkHaus is $295 a month, and $225 for Workplace One. 

And for people who were forced to work from home but benefit from an office environment, it's not clear who should foot the bill.

"It's an on-going debate about who should pay," Mawer said. "Some employers are more than happy to actually pay for the membership, whereas others, they do put that on the employee."

Taylor says the costs are hard for him alone to justify and might be a harder sell for people with other considerations like having children.

Will Taylor is a 27-year-old a partner marketing manager for a tech firm based in Austin, Texas in the United States. (Submitted by Will Taylor)

He says if co-working spaces explored alternative memberships, like rotating memberships split between people, the market could expand to include a big market of people who want to escape working from home.

"Being able to leave as a regular habit is something I think people are drawn to — to have that novel experience, whether it's around other people or just in a different environment. I definitely think it'll start to become the norm," he said.

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