Restaurants open doors during the day to become coworking spaces

New Canadian startups connect people who want workspace, with restaurants that are closed during the day time.
Toronto restaurant, Marben, provides daytime workspaces. (Joelle Elfassy Photography)

By Nora Young

If you work at home, you know the biggest challenges are, first, keeping a disciplined focus ("I could do laundry!" "Where is that circular saw again?") but also, social isolation.

When I worked at home, I was fine as long as I had tight deadlines, and frequent contact with colleagues. But give me a big, open-ended project and days on my own, and I was in trouble.

So, like a lot of people, I looked for outside, informal work spaces. Personally, I love working at my neighbourhood library; I always seem to get a lot done there.

For you, maybe that's a neighbourhood cafe (although some coffee shops are turning off wi-fi) or a coworking space that you buy a membership to, but gets you shared amenities, like a kitchenette, dedicated desk, or meeting room.

Businesses are responding to demand for flexible workspaces with new models.

Justin Raymond is the founder of Flexday, a Toronto-based startup. It's designed to connect restaurants that are only open at night with people who want a flexible workspace in the day. You book your space through a mobile app. When you get to the restaurant, you just show your entry pass.

Flexday pairs idle restaurants with workers looking for flexible workspace.

"You basically pick your own spot, which is an amazing thing to see," says Justin. "Some people like to work in dark corners, some people like the sunlight, some people like to sit up at the bar."

Flexday founder Justin Raymond

The service costs $95 a month, which includes wi-fi, a beverage, and a "secure location".

"You can leave your laptop...take a walk, go pick up something around the corner," says Justin. Right now, there are three Toronto locations, but there are plans to expand.

Some restaurants and cafes are trying their own ways of combining coworking in quiet times with maintaining a bustling restaurant.

Lion and Bright is a Halifax cafe/restaurant that features two bars. "The Bright bar is the morning bar, that gives you coffee and brightens your day," explains owner Sean Gallagher. "And then the Lion bar is [for] the nighttime, when the lion heart comes out, in vino veritas."

During the quiet morning, the cafe has two dedicated harvest tables for coworking.

Sean Gallagher, owner of Lion and Bright.

But Lion and Bright faced challenges in getting people to close up their laptops when it was time to switch to restaurant mode in the evening. So they posted signs reading 'close your screens, meet your neighbours'.

 I guess I always pictured a cafe being a place where people want to actually go socialize. But as the world is progressing, people need to get a lot of work done.- Sean Gallagher

Sean explains that people had become accustomed to using the tables as work spaces during the beginning of the week when things were slow. "It was just killing the vibe," Sean says. "I realized that people were just walking by, because they were seeing people working on their screens at night on these slower nights."

"I guess I always pictured a cafe being a place where people want to actually go socialize...but as the world is progressing, people need to get a lot of work done," Sean says, "So we provided those spaces but only in those zones that we're not going to be using for other business."

It's not just startups and independent cafes getting in on the desire for flexible workspaces.

The most high profile player is WeWork. It provides space for individual freelancers, all the way to big enterprises. It's now expanding into creating private schools, and co-living spaces. They've bought Meetup, a service that connects like-minded individuals for real world meetups. WeWork is valued at $20 billion U.S.

The younger generation is forcing a cultural shift.- Justin Raymond

Perhaps the growth in coworking spaces is powered by a combination of long commute times, high rental costs, the growth of short term contracts and the 'gig economy'. For Flexday founder Justin Raymond, it's also about a generational shift.

"Millennials value happiness and experiences over work or salary," he says. "The younger generation is forcing a cultural shift."

In the end, the desire to work somewhere other than home may be more about human sociability than productivity.

"Our social networks connect us to hundreds and thousands of people, and you can feel like you're connected," says Lion and Bright's Sean Gallagher. "But you're not actually connected." "There's still a desire, I think, to go back to something that's real and tangible."

I would love to know where you do your best work: a 'third place' like a cafe? Or if you work at home, do you have a favourite spot that puts you in productivity mode? Leave a comment, or use our contact page.


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