The internet has revolutionized the way we work and for many people has made it possible to work from anywhere with an internet connection. But while working at home may sound like a dream to those who have to go to an office every day, many freelancers find their apartments a less than ideal environment to really get their job done. Thanks to this, co-working centers, which provide a shared working environment to their members, have mushroomed in urban areas around the world. Currently, Prague has four such centers. For others, renting an office with a group of like-minded people is an ideal solution to the dilemma of working from home.
Petr Kočí, a freelance journalist who writes about media and technology, rents a beautiful office space with a spacious terrace in Prague’s Vinohrady neighborhood. He shares it with two other friends who also are freelancers. But wouldn’t it be cheaper to work from home?
“I have tried working from home for one year, when I left my regular job two years ago. At first it was great, you don’t have to get up and get on public transportation every morning. But after a while, most people find that it is not very healthy psychologically to mix the home and the work environments and to work in your bed or in your kitchen, because then you actually don’t have a place where you can rest from your work. It is lurking at you everywhere you look and there is no place to hide from it.”
Many professionals working freelance and from home share this sentiment – and in the last decade, co-working centers have mushroomed in big cities across the world. Currently, Prague has four such spaces. But what exactly does the concept entail? I put the question to Jakub Mareš, one of the four founders of The Hub, a large co-working center in the city’s Smíchov neighborhood.
“Co-working means sharing a common workspace between several people who don’t actually work together but share the work space. The advantage of this concept is sharing the costs for electricity and rent, but maybe an even bigger advantage is that people get to know each other, they can co-operate with each other and overall, it is simply more pleasant to work with people than alone in one’s living room.”
Members of The Hub, located in a former printing factory with gorgeous high ceilings and exposed brick walls, can choose from a number of different membership options that are prized between 300 and 3900 Czech crowns a month, depending on how much time they spend there. Jakub Mareš is convinced that co-working is a concept that will become even more successful in the future.
“I think that co-working is one of the things that increase the quality of life. And quality of life, in my view, is defined by the number of choices you have. And if I am a freelancer or am starting a new company, I have more choices. I can work from home two days, be at my client’s one day, and work from a co-working another two days. That means my life is more variable, I have more environments that I see every week and so I think that definitely, co-working is a thing with a future.”
Jakub Mareš says members come from all kinds of different fields – and many of them are trying to start their own business. Michal Juhás, together with his friend Josef Nevoral, is working on a start-up website project called Bookfan, which he describes as a cross between facebook and Amazon. I asked him what he feels the advantage is of working from The Hub.
“We tried working from home, but it was very unsocial, we just woke up in the morning and started working at home. And you do not really recognize if it is day or night, there is no clear line when to stop working. It is five p.m., six p.m. and you are still working. But The Hub closes at 6:30, I believe, and that is really good, because it means you have to go home and get a rest.”
Will Bennis owns Locus, another co-working center in Prague, tucked away on a quiet side street off busy Wenceslas Square. Here, members can work 24/7, because they are given a key to the space once they sign up. With 36 members as opposed to The Hub’s more than hundred, it has a decidedly more intimate feel. I asked Will Bennis to describe what makes Locus special.
“One of the things that separate Locus from any other co-working spaces I know of is that there is a real emphasis on internationalism, there are a lot of expats, and a lot of Czechs who are interested in international business. The language of the space is English; there are people from 23 different countries, out of 36 members, that is a lot.”
“The point is not for people to come and sell their products, the point is for people to come and work. That said, people form natural relationships, but with their work, there is an accountant, who is Czech, and a member of this space, he does accounting for a lot of members of the space. There are web-designers, there are business consultants, English teachers, people take English lessons out of this place, someone is starting an English school… So a lot of the time, the jobs really complement one another. If you are a graphic designer, another person is a web designer, another person is a translator, they often get jobs and can turn to one another for help.”
At my recent visit to Locus, an afternoon coffee break was in full swing. Will Bennis says he organizes them once a week so members can have a chat, get to know each other and take a breather from their work. I asked an editor and English-teacher, a doctorate candidate and a web developer what they like about coming here.
“Working in a co-working space stops you from going mad. Because when you work from home, you can get a little too focused on the work. And what is interesting is that when you have a problem, you can just ask someone here, and they can either help you out or find someone who does.”
“Basically, for not getting crazy studying by myself at home, and Locus is helping me find friends and not just study by myself.”
“Separating life from work, and I have kids, and it is very hard to work when you have small kids at the house.”
Petr Kočí thinks that in recent years, the separation of life and work has become increasingly blurred. In his writing Petr, who says he cannot imagine ever going back to working in a traditional open-space office, focuses on the way that the development of new digital technologies changes our day-to-day lives.
“Digital technology is what enables to work distantly, from other places than a traditional office, and I think it is really changing society and the way that people live nowadays. More and more jobs can be done via the internet, and do not require the workers to come to the office every day, and the technology and changes in our social lives are quite deeply interconnected.”
Will Bennis also thinks that the way we work is undergoing a revolution. Co-working, he says, does not just help people save money and connect with each other; it also cuts down on pollution caused by daily commutes. He describes a vision that a friend of his shared with him.
“One day, people won’t go to their offices anymore, at least knowledge workers, people who work from computers. He said they will just go downstairs from their flat, to the corner workplace, where other people who live on that block will go and work, and just plug into their office from there, and it will have all the resources. And you won’t need to commute and you won’t need to deal with all the issues that are connected with going to work and just work with the people in your neighborhood.”
While Prague is far from having a workspace on every corner, its four co-working centers are enjoying increasing popularity. And for some, there is no going back to a regular office existence. Petr Kočí says that, after trying to once, he simply cannot fathom ever leaving his current set-up again.
“I took a job offer that required me to come to an office four times a week. Most people would find that quite benevolent. But even that was too much for me. I was not able to concentrate in the open-space and as spring came and the weather got better, I started missing the terrace so much that I decided to leave the job and do more free-lancing and spend more time here now. I am quite happy I did.”