Coworking spaces are in a growing number of rural communities in Ireland. You can find them all on NACEC here. Far bigger than the initial link with startups, they’re solving for real social issues around the changing main street, de-population, and the rapid rate of change in communities.
We love co-working. It’s fun and it allows us to separate home and work. It also solves a deeper challenge we have: the vacancy rates increased in 19 counties last year. This isn’t Covid, this has been a trend for our communities for many years.
Coworking breathes life back into a community. Main streets are the physical representation of the communities in that area. Like the Broken Windows Theory, where small acts of vandalism can affect crime rates, what our towns look like hugely impacts our communities. And so, these spaces that have visible signs of life are transformative for where we live.
These spaces were one reason we created Grow Remote. Some of the founding members were running spaces as at the time and we had one question, how do we fill them?
To work, these spaces must have the funds to run and to do that most of them need to have about 60% occupancy for break even.
Mostly, they need to target three cohorts of customers to get to 60%:
a) An anchor tenant — a larger size SME or satellite office of a corporate. The rent is mostly guaranteed here and one deal covers lots of seats.
b) SMEs — Sole traders and SMEs make up the next third, and although rental income might be more volatile, supporting indigenous companies has a significant long term impact and value.
c) Remote workers — For those who don’t fit in with the locally based companies, and don’t want to set up shop themselves.
d) Nomads — more than financial sustainability, these help sustain the bigger mission of these spaces to facilitate synergies, new learnings, connections, and life into a place. The free flow of talent driving through.
To target the first it’s just B2B sales. A community engaged local founder, or an exec of a big company that has links locally. It’s not easy but there’s a route.
To target the second the local chambers, LEOs, and the rest will mostly help you access their already mature networks. You’re selling this group not only on office space, but on a vibrant community.
Remote workers? It was like staring into a black hole. No route to market, no data on the demographic, just noise.
Key Challenge #1: Communities
As we dug a little deeper into how to get access to remote workers in order to fill our seats, we saw three issues:
- There was no pipeline for remote workers like there is for companies through chambers/LEOs. There was no mailing list, and definitely no meetups that we could go to.
- Remote workers didn’t know one another (at our first event two people who had been working remotely for a large multinational met each other for the first time, they had been living 15 minutes apart for 3 years!)
- Remote workers didn’t know about the spaces, and may not see the value if they have a home set up.
All of the above could be solved by creating local communities. This is why ChangeX was so important to Grow Remote — it enabled people to get started locally, empowered to make their own change, and it mapped out communities in an easy to find and accessible way.
In the 5 steps it takes to set up a community, partnering with a local coworking space is one. We know this works, when we find remote workers and help them meet others, they’re more likely to see value in working together. The Junction in Tullamore and Bridge St Castlebar report an increase in occupancy rate of between 20-80%. This is directly attributable to the local volunteer lead who fosters the community.
Key Challenge #2: Local knowledge of remote working jobs
While creating communities of remote workers solves for isolation of remote workers, and helps fill spaces, it doesn’t go far enough. Remote work was still illusive, something for what Kate Lister calls the ‘Top 7%’. Those people who worked in open to remote companies who obtained one off deals to move outside of a city.
We needed to help local people access these jobs, but there was no awareness of Gitlab, Automattic, Shopify etc. The local community leader as well as other methods for making remote work local began to solve for this.
Key Challenge #3: Companies
As we spoke about here, remote workers can not always work from coworking spaces. Sometimes it’s home only, and sometimes it’s not forbidden, but not paid for.
As it stands, there is no large Irish employer today that provides a coworking stipend. This is a huge prohibitor of people being able to use the spaces.
In working with over 30 companies on the transition, we know this challenge has a few drivers:
- Companies did not know that these spaces were available
- They are unsure of their own requirements when it comes to allowing people to work from there (template here)
- They had not previously considered stipends, and are working out what a delivery of that would look like in comparison to central office workers.
We are lucky in that we have WDC and NACEC that are solving for these challenges. They’re creating one home for all hubs, standardising security assessments and making adaptions where they can. It still remains though, that this change needs to be driven from within the companies themselves.
Some newer coworking space managers came together a few weeks ago and dew up this overview of hubs in Ireland. This website lets you track who is hiring with co-working stipends. And you can find your local community of remote workers here.