A new business model

Whatever coworks

Madrid plays host to a range of venues for freelancers and creatives to flourish

Dcollab is one of a number of coworking spaces in the Malasaña area.
Dcollab is one of a number of coworking spaces in the Malasaña area.Luis Sevillano

It's lunchtime in central Madrid. Around half-a-dozen people, most of them in their twenties and thirties, are gathered in the shared kitchen of a spacious office space, preparing something to eat. A young woman, an architect, is telling her companions about a project she's working on for a trade fair on building design. The man sitting next to her, who designs computer games, suggests they work together on an audio-guide app for the same event.

This group of young professionals are part of the growing global trend known as coworking, sharing not only office space, but a philosophy. Finding a desk and a free internet connection has never been easier, but coworking provides more, say its proponents, allowing independent professionals to participate in a community that offers freelancers, traditionally seen as lone wolves, the chance to work with professionals from other fields.

According to a recent survey carried out by deskmag.com, a coworking site, the typical coworker is aged around 34, and two-thirds are men. Around half of coworkers are freelancers, while around a fifth are entrepreneurs who employ others. One in five work as a permanent employee, most of them in very small companies with a staff of fewer than five. And four in five coworkers start their career with a university education.

Most coworkers are active in the creative industries and new media, PR and marketing, journalism, writing, architecture and art, although the boundary between job descriptions is fluid and many coworkers specialize in more than one specific field. Renting a coworking space also puts people in touch with others who can have a positive impact on their work.

There are around 200 coworking spaces in Madrid and Barcelona

There are already around 200 coworking spaces in Madrid and Barcelona. In the capital, the majority are in trendy areas such as La Latina, Malasaña and Chueca. Why spend 2,000 euros a month renting an office, when you can find a coworking space for 200? One of Madrid's first coworking spaces is Espíritu23, in Espiritu Santo street, described by its occupiers as "a space for creativity, work, and change." For many Spanish coworkers, being part of the local community is also important. The late-19th century building has a small courtyard in the entrance with a large blackboard against one wall announcing a range of events and workshops.

Pedro Bravo has been part of Espíritu23 since November of last year. "We weren't just looking for somewhere cheaper to work; we wanted to improve the economic, social and cultural life of the neighborhood, so that in the long term this can be a place where local people can get involved, regardless of their age," he says while giving a guided tour of the location. Which is why the coworkers of Espíritu23 offer dance classes, yoga and pilates lessons, as well as organizing concerts and theatre trips. "These are things that are of interest to everybody, not just entrepreneurs."

Bravo and his colleagues see coworking as a way to revive neighborhoods, and all for between 100 and 300 euros a month.

Round the corner in Malasaña, San Andrés street is home to another coworking site: La Industrial Servicios, located in a former ice factory. La Industrial has a very different look, and feel, to Espíritu23, with gleaming wood floors and open, well-lit spaces. It opened in November 2012, and has already established itself as a center for training.

An entrepreneur needs certain skills, and that means learning new things"

"That's our spirit," says Jesús Villadóniga. Among the small outfits renting space here are Industrial Lab, Industrial Media, and Bim School, which specialize in web design, architecture, and film and music editing. "To be an entrepreneur, you need to have certain skills, and that means learning new things," Villadóniga adds.

Both coworkings say they opted for the bar-strewn Malasaña area because a lot of young people live there, many of them freelancers, and because the district has a reputation for openness to new ideas.

Noelia Maroto set up Dcollab nearby. It's smaller than its two neighbors, but elegant and spacious in its own way. She says that work and play should go together. "We spend our lives working, we shouldn't separate these two worlds, but join them together and enjoy ourselves," she says sitting in one of Dcollab's meeting rooms. The majority of her coworkers are in the creative industries: architects, musicians, designers, interior decorators and so on. She says she is always looking for people with an open mind who want to take part in things. "The space is simply a way to create relationships, to do joint projects, and as a result, work together."

In the nearby Chueca neighborhood is L'Espace de Almirante, located in an elegant, spacious and well-lit building that seems more like a traditional office, but that shares the spirit of coworking. L'Espace is one of the oldest coworkings in Madrid, and was set up by Javier Herencia in 2009. He regularly arranges breakfasts and wine-tasting events to keep those renting space in touch with each other. But there is less participation here than in other coworkings. "Most of the people here run small and midsized enterprises, and have had to look for alternatives to stay alive financially," says Herencia. His take is that the synergies that L'Espace creates can be beneficial, but also bring some disadvantages: "Sometimes you can't find the right person to work with, and you end up working with somebody simply because they are sitting next to you."

Up the road, in the upscale Salamanca district, is a very different kind of coworking; one where designers can sell their products. It's part-shop, part-office and part-workshop, cutting out the middleman. It's as simple as renting, displaying and selling, says its founder, Rocío Mendivil, a jewelry maker who couldn't find an outlet to sell her work. She admits the idea is new and that customers are still hesitant to come into the space. "From the outside it looks so smart that people are a bit put off and don't come in to have a chat. This is still a very traditional country," she says.

But things are changing, as the success of Utopic_US, Madrid's biggest coworking, or Hub Madrid, which has even managed to attract companies such as Vodafone, which has used the former garage to host events. Studio Banana, an architects' space, is not in downtown Madrid, but has managed to make a name for itself. Each offers diversity and space for every taste.

Even if you aren't an entrepreneur or freelancer, the benefits of coworking, according to deskmag.com's survey, are hard to ignore: 71 percent of participants reported a boost in creativity since joining a coworking space, while 62 percent said their standard of work had improved.

The study also found that half of all coworkers access their work space around the clock, with only 30 percent preferring to work during normal business hours. Compared to a traditional office, deskmag.com found that 90 percent of coworkers said they got a self-confidence boost, likely due to the fact that many spaces are filled with supportive communities that enable creative collaboration.

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