Co-working becomes a post-pandemic option in Ottawa

Either working from home or heading into the office, the COVID-19 pandemic has created two distinct worlds of work.

However, there is a third option: shared space. As companies adapt to the changing environment of office life, a new hybrid model is emerging.

When you walk into Coworkly on Richmond Road, one of two locations in Ottawa, it seems like a typical office. Employees are sitting at a desk focused on work. There are printers and a boardroom, individual offices, even a kitchen with coffee and snacks, as well as a large open gathering area.

Most of the people here work for different companies. Coworkly is a shared office space available for anyone to rent. There are daily drop-in rates, as well as month-to-month rentals. Workers bring their own computers and can connect to the internet.

Andrew Creskey has a desk with a view. His workstation overlooks the Westboro neighbourhood. He began using the space shortly before the pandemic started.

"I’m about two-and-a-half years of working remotely," says Creskey. "Prior to the lockdown, we would have lunch and learns and everyone would gather around the table."

Creskey adds that the environment is engaging and leaving his home to walk into work energizes his mind and promotes creativity. Many of the people in the space agree. However, the pre-pandemic hustle and bustle of this shared office is now more subdued.

Half the desks have been removed to accommodate physical distancing and more people have been choosing to work from home.

"It’s quiet as you can see but we do have people trickling back in," says Carolyn Rowe, community manager at Coworkly Westboro. "All of us here are a nice little community. We cheer each other on and if you don’t have actual co-workers, if you're a remote worker who doesn’t have any physical co-workers, just having a buddy around here is a really nice feeling."

Rowe’s role is to help employees with their needs, connect individuals and provide a pleasant workspace for everyone to enjoy. She says more people are beginning to trickle in to Coworkly, adding that some members have said working from home alone can be a challenge.

A new poll from Nanos Research says that 64 percent of downtown workers in Toronto would be comfortable with a return to the office, even amid the pandemic. When asked why, it was a mix between the vibe of the city, convenience and amenities.

However, many companies are contemplating the need for vast amounts of commercial office space. Shopify closed their headquarters in May 2020, having nearly 5,000 employees work remotely. CEO Tobi Lütke tweeting that "office centricity over" and that the company would be "digital by default."

A hybrid model is emerging.

Start-up company FoodCycler is making the best of both worlds. They have moved from Cornwall, Ont., and are setting up their headquarters at Coworkly. 

There are some big benefits for the company that creates countertop compost solutions. Company CEO Bradley Crepeau says they have rented a private suite to accommodate their thirteen employees, which does not come with a daunting, multi-year commercial lease agreement.

"Especially in a start-up world when you don’t know what your needs are from one year to the next," says Crepeau. "Short-term leases, month-to month contracts, memberships in this environment work really for us and I think it would work really well for others as well."

Crepeau says their company and employees enjoy the mix of flexibility to work from home, along with having a traditional workspace. While the suite can accommodate every employee, he says not everyone will be there day-to-day.

"We’re able to adapt and work remotely but some of us have grown lethargic of working from home," says Crepeau. "I think there’s a lot to be said and gained from having an office space and the collaboration that our team members are able to have there is certainly a lot to be said about what that office environment promotes."