What once was the future of corporate has now become reality – and there’s beer involved.
“We actually tear down more walls than we put up,” says 28-year-old Neil Martin, Co-founder of Project: SPACES, sitting on the L-shape couch that is comfortably the focal point of the 5,400 sq. ft open concept office.
Ten feet away stands what looks like your typical hipster grunge bar, but is actually a fully stocked kitchen, complete with freshly ground coffee, premium loose leaf tea, and a barrel-sized beer keg. Martin and his business partner, Jeffery Howard, currently operate two Toronto locations for Project: SPACES, a network of shared coworking spaces: Project: OWL and Project: RHINO.
“You definitely won’t see any cubicles in here… they’re a thing of the past,” Neil laughs, glancing over at the foosball table to our left, currently in-use by two twenty-somethings in jeans and t-shirts. It’s 3pm on a Wednesday and the two gamers are in the midst of a competitive match. On the other side of the loft, a couple dozen people are seated at two 25-ft long cafeteria-style tables; headphones in, the only sound coming from their direction is the tapping of fingers on laptop keyboards. They’re clearing undisturbed by the ruckus, even with the rambunctious cheering coming from the victor. “I’m up next,” Neil looks back at me smirking, “I’m the foosball champ.”
At the very moment, there are 16 shared office spaces listed in Toronto. With new additions popping up every day, it’s safe to say that what was once a trend is now the norm. Business offices as we knew them – cubicles, secretaries, designated break rooms – will soon be a thing of the past. After all, times they are a changin’, and coworking spaces, a byproduct of these changes, act as an insight into the future of business. Filled with blue jeans and baseball caps, these offices act as the rebellious younger sibling to your typical stuffy, over regulated, nine to five office.
For millennials, job-hopping is standard. We’ve left behind the long-term contracts and sense of company loyalty that baby boomers took for granted. Gen-Y is creating their own security by building their own business endeavours. Success in the startup world is never a guarantee; after all, everyone’s got an idea for a revolutionary app these days. But at this point in time, inventing the next Tinder is actually a possibility. Overnight, a startup can dissipate entirely or dominate the industry, which means the size of the staff and the office space they work from needs to be flexible.
Companies today produce ideas – and ideas don’t need desks.
With loose contracts and 24/7 access, coworking offices, like Project: SPACES, relieve the burden of expensive and possibly business debilitating long-term leases. Young startups may have a vision to rival Twitter, but they don’t have money to waste, especially on an office with access to a conference room full of stale donuts and a secretary named Jenny to take down their messages. “We don’t have expensive chairs or matching tables, but you know what we do have?” he looks as me for a second and I feel like I should know the answer. “The fastest internet in the city.” You won’t find any fancy cubicles in here, but of course, business priorities aren’t what they used to be.
A quick scan of the room and it’s easy to surmise that the typical member is likely old enough to have played Oregon Trail but young enough to have had an email address in university. Sending letters via snail mail isn’t exactly folklore, but there are noticeably few pads of paper and pens anywhere in sight. Beside every laptop sits a Smartphone, tearing its respective owner away from the modern-day big screen to an even more portable and diminutive one. Today, with there being more mobile devices than people in the world, doing business on the go, while alternating between portable electronics with Wi-fi access, is just common practice. Spending four hours away from your email with the excuse of having been on the golf course is no longer acceptable.
“I used to have 28 suits and I gave away 26,” says Javier Barrera, founder of Trip 180, an online platform to connect volunteer travelers with international opportunities. An investment banker turned entrepreneur, Javier is well aware of the changes occurring in the world of business today. “Business is still professional, but the term is evolving.” On my way out of his coworking office, I take note of the young man working at a ‘standing’ desk, taking casual sips from a bottle of beer, while dialed into a Skype video conference call. It’s well after 5pm, anyway, and it also happens to be Friday. Don’t let the relaxed vibe fool you; the always-open office space might just be the temporary hub of the next Zuckerberg or Dorsey.
The era of “casual Fridays” – a designated day for leaving the tie at home and convening in the kitchen at happy hour for two beers and awkward small talk with Suzie from HR – is laughable here. Drinks are free-flowing if you’re in the mood any night of the week – and everyone at Project: SPACES seems to be celebrating “happy hour” on a Wednesday evening when I arrive just slightly after 6pm. Play word association with “9-to-5” around here and “Dolly Parton” comes in as a strong second to “banking hours.”
But right now the tables have turned – quite literally – for an already rowdy game of beer pong between two opposing startups. Enthralled with the match, I startled slightly when a Red Solo cup flies over my right shoulder. Martin laughs, handing me the frat-throwback plastic cup brimming with local microbrew beer, promising that the fierce competition is friendly. In fact, the foursome is currently collaborating on an upcoming project. “Those two run a small production company,” he explains, pointing the clear winners on the far side of the table. “They just made the marketing component of those guys’ online advertising campaign.”
“Like the cider?” asks a Abercrombie & Fitch-esque 20-something, as I work my way across the room to get in on the chatter. “I just recently launched it,” he continues. As it turns out, my new acquaintance, Daniel Bartek, is living the millennial era Canadian dream, having had his newly branded Crazy Beard Cider picked up by the business moguls on career-making reality show, Dragons’ Den. We clink Red Solo cups to his success. I stick around, even after my interviews are done. Business, after all, can be fun.
Surrounded by men in Sperry deck shoes talking shop over the blaring sound of Kendrick Lamar, I realize the future of corporate is here. Arriving on time in a freshly ironed suit carrying an extra copy of your resume doesn’t guarantee you the job anymore – there is no guarantee – but what we do have is endless opportunity.
Buy yourself a laptop and find free Wi-Fi access and you’re half way there. We may not wear suits, and there is no such thing as office etiquette hauling us out of bed before the sun comes up, but in today’s climate, those things don’t matter anyways. Success is no longer indicated by the size of your office. You may never see your name on a gold plaque on the door of your office, but that’s okay. Whatever it is you do achieve, you’ve done so on your own terms and that says more than a gold plaque.
On the back wall behind the crowd, a floor-to-ceiling black and white mural, painted by one of the members, reads a quote from one of the 80s most forward thinking individuals, Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
In the startup world, this slogan doesn’t seem out of place at the office, where mixing business and pleasure doesn’t have to be a corporate initiative on Friday.
People don’t just like what they do; they decide what they do.