A quick Google search reveals that Vancouver is home to at least 15 coworking hubs, and while they all offer shared office space geared to the self-employed, not all run the gamut of the pristine, white-walled, silent rooms you might be picturing.
Enter Creative Coworkers, a non-profit collective coworking space in Railtown that offers as much in the way of space to work as it does opportunities to network and socialize.
Unlike other coworking spaces in the city, which have become increasingly popular over the last several years, Creative Coworkers trades in the sterility and modern design for a more DIY-feel—think exposed wooden beams, colourful plants and artwork, and constantly changing furniture arrangements that include a hammock and even a swing.
With 4,500 square feet of space, co-founder and manager Denise Brennan has created a venue that goes above and beyond what one might expect: while you'll certainly find private desks, communal work areas, and board rooms, you'll also find two living rooms, a photo studio, a sound engineering booth, an informal bar, and a kitchen complete with every imaginable appliance—among other things.
"We like to joke around that a coworking space is kind of like your dog—you start to resemble each other over time," Brennan tells the Straight during an interview in one of Creative Coworkers' comfy living rooms.
“A lot of other coworking spaces are fixed in terms of their curation, so there’s a very specific design focus, and it’s often very polished. For me, my passion and interest is creative production, and I wanted a space where people could have impact in evolving what it looks like.
“Nothing is stuck to the ground, and I really enjoy moving furniture,” she adds.
Brennan's interest in the coworking model first began while reconfiguring a local company's office space after it went through a transition.
"I had done a lot of venue-based event production, various location based developments and things, and they asked if I could come and consult on how it should be used," she explains.
"I discovered what coworking was during that process, and over the course of that, the part I was super excited about was the community building."
Working with what she calls, "special agents"—a group of individuals invested in the community who volutneer their time for space at Creative Coworkers—Brennan and team coordinate a busy monthly calendar for members.
Between workshops, lunch-and-learns, art exhibits, concerts, and a weekly happy hour, she often sees more than 20 events happening each month. On the rare occasion that an event isn’t taking place, she ensures introductions are made and that everyone feels at home.
“I try to make sure everyone knows who everyone else is, and I often do that with food and beer,” she jokes. “Other times, it’s inviting people into the kitchen, just making sure people are familiar with each other.”
Brennan says this often results in what she calls “cross-pollination”—collaborations between coworkers that might not have otherwise occurred.
Nancy Lee, an interdisciplinary artist, filmmaker, and event producer, is what you might call an “OG” desk renter at the space. Lee says she’s landed a few contracts through contacts she’s made at Creative Coworkers, but more than anything, it’s the versatility of the space that she finds so appealing.
“I run a video production company, so sometimes I’m editing client based work at my desk, and other times I’ll have client meetings at one of the tables, but I also use the production studio for shoots and interviews,” she says.
“If I have an idea for a workshop or a meeting, it’s easy for me to make it happen here—there’s lots of seating desk options, breakout rooms, a big hallway, so it’s good for the different kinds of gatherings I might have in mind.”
“Being able to communicate and have a responsive relationship with the space is important too, and not all spaces are that responsive,” she adds.
Lee also lauds the flexibility of the way Brennan has structured membership, and says that as a freelancer and artist without a fixed monthly income, it allows her to work within her own parameters.
Brennan offers the first day to new members for free, and allows them to choose from a variety of mebership options, where all have the same access to the space’s many amenities. She also offers a discounted rate for early risers and night owls.
For her, Creative Coworkers is more than just a space for individuals to come in and work in isolation; it’s a gathering place for a community that works to support local individuals and organizations.
“You get the feeling of this place as soon as you walk in, and it either resonates, or it doesn’t,” she says.
“Some people like that pristine thing, but I’ll walk into a place like that without a coffee and still spill one. When you give people space and opportunity, it really brings out that creativity and allows you to play with something, and there’s no fear.”
Want to see more? Check out more of Creative Workers in this photo gallery.