Totting them up in a list just now, I reckon I've worked in over a dozen different offices during my career, and done the odd couple of days in dozens more. It's been a fair mix of buildings, sizes and atmospheres too: a Government DHSS site in Lytham St. Annes; the bedroom office of the early days of STNC; Microsoft's sprawling US campus; and plenty of standard science-park blocks. The best is probably STNC's Highwayman's Vineyard period: surrounded by an orchard for lunchtime walks and apple scrumping, and with an indoor, heated swimming pool - these days it's a gallery and B&B.
However, when I struck out on my own, an office seemed like an unnecessary expense. I already had a perfectly serviceable house, just sitting there doing nothing during the day, so why spend more money on somewhere else that I'd also have to commute to get to? And for the first few years I didn't bother, I worked from home.
Things stayed the same until I started looking for a space to house the Liverpool hackspace group and even then it was the workshop space that was the big draw. As it turned out, the first step towards that was something much closer to a standard office - four of us started renting a room in a serviced office last summer, with the only nod to the "workshop" being an extra table with a soldering iron on it.
A year on and I can safely say it was one of the better business decisions I've made. It's not so much that the office has made me more productive (although I think it would've helped more in the early days of working for myself), it's more that there are people around to share the trials and successes of running a business - you can get a sanity check on things, you're hooked into a wider network for picking up bits of work and meeting new people, and even some of the simple things like not having to worry about staying in for parcels being delivered.
So, I've finally seen the light on getting a desk around some other interesting people, but I've been thinking about how we can reconfigure what an office looks like, and what facilities it offers, for a while now. I gave a talk about co-working, hackspaces and other "new ways of working" a couple of years back, and I'm also a fan of Adam Greenfield's take on city-centre offices vs. edge-of-town, self-contained office campuses, summed up perfectly in this interview from last year:
Adam Greenfield: My feeling is that the apparently generous provisions of classic Valley workplaces like e.g. Google are set up to remove incentives for their staffers to leave campus, and to create incentives for them to remain there for the maximum amount of time achievable.
My idea of a good workspace is a little different: a small office, with windows that open and lots of natural light, in a dense and well-served neighborhood in the central city.
In other words, why isolate ourselves out on the highway, locked up in dreary, pompous, dinosaurian buildings, when our iPhones and laptops have made us mobile, untethered and free? Why surrender to the disciplinary space of the office, with its Taylorist constraints in time and space, when the city itself is well-provisioned with inspiration, strong coffee, good food and plenty of room to walk and ponder? Fortunately, I'm beginning to see signs that this is becoming a more generally accepted reality: see the coworking and Breakout movements.
Jane Jacobs reminded us in the 1960s that "sometimes new ideas need old buildings." I think it's even truer now than it was then.
So why am I telling you all this? Well, the Liverpool hackspace group has moved out of the pub and morphed into the monthly Maker Night event at the Art & Design Academy, which has shown that there's the demand for making and tinkering.
A permanent workshop/studio was always a long-term aim for those of us putting on Maker Night, but just recently we learnt that the building housing our current office is being taken over by a screen school, and so we needed to find somewhere new to house our desks.
That gave us the push to bring our plans forward, and the last couple of weeks has seen a raft of paperwork filling, discussions around what sort of space we'd like (and what we can make do with), juggling of (just one) spreadsheet (we're geeks not accountants ;-), and visiting an array of different sorts of buildings and offices. All on top of running our usual businesses. It's been a frantic, but exciting time.
The outcome of all this activity is that we've formed a new Community Interest Company - DoES Liverpool CIC - which lets us rent a space, accept money from people, and generally provide a framework to let people do stuff in the space. None of us are taking any money from it, nor are we expecting to (most of us already have Ltd. companies to cover making our fortunes ;-) and because it's a CIC the profits have to be used for the benefit of the community. I expect that will be mostly around expanding the space, and buying tools and equipment for members to use - things like a drill press, or a laser-cutter, but it'll be guided by what the members want.
We're also on the brink of moving into our first DoES Space. We announced the details at the Liverpool GeekUp meeting on Tuesday, and you can find out more at the Introducing DoES Liverpool blog post on the Maker Night blog.
Basically it will be a combined co-working and workshop/studio space. We're still working out the details but there'll be a small meeting room, an office where most of the desks will be sited, and a more flexible open plan area. The open plan room will have a couple of desks and some workbenches for soldering electronics or messier work, and also let us reconfigure it to hold meetings like GeekUp.
There are two main levels of membership: workshop access gets you access to the workshop/studio space, and use of the shared tools, and is £30/month; the co-working desk is £150/month and provides the same as workshop access plus your own permanent desk. We'll also have drop-in hot-desking at £8/day.
The prices all include bills - electricity, Internet, etc., and the monthly options will be on easy-in/easy-out terms, so no minimum term, and you just give a month's notice.
Interested? Questions? Drop us an email at hello [at] doesliverpool.com, even if you're just thinking you might want a desk in a few months - it's useful for us to know how much interest there is, and what sort of split between desks and workshop/studio space we should be aiming for when setting things up.