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Coffices, hoffices, coworking and the gig economy

Do you work out of a coffice? Coffee shops as offices fuel the daily grind of Toronto’s gig economy more than ever before.

In the olden days, we were all supposed to graduate from universities, find well-paying stable jobs, go to our offices in the morning and return in the evening, when we would hug the people we love at some property we would own and call our home. We would repeat this exercise until we retired and finally travelled the world, walking the beach at sunset and holding hands, Freedom 55 style.

Instead, we live in a busy city that’s looking for its own face, surrounded by glass office towers that seem like bastions, and we are the winter that’s coming. Paradoxically, while looking for work in today’s market can be an exercise in frustration, the local gig economy is alive and well. Walk into any coffee shop in the city, and you will find people working on a movie, designing products, writing copy, producing games, working on their own side-projects that evolve into companies, marking, and more.

The Rise of Coffices

Coffices, or coffee shops as offices, are a relatively new trend gaining momentum. Every coffee shop potentially doubles as an office, but not all Toronto coffices are created equal. Creative Torontonians have devised ways to keep track of the best public working spots.

“While working as an independent consultant I found it difficult to focus and concentrate from the quiet of my own home,” says Sam Title, who loved coffee shops as offices concept so much he founded The Coffice. The site comes with a handy map of Toronto's coffices and provides a community feel to this work approach.

Title explains that, while he started working out of coffee shops for a change of scene, he quickly discovered that his productivity improved with a little added hustle and bustle. “I gradually started meeting others who also preferred the atmosphere for work and with that also began to grow my professional network,” he says. “In discussing the success of my experience with a friend, I was inspired to create an online destination for other Cofficers to meet, network and share.”

Daniel Rodriguez, a teacher at High Park Alternative School, comes to his local coffee shop to do marking and paperwork. “I usually don’t work out of a coffee shop, but from time to time, I need to get out of my house. And I find, when I have to do repetitive paperwork, it’s nice to go to a coffee shops and not get distracted,” Rodriguez says. Like Title, Rodriguez often finds the hubbub of a coffee shop to actually be a boon to staying focused, and he can often be spotted working away at The Good Neighbour in The Junction.

Regulars at coffices say hi to each other, know where to find the plugs, and typically spend a chunk of their budget on coffee. How do coffee shops feel about this, though?

“I think it’s a good thing to see a lot of the same people come here every day. Means we have consistent business,” says Franco Arcieri, Barista at The Good Neighbour “People are generally good at getting drinks every few hours, not that they need to.” 

For those working out of offices, sites like Coffitivity stream ambient coffee shop noise, so your office could feel like coffice.

Coworking in Toronto

When coffices just won’t do, Toronto’s thriving coworking scene offers a rich selection of places and space for entrepreneurs making their own way in life. New coworking spaces seem to be opening every month or so. Just recently, the Toronto Reference Library launched a coworking space for writers, and another new coworking space, the Workhouse, opened doors on 100 Front St. East.

Toronto marked its first official Coworking Toronto Day on February 24, an occasion to celebrate freelancers and entrepreneurs who thrive in supportive, productive and collaborative work environments and facilities.

“Like many small business owners, your first office is your living room, bedroom desk, or in my case, my parents’ dining table,” wrote Jocelyn Butler of Orchestra Marketing, in a blog post aptly called Why I Love Coworking As a Business Owner.” “When you’re on your own (as long as you have the focus) this is fine. For me, it was torture and it was lonely.”

Butler, who goes onto describe herself as a “type-A extrovert,” realized early on her need to interact with people other than her mom on a day-to-day basis. In 2012, she started working out of the downtown coworking studio to Project: RHINO to improve her focus and meet new people, hiring two staffers along the way. She concludes: “Coworking made it possible for me to hire employees and get into a working environment that would help my business grow and prosper.”

Recently, Mayor John Tory issued a statement on the substantial impact of coworking has on independent workers. “Global surveys conducted by Deskmag report that 58 per cent of members were working from home before joining a coworking space. The surveys also reported that 42 per cent of members join co-orking spaces for knowledge sharing and 68 per cent of coworkers report improved focus and an increase in creativity. With 1.1 million small businesses in Canada, independent workers are discovering a new way to work that makes a positive impact to the local economy,” Tory said.

Meanwhile, Toronto Coworking Collective aims to grow and strengthen the local coworking community further. “We’ve also seen the Toronto community grow considerably in the last few years in particular. What started as three Toronto coworking spaces talking about working on projects together has grown to a collective of coworking spaces across the city,” says Rachel Young, Founder of Camaraderie Coworking.

The growing popularity of alternative workspaces, whether coffices or coworking digs, point at the changes in economy, technology, and people choosing flexibility over the stability of 9 to 5. These days, when most of office work can be done with a laptop and a phone, coffices, coworking and hoffices, the new addition to the mix, where friends take turns and invite friends and strangers to cowork in their homes and living rooms, just make sense. Toronto is on top of the hoffices trend, too, with the first hoffice launched this February in Riverdale, and many more to come this spring.

Torontonians are a creative bunch when it comes to working things out. We may save the economy and build a better future for our city yet, with our laptops and coffee shops, one latte at a time.

Elena Yunusov is an editor at BetaKit and startup marketer. She tweets at @Communicable.  
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