Coworking in Australia: from Digital Dens to Executive Establishments by Tim Mahlberg

In 2005, a new form of working was conceived when a small group of individuals from creative industries came together in an experiment to work alongside each other in an open and shared space called Spiral Muse in San Francisco. This marked the birth of the coworking space.

Coworking refers to the practice of working alongside people with whom one shares a workplace but not necessarily an organisational affiliation. Coworking spaces refer to dedicated places that are shared by people from different organisations, often freelancers, who work alongside each other, share infrastructure and often engage in joint activities associated with learning, innovation and collaboration.

Image: Tank Stream Labs, Sydney

Image: Tank Stream Labs, Sydney

Spurred by trends such as activity-based work, and other new forms of work organisation, the rise of the freelance model and ubiquitous digital and mobile technology, coworking has escaped its niche and is now of broader interest to startups and corporations, inner city firms and suburb and rural communities alike. Today, the number of coworking spaces exceeds 10,000 worldwide.

Coworking comes in all shapes and flavours, and caters to a diverse range of needs. And while coworking spaces are the spiritual home of successful start-ups, the digital disruptors, the corporate change makers, and social visionaries, their appeal is now much broader.

In our report we ask: what can be learned from coworking spaces about how to facilitate new ways of working with a view to increase collaboration and innovation? How can the various models be harnessed by small businesses and corporates to drive growth and efficiency?

We find that well-run coworking spaces provide insight into how our workplaces could be if they were more innovative and collaborative, supporting their people to work autonomously, flexibly and courageously.

The stereotypical coworking space may be envisaged as the opposite to traditional corporate work spaces, with a focus on technology, socialising, and informal ‘play’ spaces. However, new and more sophisticated coworking spaces have emerged providing concepts more relevant to larger organisations.

In our report ‘Coworking Spaces Australia’ we provide an introduction to the coworking phenomenon and an overview of the state of coworking in Australia. In doing so, we analysed over 300 coworking spaces active in Australia (as of March 2017) to unpack this phenomenon and to derive a taxonomy of seven distinct types of coworking spaces which we describe in detail. We further provide learnings about how to translate the concept of coworking into more traditional small business and corporate work realities and how to get you started on your own coworking journey.

Download the full report here

Building spaces that inspire: Four lessons from the first 2 years of The Village by Tim Mahlberg

Two years ago, I was lucky enough to be a part of a bold experiment inside one of Australia's big banks. On the 25th November 2013, The Village at National Australia Bank opened to it's customers and the public in the new 700 Bourke Street building in Docklands. What unfolded over the years is truly remarkable and something that I am still so proud to have been involved with.

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THE FUTURE OF WORK by Tim Mahlberg

I’ve always been curious to understand and explore better ways that people can work together, whether through building high performing cultures, celebrating world class customer experiences, or inspiring and empowering others to imagine more for themselves through their work.

Since studying psychology and workplace performance, I’ve found myself drawn further into conversations and experiments around the future of work. My recent work has been my boldest experiment to date; establishing the innovative business community that is The Village. Facilitating the success of this space has exposed me to thought leaders in the future of work from around the world who see The Village as a clear example of how we will all work in the future. 

The Village is an embodiment of how I imagine the future of work to be; where people are authentic and supported to bring all of themselves to work, with a focus on their strengths, areas of passion and finding greater purpose and meaning in their work. My views on this have been shaped by my studies in humanistic and positive psychology, and the vision of thinkers like Maslow, Rogers, Czikszentmihalyi, Seligman and Deci & Ryan. I'm curious about how we can translate their amazing research into everyday life to make meaningful impact to as many people as possible. For me, the laboratory is the workplace.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been involved in numerous conversations with corporates, entrepreneurs, the start-up community, and politicians about the future of the digital workspace, and the evolution of existing platforms like Yammer, LinkedIn, Facebook etc. I envisage that coworking communities like The Village will realise their full potential for social and economic impact when they are underpinned by a strong digital offering that doesn’t yet exist. This platform will have maximum impact when it replicates the authentic human interactions that make places like The Village so appealing: sense of identity of the community, innovation and experimentation, access to thought leadership, curation/hosting of the space, and finally, “accelerated serendipity”; where people are curious and drawn to a space for who they might meet and what they might learn, which is unexpected but comes at the right time. It's that social alchemy that creates a pull. 

My vision for the future of work is a continued growth in collaborative shared workspaces, including coworking spaces, that are connected across Australia’s metropolitan and regional centres, positioning us as a role model for community and innovation for our region and the world. We need to prepare for the next generation of workers who will demand greater flexibility in working, with preference to access distributed hubs that better support their preferred lifestyle, rather than waste away valuable time and energy in traffic and transport.

I believe that we will continue to see an employment growth in small business rather than big business, which will require a new way of organising and sharing knowledge. I see the important role of digital spaces to help facilitate meaningful connections between diverse groups of people, giving a platform for ideation, debate and civic engagement. Social media and enterprise collaboration platforms will continue to evolve, and we will see a shift away from the “email and meeting” cultures currently experienced in so many organisations.

Our aging population will put pressure on our economy to be more productive and move solutions to market faster, which will be accelerated by strong digital collaboration platforms. This will also coincide with Australia further embracing the start-up and entrepreneur culture, reversing the talent drain to Silicon Valley.

Finally, I believe that work will continue to embrace authenticity, compassion, and innovation, particularly as we see more female leaders come to top positions of influence and traditional institutional hierarchies continue to flatten. Leadership will shift from authoritative to more adaptive, authentic, transformational, and servant leadership models, which inspire and empower employees to be the very best they can be.

Imagine if we could create our ideal workplace. For me, The Village was the start of creating this.  After all, it's not every day that you are invited to build something from the ground up, so a huge kudos to NAB for this opportunity letting me experiment with them. I recognise that this was just one step towards a much bigger change in how we work that the world is hungry for.

The future of work is unwritten, and we have the opportunity to shape it now. Since leaving NAB, I've been fortunate to be sponsored by Deloitte Australia to undertake PhD research into the Future of Work and the Digital Workplace over the next 3 years at the University of Sydney Business School. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to dive deeper into what work might, and will look like for future generations. I'm currently holding some big questions in mind to shape this research, including:

- What would we like the work in the future to look and feel like and why?

- How could we organise work differently and what elements of our current workplace would we keep or change?

- What could we learn about work from other cultures and incorporate into the future workplaces?

I'll be sharing my findings and insights here regularly, and am committed to sharing the journey with as many people as possible. If you see an opportunity for collaboration, please reach out to connect

On leaving a job that I love by Tim Mahlberg

I believe that each day you get out of bed and head out to work is the day you choose your current job. It's an active, daily choice, rather than just a decision you make when you put in your application, have the interview and score the role. The day you start thinking that you want to do something else, or dream of the next stage, is the day you should start to create that next move. 

After I announced to my work community that I was moving on from my amazing role as Host of The Village, many people couldn't believe that I would leave. After all, it is clearly a role that i loved and was proud of (and still totally love it). When you find (or in my case, create!) your perfect role, then why would you choose to give it up? 

And just why did I love it so much? Well, because I was paid (by a bank!) to:

Photo credit: Kate Hanley

Photo credit: Kate Hanley

  1. Bring my whole self to work every day, and invite others to do the same. (Somedays that just meant being a dag)

  2. Build a community based on inspiration and empowerment

  3. Work with some of the most awesome people I've ever met (small business owners, entrepreneurs, non-profit leaders and big business innovators... what a mix!)

  4. Help other people to imagine more for themselves and their work, and build courage to act on their dreams

  5. Hold a vision for the community and the organisation that supports it (in this case, a top 4 Australian bank)

Yep, it was a pretty special gig, and definitely not your standard job description (I'll admit that the "official" one wasn't so inspiring)

So why would I leave it? After all, people can go a lifetime toiling away at work that they are not passionate about. Well, I believe that this work is just a stepping stone to something even bigger and I owed it to myself to explore that. I wanted to create the space and time in my life for that next big thing. In fact, I believe that it has been preparing me for something even more exciting. 

There was a quote that played on my mind as I contemplated leaving:

A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for

J. A. Shedd

If The Village was my harbour, and I was the ship moored there, then really, it was an easy choice to leave. The very nature of the harbour and the people visiting, whispering stories of seas yet sailed upon, and lands yet explored, did nothing but feed the growing curiosity of what is possible outside. Being surrounded by amazing entrepreneurs and innovators does that to you!

I wanted to feel the waves on my bow, the wind in my sails, and the sun on my face. I definitely didn't want to be safe, because that's not where the fun is. So, after a year and a half of building the harbour and the ship, I was off sailing. 

Sailing has been a powerful analogy in my life ever since I learnt to sail with my Mum when I was 10. There is something raw and majestic about battling the elements in a small boat across rough waters and being confronted by the awesomeness and power of nature. When I was a teenager, there were a few moments where storms had overwhelmed me and my boat, and I felt like it could be the end, or at least the sense that death was a possible outcome if things were much worse. The destructive potential of nature captivated my imagination and grounded me in that moment; a mere child mesmerised by unknowable forces that ruled the world, and a complete surrender to fate. 

There is something about letting go of what is known and controllable with sailing that I find so empowering. It reminds me to imagine what might be, remain in awe of the mysteries of life and be open to surprise and the ever-present serendipity. There are so many uncontrollable forces at play in life that we would be fooling ourselves to believe that even with our hand firmly on the tiller, we are never truly in charge of our destiny. 

This is one last quote that I hold when I make my life decisions. Making big calls in life and work isn't easy for anyone. It takes courage and risk. But, the rewards are worth it, and there is something reassuring and beautiful in falling asleep each day feeling that you have chosen that day in all it's entirety and wouldn't change anything at all.

Photo credit: Tim Mahlberg

Photo credit: Tim Mahlberg

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.

So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. 

Explore. Dream. Discover.

- Mark Twain