The 4 kinds of coworking space in Melbourne

Or: how I embraced my outer curmudgeon

When I first sought out a coworking space three years ago, I found the rainbow unicorn: 180 degree uninterrupted views of Melbourne; beaut rent; central location; great people; sparse and clean and quiet.

At the tail end of my lease, things changed. More collaborative types moved in. Filmmakers and…more filmmakers. People with lots of mates and coworkers and meetings and skylarking. Young people. Non-grumpy people. I regretfully moved out and have been searching for the next unicorn for over 3 months now.

As we know, Melbourne is a funny old hipster paradise these days, full of passing fancies like jafflechutes and fleeting fashions like baristas in leather aprons. Coworking is no different. If you overdose on Creative Spaces, you’ll find a wonderland of Hubs, Labs, Collectives, and creativity just oozing out of every moment. Here are the 4 kinds of coworking spaces in Melbourne, and why I won’t be moving into any soon.

1. The corporate hub

I am in no way an ‘entrepreneur’. Nor do I run a start-up, nor know how to use the word ‘innovation’ correctly (i.e. anywhere and in any context). So this was never going to be likely, but as I am above all things hopeful, I gave it a crack.

I tried out a couple of well-known ones: Hub Melbourne, and The Cluster. These looked pretty good…from the website. The amenities look amazing – oodles of high speed internet, printing, nice, clean kitchens and loads of nooks, Skyping booths (with exercise bikes!), and quiet spaces to work and spread out. Thank goodness they offer trial days.

This was the actual view from my old studio

This was the actual view from my old studio

The ‘quiet space’ at the Hub is a handful of desks completely surrounded by boardrooms full of permanent corporate businesses doing their thang, usually with doors open and speakers turned up. I was offered a quieter space – off to the side of the kitchen area, in a space where they stored old furniture. I thought it a high fee for a storage room.

They are run by very professional, easy-going staff who are eager to help out. And they say they’ve got a space for every kind of need, from boardroom, to quiet, to open-plan. The people using these spaces, however, are not aware of that.

2. The techie haven

I actually don’t mind Inspire9 at all and in the past, I’ve worked there quite peacefully. Maybe I wasn’t a curmudgeon then? These days they sadly fail the sniff test, which is the table tennis and the ball-pit (which my mate’s 4-year-old loved). This, plus coworking spaces like the York Butter Factory are again not a good fit for businesses like mine. They’re big open plan workspaces, which are again not conducive to knuckling down and trying to concentrate on a number of ideas at once.

Says coder George Stocker here: “Collaboration is a great goal if that’s what drives your business” AMEN TO THEE SIR. An open plan workspace is ideal for people whose businesses need other people to get going.

3. The bro-run warehouse

There are whole empires in this town built around bros and their lifestyles. They sell burgers made from supermarket ingredients. They deliver furniture and meatballs and beard wax. They are fucking cool as shit. They are always bros. They market everything with a knowing wink. And if you don’t like them, HATERS AND LOSERS TO THE LEFT.

Apparently, they’ve made forays into coworking. The bro-run warehouse may be about a lot of things, but ‘working’ is not high on the list. They are easy to spot, as here are some of the items listed as amenities:

    • A table tennis table plonked right in the middle of where people work
    • IKEA-style ball pit, for adults
    • Disco ball
    • Beer fridge
    • Cardboard furniture
    • Nespresso machine
    • DJs on Fridays
Arrgghh whyeee did I have to leeeave

Arrgghh whyeee did I have to leeeave

4. The art studio

This is where all of Melbourne’s chipboard has gone to die – to make partitions in great big inner-city warehouses for arty types. It’s a close cousin of the bro-run warehouse, but without the bro-tude and I think more focused on people who want to make actual art. Most of the arty studios I’ve seen, such as The Cavern Table Studios, are pretty well-run. If you’re not a muso-slash-illustrator-slash-actor-slash-theatre reviewer, it’s not a good fit for the likes of me. As a copywriter, I’m not creative enough to be ‘a creative’. Basically the chances of me creating one of those installations made of old TVs on static tipped on their side* are slim.

I’m pretty sure this is the reason why I didn’t get into the North Melbourne Meat Market space (which involved a multi-page application and a very unprofessional submission process and I wouldn’t recommend it).

What to do about it?

An actual coworking space is a far cry from the stock images of fun, racially-diverse people high-fiving in a boardroom. The reality is people plugged into those $400 Boise noise-cancelling headphones that everyone goes wild for. The reality is a bunch of huge corporates parking their bums there indefinitely. The reality is people having an impromptu meeting, right into your face, 30cm from your laptop. The reality is apparently pillow forts.

I think that after 3 months of searching, coworking is so not for me. So sooooo not for me. My ideal working space is a library, in a bomb shelter. Deep under the Hadron-Collider. In Gallifrey, at the end of time.

I need to find a spot where they’d call the cops on you for dropping a book. Where people work hard but play hard where you’re supposed to: in bars and pubs and outside the 7-11. Where coworking space means it’s a space full of grown ups who are there to work.

I think that what I need to do is embrace my outer curmudgeon and find a room of my own.


*The centrepiece of every graduate art show I’ve ever been to in my whole life.

2 thoughts on “The 4 kinds of coworking space in Melbourne

  1. I have a serviced office in Compass Offices at the World Trade Centre, it is more corporate and have been here coming on 2 years and looooove it. Agreed it may not be your cup of tea but well worth it for my Finance business.
    This was a great read Rebecca, totally enjoyed and acknowledged several points you made when I searched for this place.

    • Thanks Troy Boy! it’s so important to find the right fit for your business – great views and amenities and rent aside. Although you’re so damned easy-going I think it would be hard to piss you off in a shared space!

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