At first glance, the eclectic group of people gathered around a long table at a Cochrane bistro on any given Tuesday may seem like a casual group of friends chatting over hot cups of coffee and tea.
Look a little closer, though, and you start to notice they have slick computers, stuffed dayplanners and noise-cancelling headphones … and the conversation has a decidedly professional tone. They’re actually all business owners and entrepreneurs from around the region who have come together to brainstorm, collaborate, share ideas – and get out of the house.
“I’m probably the most extroverted introvert you’ll ever meet,” said Cochranite Scott Gibson-Craig, who works remotely as the director of application development and information technology for Six Safety Systems. “I understand that need to get out and learn.”
Co-working groups have exploded around the world in the last decade as a result of a professional movement toward more remote work.
Many businesses and industries realized they were able to save scores on infrastructure, insurance and other costs by having employees do their jobs from home. Employees, too, loved the benefits of a flexible schedule and more autonomy over their lives.
“We work a 40-hour week – not an eight-hour day,” said Gibson-Craig. “I think there’s a lot of freedom and creativity in that.”
But workers still needed the human touch, so communal collectives naturally began to form part of the new professional landscape.
The Cochrane Co-working Group was established by Mark Eaton about a year ago when the independent software developer tried to join a meetup of like-minded entrepreneurs –like those in bigger cities like Calgary, Edmonton and around the country – but couldn’t find one here in town.
“I went looking for one and there wasn’t one,” Eaton recalled, adding he decided to start a group of his own. “You provide the environment … and people come along.”
According to the Town of Cochrane’s economic development department, one third of all licensed businesses in the community are storefronts, with another third made up of out-of-town companies who do work here.
The final percentage – about 600 registered – are home-based.
That number is reflected in Eaton’s co-working community membership, which now boasts more than 80 members and includes area bookkeepers, management consultants, graphic designers, marketers and more. They meet as often as once a week in one of four local coffee shops.
“It’s a really wide range of people,” said Eaton. “We meet every week and we work and we chat … rather than sitting by ourselves.”
Cochrane communications specialist Catherine Gardiner said she gains a lot by attending as many meetups as her schedule allows.
“We come and we work, brainstorm, help solve a business problem,” Gardiner said.
“We always leave more inspired, more connected … and I think that’s fundamentally what people who work independently are looking for.”
The meetup has been so successful that Eaton is now investigating the idea of creating a more permanent space for the group to use as a shared working environment – the latest evolution of the remote work trend.
He’s currently talking with town developers and considering fee structures for different levels of membership. He’s also soliciting input from local professionals with a survey at www.cochranecowork.ca about how to best build out the idea.
“The transitions have gone from office to home … and from home to co-working spaces,” he said. “I want to try to extend the benefits we have here (at the coffee shop).”
Jesse Davidson – who runs architectural firm Drafting Your Design out of his house – said he likes the idea of a more professional shared space to bridge the gap between a high overhead full-time office, which he doesn’t need, and his more relaxed room at home.
“The majority of my meetings happen in coffee shops,” he said.
For now, the group is happy to keep meeting wherever they can to make their work work, like this Tuesday morning at The Gentry Espresso & Wine Bar.
“This isn’t a distraction from our work life,” said Gardiner, as she settled in with a tea and her computer. “It’s an enhancement to our work life.”