A new twist on work culture
Co-working movement hits Prague, providing independent professionals with collaborative communities
Posted: April 28, 2010
Those of us who have experience working from home for an extended period of time know that, after a while, motivation can wane as a feeling of isolation takes its place. This is just one of the many challenges of maintaining a successful home office. Often, the most difficult part is the absence of separate physical space for work and home: It's hard to focus on work when, out of the corner of your eye, you can see piles of dirty laundry and a sink full of dishes. Now, there is a solution for those who want to continue working as freelancers or contractors but who miss the camaraderie, focus, drive and skill-sharing opportunities that come from working in an office.
Co-working is a movement that started in California in the late '90s that brings together professionals who normally work from home for different companies, and even different industries, but who want to share a workspace with others, be it in a café, gallery, someone's living room or an office. The concept is much more developed in North America, where Web developers and marketing consultants sit next to journalists and fashion designers, all tapping away intently on their laptops in shared office spaces like The Hat Factory in San Francisco, but co-working groups are popping up all over Europe, as well - including in the Czech Republic.
"I ended up working freelance from home, and for the first three months it was wonderful, but then I went mental," says Dave Ruzius, a Dutch expat and founder of The Works, a Prague-based co-working group formed in November 2009. The group has 120-plus members and is growing, but since they don't yet have a physical office space, Ruzius organizes "Jellies," co-working jargon for informal meetings, usually in cafés, where people sit for eight hours and put in a full day's work, independently, but together.
Lunchtime is more social because everybody eats together, and, for any given Jelly, Ruzius also arranges one or two brief seminars presented by members of the co-working community on topics of interest to other members.
What: A meet-up of independent workers who want to share a workspace, professional skills, business contacts and each other's company
When: Monthly for full or half days. The next Jelly is to be announced soon
How to join: Register at www.theworks.cz
"If you're a legal consultant, you could give a presentation on that, or how to deal with customers without going mental," Ruzius says. "It's a learning environment where people help each other do their business better, and that's the core of co-working: to work together and better."
Other seminar topics have included legal issues for freelancers and how to use Google apps for small businesses.
Jellies are held once per month, but Ruzius hopes to hold them more often and have them hosted by other members.
"It's not just people selling stuff, and that's what I like about it. It goes both ways, like, 'If you help me with this, then I'll help you with that,' and there is no money exchanged," says Jeanne Trojan, a longtime American expat and freelance trainer and consultant.
Trojan, who has been freelancing for four years, has attended all of The Works' Jellies and says, in addition to the free exchange of business know-how, she also appreciates the social aspect of the meet-ups.
"I love freelancing, and I would never go back, but it's an adjustment because work is where you meet your friends. You all go out for beers after work, but you don't have that when you freelance," she says. "But I've made friends at the Jellies."
Lukáš Plíhal, a Czech IT worker who has attended two Jellies so far, says the lack of social and professional support that freelancers experience can really drive you over the edge.
"I would tell anyone who is thinking about freelancing or contracting that, if you're really alone and you have no support, you can't do anything [but] call your mom and cry."
It's a frustration many at the Jellies identify with. Trojan says, as freelancers, they not only face the same issues, but are generally like-minded people.
"Freelancers are much more free-thinking people. We're all people who have taken a risk," she says. "We don't get a regular paycheck, and that makes for kind of a different person."
The Works community seems pretty IT-heavy, but Ruzius says the goal of co-working is to achieve the most diversity - of profession, nationality and gender - as possible.
"The majority now is Web developers and designers," he says. "But look at the people who only need a laptop and a Web connection - those are people who join The Works."
Other Prague co-working groups are looking forward to the upcoming openings of their co-working office spaces. Locus Workspace, run by American expat Will Benis, will open its doors May 4. Located on Krakovská street, just off Wenceslas Square, Locus Workspace offers 106 m2 of bright, clean office space in a cozy apartment.
"I was inspired by my experience in graduate school," Benis says. "I did field research, and I saw everybody else out there working and writing their dissertations on their own, and they struggled to achieve their potential without other people around."
There are no permanent desks for rent at Locus. Instead, Benis utilizes a co-working concept called "hot-desking," whereby co-workers are guaranteed drop-in space and can buy weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly memberships, with prices ranging from 2,299 Kč ($120) for one week, to just under 30,000 Kč for a year. Membership includes 24/7 office access, unlimited Wi-Fi, access to color printer, fax, copier and scanner, as well as a host of other resources available in most offices.
The Hub, an international chain of co-working offices with locations in more than 20 cities worldwide, will open a space in Prague in early June, and organizer Petr Vítek, a management consultant by day, says although The Hub is for everyone, in Prague they are especially focused on NGOs.
"I've worked with NGOs, and that's one of the reasons I'm doing this. The Hub can help them," says Vítek. "We want to help others realize their ideas. Many small businesses and NGOs have a great vision, but they lack know-how, capital and resources."
The Hub in Prague will have 50 workstations, and members can rent space from five hours per month to unlimited access, with prices ranging between 300 and 3,600 Kč.
Though himself in the market for an office space for The Works, Ruzius is quick to emphasize that co-working is not just about physical space. He's an avid evangelizer of the co-working concept and says the community of people working together and sharing know-how is what is really fundamental to co-working.
"If you're a small Czech Web development company, for example, it's difficult for you to get work outside of the Czech Republic, because of language and because of contacts. But, if you become a part of an international community, it gives you access to international clients," Ruzius says. "It's an incubator for new business. If clever people can get together, then why not work together?"
Emily Thompson can be reached at
Tags: Jelly, c-working, freelance.
- This will definitely help when getting into office cleaning. ...
- Great article, Emily. Glad to see coworking getting covered by the Prague ...
- Good article, full of inovation... ...
- Thanks for a great article, Emily! One note - The Works has had a lot of support ...
- Great article; my thanks to Emily. It captures what we @ TheWorks think and ...