When you think about workspaces of the future, you probably think about sleek co-working spaces in London, Beijing, San Francisco, with sweeping views of the city and all the amenities you could ever wish for. Workers aren’t limited to these places though, so how do you create a next generation workspace somewhere other than a sprawling city?
When you are building a start-up eco system in a town of 45,000 people, there are many things to get right or it will fail. One of those things is spaces. Spaces don’t dictate work culture, but they sure do help facilitate it.
For the last while I have been building a start-up hub, The Innovation Collective, in the United States in a small town called Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Yes, Idaho is often known for potatoes, but this little town nestled into the mountains and lakes is becoming known for start-up companies printing light, building the worlds fastest commercial drones, self-driving tractors, kids sending robots almost into space and 3D printers printing carbon fibre. So where do start-ups like this spend time and how do you create the workplaces of the future in a town mostly in the past?
You reclaim spaces while casting vision. This is important because in the same way you believe the town can house a vision for an economy of the future, so can the old buildings. We launched a private club for the local entrepreneurs and techies that one best could describe as free masons, meets a country club, with a dash of entrepreneurship college. Now with our tribe of entrepreneurs linked up and passionate about building the future, they needed a home.
We started by first turning an old basement that had been abandoned for 50 years into one of the coolest co-working clubs on earth. What once was a forgotten space full of trash, dust and dirt is now a vibrant connecting point where co-founders meet and companies are built. When we leased the space from the owner, you could barely see the old brick and rock wall foundations. I will never forget sitting in that basement with an executive from The University of Idaho, Dr Charles Buck, while we dreamed of what it could be as we wore masks to keep the ancient dust out of our lungs as we swept the floors.
Now the space, called The 410, houses 40 work stations, five white boards, twenty-two foot long 150 year old barn wood table, teaching area with seating for 35, a bar, cigar room, dart boards and gigabit fibre internet. The lease was inexpensive, the furniture was mainly bought at thrift stores or donated by people who either loved the vision or felt sorry for us. Either way, we were on our way to something special.
Next we partnered with a boutique hotel, The Blackwell Hotel, in an old mansion to serve as the “high end” meeting place. Now when clients fly in or you need a place to close a deal, we have access to sitting rooms filled with beautiful art, fire places and magnificent board room tables. Most of the amenities of the hotel were going unused during the work day.
After a few meetings with the visionary hotel owner, Bill Wendlandt, he agreed to allow entrepreneurs to use his facility during the day. This decision has produced additional business for the hotel and on any given day you can walk in and see a group of entrepreneurs playing pool while a meeting is being hosted on the other side of the main floor. Additional amenities our members have access to include a hot tub, gym, shuffle board, horse shoes and a theatre.
Most recently, we partnered with an art gallery to offer our members a space that is filled with sculptures and paintings as a quiet place to read a book or host a unique kind of meeting. The art gallery was closed on weekdays and once we installed a camera and a keypad on the door, our members had their own private art gallery during the weekdays.
Oddly, each of these spaces are on the same street downtown and are number 205, 410 and 820. It was as if it was meant to be. To top it all off, this “campus” of workspaces is less than two minutes walking distance from the shores of, Lake Coeur d’Alene, a lake national geographic listed as one of the five most beautiful lakes in the world.
In a time when large tech companies and often small start-ups are providing amenities and ambiance setting perks it is easy to feel like you need to break the bank to make sure that your workplace is one that screams, you workers are special and your company loves you. I agree that it is important your spaces show those in them that they matter, but you would be surprised what you can do by partnering up or cleaning out an old basement.
Workplaces of the future, if in San Francisco, London, Beijing, small town Idaho, or your town, are simply built around people with a vision, passion, and the drive to execute while having a good time. Darts and beer don't hurt either.