COLM TOBIN: Good co-workers and great coffee are the key to good co-working

August 22nd, 2022 11:00 AM

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I’LL be honest with ye, I have had no urge to return to ‘the office’ to work for many years. I think David Brent and his cringey dance put paid to that notion in the brilliant BBC sitcom which somehow captured the strange modern phenomenon that is crowding people into cubicles in a room with bad air where they sit for hours in quiet desperation against all known medical advice, and where they ultimately end up spending more time in a year than they do with the family at home.

Get off the fence on ‘the office’ there, Colm, I hear you say.

But there are reasons for having people physically together in one space.

Some jobs require it more than others. I’m lucky in that I work in an industry – TV animation mostly – where almost all stages of production can be done remotely, bar voice records.

But even still, there are instances when not being in the same room can be frustrating, or it can take three days to get something over the line that would otherwise be done in 15  minutes after a quick chat.

Emails upon emails that go on for decades, all creative energy lost as it turns into a game of ‘he says, she says’ tennis which has lost all meaning.

And then there are the quick, random, chats you can have in a shared workspace. Especially when collaboration and ideas are at the heart of a business, it’s often those unpredictable notions and odd thoughts that crop up organically over (organic) coffee, that can be the seed of the next two or three years of actual business. In our case, it could be a one-line notion for a TV show, or some twist on an existing format. You can’t replicate that in Zoom, although we’ve been exploring ways to facilitate it naturally, including bi-annual or even more frequent off-site creative retreats (‘jollys’, we used to call them).

This is why, in some industries, the idea of hybrid working is the one that has taken hold post-Covid. People want the freedom of working at home for a portion of the week, for obvious family and lifestyle reasons, but they also like travelling to the office one or two days a week for some more intensive catch-up time.

Large corporations with huge office spaces that are burning through C02 all week while their employees work from home is obviously something that industry needs to come to terms with, and who knows how all that will play out. But the workers are speaking with their feet on this one.

And so, this week, I thought I’d try my own version of hybrid working, given I spend most of my working life in my home studio in Dublin and co-run a company.

This week, we decided to bring the kids for a West Cork holiday and given I was unable to check out completely, I booked into the Mix Co-Working hub in Clonakilty to do half a week. My first time in a shared office in about three years.

I’ve been aware of the concept of co-working now for some years. From the marketing materials of various hubs around the country, some private, some community-based, it’s a potential alternative to renting an expensive office, a communal space where you can hot desk, share ideas, eat pizza and lounge on the rooftop garden doing deals with other high-flying tech entrepreneurs. Or so some of the brochures say. It all sounds a bit involved for me when all I want from a workspace is somewhere to sit in silence with broadband fast enough to bring whoever I need into the room via Zoom.

There have been many artist-focused collectives and shared studio spaces for many years, dreamed up as a cost-cutting pooling of resources, as well as being a social space for the sharing of ideas, and, ya know, just hanging out. Post-Covid, and with work much more footloose and freelance, co-working spaces are now turning into genuine community resources and growth hubs. See Ludgate in Skibb for a great example. We are seeing it all over West Cork now, and it is even becoming a huge draw for the islands off Ireland, where fast broadband speeds and rural hubs mean population growth is a realistic aspiration again, after many generations of the opposite.

My experience this week was absolutely brilliant. I put in two very solid 9-5 shifts in a really well-kitted-out space in Clonakilty, which was also great value. It meant the kids could go off to the beach and spend time with their grandparents and I was able to work half the week in a genuinely intensive way. The space had everything you’d need. A quiet, respectful atmosphere, very welcoming hosts and most importantly, decent coffee! And it was fascinating to eavesdrop ever so slightly on the different accents, business types and people who were using the space.

I believe this way of working is going to truly change rural Ireland over the next 20 years and the towns that embrace it most and that invest in it will reap the rewards.

Go West, young man

DOING a spot of co-working meant I was able to take a lovely little trip down memory lane and saunter around Clon for my lunch break for the first time since secondary school.

I did notice on my first day that I was still in my stressed-out Dublin work headspace but I got help from a local lad in the café where I grabbed lunch. When I arrived in the door to order a sandwich he shouted ‘how are you doing?’ from the coffee machine. I, still being in transactional city mode and presuming he wanted my coffee order quickly, got a bit flustered and explained that I didn’t want to order my coffee yet, and that I was going to look at the sandwich board first if that was okay.

‘Arrah, that’s grand,’ says he, ‘I was only saying hello to ya, boy.’

That put me in my place.

I think maybe there’s a market for a West Cork app we could build to help people like me acclimatise on the way down the M8. Some breathing exercises, perhaps, or a bit of meditation led by John Spillane.

Would the real Collins …

ONE of the most shocking things about spending a few days in Clon was that I didn’t meet anybody called Michael Collins.

I suppose they were all gone to Newcestown at that stage! Anyway, what a coup for Michael Collins TD, who is on his way to take part in the world record attempt.

You’d wonder what The Big Fella would have thought of such a daft, ironic exercise. I’d like to think that he would have loved the idea, of the Irish people remembering him in a really unique way.

Although part of me thinks he’d say ‘So this is the kinda thing ye get up to when ye are freed from the shackles of the British empire?!’

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