Since launching in 2016, co-working space The Commons has built through its reputation through generosity.
For years, it’s been giving back to the non-profit and impact startup community. It runs an annual scholarship program, offering these businesses free office space and access to their facilities for 12 months. The program is often overcapacity, receiving at least 100 new applications each year. The Commons accepts as many of them as they can, and to date has given away over $300,000 worth of free office space to these companies.
“I got in trouble because I kept saying yes,” The Common’s co-founder Cliff Ho said.
“My business partner and I want to do more than just turn a profit. We believe The Commons is a perfect platform for like-minded companies, helping them grow by keeping all of their ideas under the one roof.”
This hasn’t been at the expense of growth either.
Ho and his business partner Tom Ye more or less stumbled into the co-working industry after trying to find a flexible office space for their own business and seeing a shortage in the market. The runaway success of their first space quickly saw that side hustle become their primary job.
Since launching its first site in the old Swisse Vitamins office in Collingwood, The Commons has gone on to add over 6 new spaces and expand into Sydney. An impressive list of companies use the space too, including Spotify, Paypal, Who Gives A Crap and Change.org.
But the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has created a strange turn of events for the growing coworking empire. Now, instead of providing charity, it relies on the generosity and gratitude of its members to sustain itself until it can fully reopen. Despite closing its doors in line with Victoria’s Stage 3 and Stage 4 COVID-19 restrictions, Ho says many members at The Commons continue to pay membership rates for office space they aren’t using.
The Commons’ continues to operate, offering value to its members where it can. It moved all of its events online, including its regular Friday drinks. It also holds regular expert sessions finding guest speakers to talk about mental health and resilience. Some of its events have over 100 attendees. One point Ho is proud of is the pillar of support the company has provided for founders who work and live alone.
“We have founders that just jump on video calls with our community managers for a chat,” he says.
Despite the current road bump posed by COVID-19, Ho is bullish on the future of The Commons and co-working.
“I’ve learned that we are not a pandemic-proof business. But I feel we’re a recession-proof business” he says. His optimism stems from the renewed success of the Sydney office. Just months after lockdown lifted in the city, their new coworking space is almost back to pre-COVID levels.
“It’s incredibly motivating for the team to see this. Recovery is in sight.”
He believes the trend seen in commercial real-estate — a move towards decentralised offices from larger companies — will continue and that coworking spaces will benefit from it.
But more than anything, for Ho, the lessons from COVID-19 have underscored that the true value of the co-working industry isn’t space, its community.
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