Coworking spaces are no longer found just in New York, Berlin and London – in Asia, Brazil and even Addis Ababa, these non-territorial, communally used office spaces are springing up everywhere. We travelled to Moscow to take a closer look at three very different coworking spaces.
The elite Cabinet Lounge has offered its services in central Moscow since 2011. This "private members business club" is not a coworking establishment in the strict sense of the word – you can’t just spontaneously rent space here for a few hours. Only members get access to the elegantly furnished rooms, for a monthly membership fee of about 1,000 dollars. The clientele of the Cabinet Lounge is accordingly well-to-do – this is where managers and executives from smaller companies come when they want a representative office in the city centre. Politicians and business travellers looking for their customary comforts in the Russian capital are also among the guests. The benefits of the membership are obvious: the club fees are still much more affordable for Moscow residents than renting a comparable space in a similarly good location. The Cabinet Lounge is also an excellent venue for business meetings, either in the special conference rooms or in the more relaxed atmosphere of the club’s own restaurant.
According to Anna Karabash, the company’s press speaker, this concept has been very well received in Moscow, even if the "open space" office format is slow to catch hold: "No one has their own workplace in our offices, just like no one gets their own treadmill at a fitness centre. However, since we are a club, people get to know each other quickly and the atmosphere is quite familial. After a while everyone knows that the space at the window belongs to the older brother, so the other family members won’t annoy him by sitting there." Since the demand is very high, Karabash says that a second Cabinet Lounge is already being planned in Rublyovka, the "Golden Mile" of the super-wealthy along Moscow’s periphery. This is not a bad idea, since the many traffic jams make travelling from Rublyovka to the centre of this enormous city often more time-consuming than, say, a flight from Moscow to London. It therefore makes sense to save time by bringing the office closer to home.
The "Cowork Station" in Gorky Park is a coworking space that follows the European model. Here you not only work next to each other but also focus on an exchange - which is why movie nights and events, in addition to numerous seminars, are a regular part of the programme. The owner Michail Komarov explains the concept of the "Cowork Station" like this: "Above all, we wanted to focus on communication in our coworking, which is why we didn’t divide the space into different zones - we just partitioned off the meeting room. We set up two-metre long tables for four persons each. The windows are very large and face a forest; they offer a beautiful view and natural light. All of the furniture is made of wood and we made the chairs ourselves. We wanted to prevent the ‘Cowork Station’ from looking like a typical office, which is why we don’t have the traditional swivel chairs but wicker chairs, as you would in a garden."
Which categories of users frequent the "Cowork Station" is easy to tell from the price list - since the rates are divided into "hipster", "freelancer" and "start-up". You can rent a workplace here for as little as 650 roubles (about 12 euros) per day and up; the equivalent of 400 euros per month also gives users access to a meeting room, a locker for personal documents, and the option to reserve a favourite space.
In the late 1980s the sociologist Roy Oldenburg coined the term of the "Third Place" - which refers to such places as coffee shops, libraries and other social spaces that function as neutral territory for exchanges and position themselves between home and office. Many of these so-called third places can also serve as (temporary) workspaces. In Moscow the list of such third places is long: A number of them offer the visitor not only the chance to work comfortably in a friendly atmosphere but also the opportunity to exchange ideas with like-minded people. The strong demand for these kinds of spaces also has to do with the precarious living situation in the Russian capital: Since real estate prices are extremely high, the culture of communal living has been slow to develop and many young people still live with their parents. Many talented minds also lack the money to rent an office that fits right in with their business idea. "Third places" offer a welcome solution in this situation.
Just like these "third places", so-called anti-cafés have sprung up in recent years as a popular option – and here Benjamin Franklin’s "time is money" is taken very literally: Instead of paying for consumed beverages, the visitors only pay for the time they spend in such a café.
One of the most popular anti-cafés is called Ciferblat. This anti-café is frequented not just by the usual visitors who read, play chess and meet friends here, but also by students, freelancers and young mothers who use it as a temporary workplace. Here you can work on projects conveniently and in a friendly setting without spending too much money. Ciferblat’s prices are very democratic: While a minute costs two roubles (about five cents) in the first hour, this drops to half the price from the second hour on. The time is kept with old alarm clocks that have been sourced from the city’s flea markets and antique shops. Coffee, tea, pastries and wi-fi are included in the price and the guests are welcome to bring their own food. For education and entertainment, the café also offers regular game evenings, readings and nocturnal film screenings.
All in all, it’s a textbook example of how a "third place" should work. And even if the Ciferblat probably gets too loud and lively for concentrated work over time – when it comes to brainstorming with friends or taking care of some online research, it is hard to think of a more comfortable space.