Imagine an office where you go to be surprised; where you get to know new people or can find privacy depending on the project and your mood; in which you find kindred spirits instead of competitors, whether at a neighbouring table or digitally on the other end of the world; where you can and should work on tasks that have not (yet) been embraced by the state and other large organisations.
This is The Hub, and it is obviously not your typical office. As co-founder and CEO Matthias Reisinger puts it, it sees itself much more as an "ecosystem for peer-to-peer networks and a new and exciting way of working." It is also gaining ground in Vienna and recruits its adherents primarily from young people who no longer want to work in "normal" organisations - or who never could or wanted to do so in the first place.
The Hub is a good example of how this can work: a place that shows people what direction the future of work is pointing in.
It is no surprise that it is located in Vienna’s creative Neubau district. A 400m² loft was built on the second floor of a typical commercial building in a large courtyard. The planners turned it into a smartly structured juxtaposition of free and precisely defined zones.
Here’s how it looks when you enter: first you see a coffee machine, then a blackboard where a message in chalk reads: "Welcome! Your hosts a.m.: Ina, p.m.: Andrea". Next to that there is an open kitchen space, followed by a room with table football in the middle and a swing dangling from the ceiling next to some intriguing chandeliers. Coffee house tables and chairs on one side and oblong desks along the other; these are separated by a shelving wall full of literature, binders, slipcases and magazines hung on washing lines with clothes pegs; there are more meeting tables in the background. On the other side, a kind of platform rises up within the loft: an "amphitheatre", a brilliant design with large steps that function as seats during events. They lead to a recessed second level, under which there is a kitchen, wardrobe and small separate meeting and quiet rooms.
A sign welcomes people with the following message: "Here’s to the people who want to make a difference, to those who work for a better world, to the ones who have the courage to dream, believe and act."
Because all of the cleverly thought-out details, some of which are made up of very simple components, only make sense when they are filled with life. Reisinger explains: "You can look at The Hub simply as an inspiring workplace that you can rent for a monthly fee." What’s more exciting, though, is the prospect of using the large room, which was founded in 2010, for more intensive activities: for exchanges, visiting or organising events on topics such as financing start-ups, new educational paths, integration or sustainable production, or even an introduction to photography. "And finally, there’s the contact with the wider community", says Reisinger.
The Vienna Hub and its current 300 members are part of a global network. There are now 37 hubs since the first Hub was founded in London; Vienna became the headquarters two years ago. What do they have in common? "We offer three elements to knowledge workers: infrastructure, community and content." (It quickly becomes clear that English is an official language even when German is spoken.)
The infrastructure is both physical and invisible. The equipment needed by office workers, the local digital network for creative activities and coffee for recreation: it’s all there. On one hand, the community re-creates itself again and again, depending on who is currently using the spaces and on whom they meet. On the other, such chance encounters can turn into a longer-term collaboration. Ultimately the content appears when the other elements are right.
Users are encouraged to contact like-minded people in other Hubs on other continents, to gather information, to discuss problems and to carry on working together. The focus is on "positive change".
For example like this: Anna Mostetschnig used to work at a children’s furniture manufacturer. Now she is the head of research and development at Three Coins, a company that trains people in how to deal with money by using tools such as a computer game for young people. "The Hub is the perfect environment for start-ups in the social sector", she says as she explains why she is here and not sitting alone at home or in a "normal" office. "The open, interactive atmosphere contributes to this. The design is playful and serious at the same time – with overall high usability."
Mina Nacheva originally wanted to work for The Hub directly, but then she soon found Inventures, "your source for the start-up scene in Austria and Central & Eastern Europe". She is an online editor and member of a five-person team that uses The Hub as a base. "There’s plenty of space for teamwork," she says. "We also have extra rooms for larger conferences. And there’s the upper deck for people who want to chill out."
Even larger companies are taking advantage of the opportunity to join The Hub and gain additional ideas as they work towards sustainable production. One example is Gugler, the printer from Melk and one of Austria’s pioneers when it comes to Corporate Social Responsibility.
Reinhard Herok, who is responsible for sustainability management and communication at Gugler, knew Matthias Reisinger before the latter founded The Hub. "Since we dealt a lot with social entrepreneurs, there was a natural closeness. On the one hand we supported the initiative with printed forms; on the other, we ended up with interesting contacts, for example at an international Hub conference in Venice." Herok is a charter member. He views the office in the new building as "a special place for inspiration and change. You run into great people, motivators who get things done."
Gugler and The Hub shared a moment of glory last year: the printing company introduced a "cradle to cradle" printing process that is unique in Europe, one in which no harmful substances are created ("you can almost eat the printed product"). The company did not use much classical advertising to introduce the process and nor did it want to do. "We had a big community thanks to The Hub", says Herok. "We invited members to order free printed forms from us with a ‘printthechange.com’ imprint."
Almost fifty initiatives gained publicity through the campaign, as did the new printing process. A win-win situation. And Gugler sees it as an opportunity for socially oriented start-ups, particularly in the face of high unemployment among young people.
The Hub is naturally in the middle of things. There are still a few things to do. The café chairs are inviting but they aren’t appropriate for longer working hours, and professional ergonomic office chairs are rare, as Mostetschnig and Nacheva found out. And expensive, adds Reisinger. They’re looking for sponsors. But even if you can’t sit perfectly, that’s not the point: this place isn’t built for sitting down from nine to five. The Hub wants its users to stay in motion, in every sense of the word.