The economic crisis sees freelance Madrileños opting to “co-work” in a creative, social alternative to the home office.
Utopic_Us is a shared-usage space for rent behind Plaza Mayor, in the center of Madrid. It has an open floor plan, flexible for its office space, events, galleries and classes. Currently, 100 “autonomos,” working for themselves in creative fields, are sharing workspaces in two old wholesale storage facilities. Co-workers include bloggers, jewelry designers, architects, IT programmers, painters, sculptors, audio and visual engineers, and publicists.
When SmartPlanet was visiting, some members were hosting business meetings with clients in the shared workspace.
“Our space is generating new energies. It is a hybrid space that gathers characteristics of a lab, an education centre, a studio, a living room and kitchen, where a variety of ingredients are mixed and experienced in innumerable ways,” as it is described on their official marketing.
For a monthly fee from 75 euros for ten hours a week to 250 euros for unlimited access, Utopic_Us members are able to use the office space, equipped with WiFi and phones. Members also receive discounts for the Utopic_School.
“It’s a factory of transforming ideas,” said Raimond Garcia, in his native Spanish. Garcia is a Ruby Web developer who has spent the last year working at Utopic_Us, following five years working “in pajamas” from home. He is also going to teach a workshop on Ruby there next month. Garcia said, working at Utopic_Us “is much more social. There’s an equilibrium of men and women, a lot of synergy, and the networking is impressive.”
Compared with the cost of renting their own office space and paying for their utilities individually, members find great value in their investment.
Santiago Vallado is owner of DF Produciones, a one-man video production company he has been running out of Utopic_Us for the last six months. He does not think the 250 euros he pays each month is too steep. He said in Spanish that “It’s not a lot of money and it has so many more things,” than working from home or renting an external office space.
Before coming to Utopic_Us, Vallado spent two years managing his business from home, saying, “It’s basically annoying. A thousand distractions. You work longer hours, but less efficiently.” He uses Utopic_Us for networking, already having made videos for some of his co-workers’ marketing projects. He described Utopic_Us “like a multinational office space” filled with people sharing different experiences and ideas.
Vallado added that he likes to bounce ideas off his colleagues during 15-minute breaks spent playing ping-pong and soccer.
Utopic_School features workshops that cost anywhere from nothing up to 650 euros. Some topics covered have been motivation, sustainability, experimental methodologies, and digital technologies, to name a few. The communications manager Olivia Czetwertyrski described Utopic_Us’s business model as focused on learning, seeing, feeling, sharing, and getting to know people and new ideas.
Czetwertyrski is one of seven staff members. She started with Utopic_Us as a co-worker 18 months ago. Czetwertyrski is now employed by the company itself, in charge of internal and external communications, working with the different brands, events and accounts that use their office space. Some events included Reebok, Hendrix, Brugal and public relations for the Community of Andalusia, Spain.
The current facilities have space for about 150 co-workers. They hope to expand their business model to other cities inside and outside Spain. They are even looking into offering visa sponsorships for co-workers to travel to other future Utopic_Us locations to work.
“There´s a lot of things we can do better and a lot more we can do,” Czetwertyrski said, also in Spanish. This included creating storage space for the small business owners to use. “Poco a poco,” she said, which means little by little or step-by-step.
With small businesses looking to decrease costs and increase innovation, co-working is already popular in the United States and Great Britain. Utopic_Us is the biggest official space in Spain, but it certainly will not be the last.