Office Space is MONTECRISTO’s digital series highlighting some of the most beautiful, interesting, and coveted work environments in Vancouver and beyond. Think your place should be featured? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Situated in an old industrial building in Vancouver’s East side is the recently opened co-working office Werklab. Set on the third floor, between clothing manufacturers and loud, whirling factory machines, Werklab’s unassuming location and airy space is filled with a mix of creative types, freelancers, and small business owners. This is just one of a handful of offices dedicated to co-working and collaboration that have sprouted in Vancouver within the last year. In a city booming with loads of tech industry jobs and startups, it should come as no surprise that there is an increased need for such spaces. And yet, compared to American and European cities, Vancouver is late to join the co-working trend.
“Over the last six years, the evolution of how important your workspace is has totally turned full circle,” says Christina Disler, Werklab’s founder and principal. Disler comes from an entrepreneurial background: her father started a business in the basement of her family’s home, which now employs nearly 200 people and was sold last year. Disler was an integral part of the business, working in its human resources department for six years, and credits the experience as being a huge influence on opening Werklab. Rather than researching her competitors, Disler looked at companies considered the best places to work, such as Google and Hootsuite, to get a sense of what aspects were crucial in an ideal workspace. “I think everyone can have a half-decent office, but we’re not just presenting an office to our customers,” she says. “We’re creating an environment that’s definitely community-focused.”
When the opportunity to take over the space’s lease came up she jumped on it, immediately inspired by its mountain views and abundant natural light, which she knew would set the office apart. “In Vancouver, the first thing you talk about is how beautiful it is here,” Disler says. “There’s such a calming effect by our surroundings, and yet, the place we choose to spend the biggest chunk of the day…we seem to have a disconnect there.” She adds that there is an increasing number of people starting their own companies in Vancouver—something she describes as a “very West Coast” mentality. “You have all these people who are doing startups, having an idea and running with it, and just diving in feet first,” she explains. But not every startup can afford that chic Gastown loft, or has the staff to fill it. That’s where Werklab comes in. Those who rent desk space there have access to long tables for collaborative work, a big boardroom for meetings, private phone booths for important calls, secure bike locks, visitor parking, and, naturally, a crisp, hip aesthetic that makes it a place enjoyable both to work in and bring clients to.
Whereas many larger co-working offices are primarily focused on filling seats, Disler actually curates Werklab’s members and puts a strong emphasis on making sure each one is a good fit for the office. “I think it’s really important to understand peoples’ journeys,” she says. Ideally, Disler wants each customer to be able to benefit from both the space and each other. She walks each new member around the office and introduces them individually to the rest of the group, immediately creating a laid-back and friendly environment. “I want it to be this breathing, living organism where people can promote themselves, and relationships can foster easily,” she says. And therein lies the basis of a co-working enterprise: sure, it is about coming together to split the cost of an office in Vancouver’s ever-soaring real estate climate, but it is also about bringing goal-oriented people together to motivate and learn from each other.
As far as the competition goes, Disler believes there is room for everyone in the city, but hopes to set herself apart by creating an atmosphere and work lifestyle that is reflective of her own strengths. With all the new boutique co-working offices opening up, Disler says it will be interesting to find out why they’re doing it—and what they’re doing it for. “Everyone is going to say the same rhetoric around, ‘It’s all about collaboration,’ but how are you implementing that?” she wonders. She hopes people who are interested will stop by to see Werklab for themselves. “I want them to know about that human touch we have,” says Disler. “And you can’t articulate that on a website.”
Network: Read more from our Business section.