If you look carefully around the Union Square, Manhattan, location of newly launched coworking space Grind, there are references to the banalities of life as an office worker, unlamented artifacts of the corporation left behind. The glass walls of two conference rooms are covered in corporate speak--words and phrases like "incentivized," "loop me in," "above my pay grade," and "pain points," rendered in transparent type.
The cheeky contempt for corporate culture isn’t just an ironic design touch, it’s part of the mandate of the new venture. “We want to encourage people to leave their jobs,” says Grind cofounder Ty Montague, “and we’ll give them what they need here.”
Montague, who is also cofounder of agency/creative consultancy Co:Collective, says that, beyond a place to plug in your laptop, Grind is a manifestation of his and his partners' views on the future of work. Grind launches Sept. 6 in New York’s Union Square tech hub (home base of Twitter, Tumblr, and Foursquare investors Union Square Ventures). The partners aim to open more locations in New York and expand to other locations, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Amsterdam.
Montague founded the venture with Co:Collective partners Rosemarie Ryan, Neil Parker, and Richard Schatzberger, former real estate attorney Benjamin Dyett (Ryan’s husband), and the husband and wife team of Karina Warshaw, a sustainability expert, and Stuart Warshaw, a turnaround consultant. The space was built and operates in conjunction with three of Co:Collective's collaborators: creative network Behance, digital shop Breakfast, and creative culture site Cool Hunting. Chicago-based design strategists Magic + Might and VB architects also contributed to the space.
The partners' impetus for the venture was recognition of the shift in employment trends and work culture in the U.S. and the growing likelihood that, by choice or not, a growing number of people will find themselves working outside of the traditional, full-time template, where going to work involved commuting to and sitting in a centralized corporate office and suffering through endless cupcake parties for unknown or unloved coworkers.
A recent article from Sara Horowitz, the head of the Freelancers Union, noted that in 2005, one third of the workforce participated in the freelance economy, and that number is growing. A presentation from online work marketplace oDesk, says that over 100 million Americans worked as part of a virtual team for at least one day a month, and points to companies like JetBlue, whose customer service operation is decentralized (i.e. reps can work at home). “We wanted to continue what we started with Co:,” says Montague, “because we think that it’s not just advertising but business in general that is going to be restructured in the coming years.”
There are several coworking spaces already in Manhattan--a search on Deskwanted.com, the space-finding resource of coworking site Deskmag, reveals over 20 Manhattan options (the fact that there is a site devoted to coworking is itself telling). Where perhaps the highest profile New York spaces, like General Assembly, are tech-focused, the founders of Grind want to attract workers from every sector.
Montague also says Grind is designed to actively facilitate the leap from corporate life by offering not only a place to work but a community of like-minded people who can share advice and, sometimes, skills.
Over time, he says the Grind partners intend to create something they’re calling the agora, an internal digitally enabled marketplace that matches Grind users according to skills possessed and needed; for example, two Grind patrons may exchange coding expertise for legal advice.
A visit to Grind several weeks pre-launch revealed an open airy space with communal tables of varying size and soft-walled pods for privacy; all told the space seats about 140. The east side of the space is bookended by those stenciled glass walled conference rooms; in between is one of the gee whiz features of the room--a wall of framed screens that serves as an art element and a mechanism to showcase work. The 12 screens are linked to Behance’s online portfolio platform, so Grind clients can call up their work or presentation materials using their RFID-enabled membership card. Users can also print off any of the work on the screens.
Patrons, or Grindists, as the founders like to call them, also check into the space via RFID, so that upon walking in, they are logged in to Grind on their laptops, allowing them to see who else is present, and, should they wish to share, what they’re working on. In lieu of a receptionist, Grind employs an on-site "experience director," Susan Yenni, ex of the Ace Hotel, who will handle everything from presentation tips to restaurant recommendations. The founders also promise a "bat phone," allowing patrons direct access to one of the principals for, one assumes, the bigger questions. A full-service kitchen includes a coffee bar courtesy Intelligentsia Coffee.
The new business is a reflection of Co:Collective's model. The agency was founded in 2010 as a counterpoint to the standard agency setup that houses layers of creative, account management, strategic, media, management and administration talent under one roof. Instead, Co: employs a core group of high-level brand thinkers and outsources implementation to a network of affiliated specialty companies and individuals based on the specifics of the brand assignment. Montague says part of the Co:Collective model has always been the plan to launch one self-driven Co: business a year. Grind is the first such business.
“We chose it as a first venture because it resonates with our beliefs, specifically that the future of work is a much more diverse place than it is today,” says Montague. “We believe that many more people are ready to make the same choice we have--to step out of working for a big corporation and work on their own, or collaboratively in small groups.”