The Hub: Office Space Sanctuaries for Freelancers
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All together now: being a freelancer doesn’t mean you have to work from your couch.
In this age of wireless connectivity and widespread downsizing, the office environment is increasingly optional. Face time with coworkers, doughnut-stocked meeting rooms, and office cooler debriefings might soon go the way of the three-martini lunch. But while the freedom to do business without geographic constraints is, in theory, invigorating, rare is the person found blissfully working from an ergonomic deck chair on a white sand beach. The reality is closer to working in a bunker than a blue sky escape: the deck chair replaced by an overburdened couch, the sounds of lapping waves with the noise of a frappuccino blender.
That’s where the Hub comes in. The coworking space was founded in London in 2005, by Etty Flanagan, Mark Hodge, Katy Marks, and Jonathan Robinson as a response to what they saw as a culture of “bedroom warriors”: people working, either freelance or on their own initiatives, in the solitary confinement of their own spaces.
“No one of our generation expects to have a job that takes them through their early twenties into retirement—there’s a much more itinerant approach to how work is done,” says founding Hub member and former head of design Oliver Marlow. “Because of that, and because of technology, people think of themselves as solo professionals. But how do we mobilize, how do we create work? It goes back to straightforward human things: by meeting people, hanging out, and coming up with ideas.”
The Hub has become that meeting place for a working community. It has spread from London to more than 25 locations around the world—from Tel Aviv to Amsterdam to São Paolo, with Hubs due to open in Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C., in 2011. Each one comes equipped with the network’s blueprint for success: an infrastructure whose linchpin is its “host,” a Hub staffer charged with maintaining the diverse mix in membership, facilitating networking among members, and serving as the go-to person for issues ranging from IT problems to lunch-spot suggestions.
The key ideological differentiator for the Hub is its dedication to fostering social entrepreneurship—or, in the words of its vision statement, “to realize enterprising initiatives for a radically better world.” Maria Glauser, one of the Hub’s first hosts and now a coordinator for the Hub host community, is careful to emphasize that the aim is open to interpretation. “It doesn’t say much about how: We want the Hub to be a space where that social aim is debated and discussed.”
The end result is part old-school office, part members-only club, and part think tank. Hub member Tim Oldman, creator of the Leesman Index, an independent workplace-effectiveness survey, puts it this way: “If work is an activity rather than a place, I think for Hub members it is also a place.”
Collaborative drawing by Josh Cochran and Leif Parsons.