A stagnant feeling led to the founding of Desk Space in 2009. As a designer working from home, Steven Arthur felt like his solitary set-up wasn’t helping him reach his goals.
“One of the main reasons I wanted to move out of home is I realised that my skills weren’t developing,” he says. “I think we undervalue [the impact] feedback or passing commentary, or just having someone that you can use as a sounding board, has on your development.”
Looking to create space where freelancers could work alongside each other, Arthur built Desk Space around the ideas of collaboration, opportunity and development. He envisioned something very different to the impersonal desk-for-hire spaces he was seeing at the time.
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“The idea was that a bunch of good talent could essentially work together side by side and we could divvy up the opportunities, rather than having the traditional employee model,” he says. “For me, it was always about creating an environment where people could thrive and build great things.”
These days, the Darlinghurst office hosts over 200 members from a range of different backgrounds. There are businesses and individuals from the arts, graphic design, software development and digital marketing, including both startups and market leaders. They all share an office that’s divided between private, open-plan and communal spaces. Getaways (including an upcoming ski trip), Friday drinks and comedy nights are regular features, encouraging intra-office interaction. All of this is there to help build relationships among collaborators and freelancers who typically wouldn’t be able to get involved in workplace activity.
“I find that those relationships are incredibly advantageous when you’re working on something new and you have to bring others on board to help shape, shift and steer that concept,” says Arthur. “They’re also willing to go above and beyond, I think, [when] there is a personal relationship there.”
Over a nearly 14-year life, Desk Space has been the foundation from which several businesses were born (including Arthur’s own startups Health Bank and Yordar), as well as a large amount of internally generated work. “We’ve had some agencies in the space who are probably almost 70 to 80 per cent dependent on internal work,” says Arthur. “One of my ex-members did a retrospective look at all the engagements that he was privy to over the seven years he was in the space, and he worked it out to over $1 billion in market cap.”
Now, as more and more professionals shift towards a hybrid model, split between the office and working from home, Arthur sees co-working ventures like Desk Space as even more important.
“I really do believe that there’s a human aspect to the office – it’s not something that can be undervalued,” says Arthur. “You have to ask the question as to whether or not that transition [to hybrid work] has been beneficial. When you work for an organisation – and it doesn’t matter if it’s a team of six or a team of 600 – I do think that your people and culture are everything.”
With an eye on the future, Arthur is now looking to expand Desk Space beyond Darlinghurst, with buildings designed specifically to suit startups and freelancers. In particular, he says, it’s about “mitigation of risk when starting a business, learning from those who have experience and being in an environment that fosters collaboration”.
“That helps people bring good people together for the right reasons, not just for the sake of bringing people together.”