Will shared working space be the future of working post COVID?

Caroline Costigan and Huw O'Toole

Caroline Costigan and Huw O’Toole of Hub 13

Hub13 began life as a sawmill and farm owned by Huw’s family. After his father died, he and his partner moved home and wondered what they might do next. As it happened, they conceived the idea of creating a shared working space for people living in Wicklow not wishing to join the daily and arduous commute up to Dublin.The old sawmill is now converted into bright airy host desking areas, partitioned offices, meeting rooms and communal areas.

“We wanted to create flexible facility for entrepreneurs and small businesses to use. It is tough to work from home but this gives people an alternative and also company of other like- minded individuals,” says Huw. The social aspect is very important so each month a small event is set up for clients to meet each other and possibly share business opportunities. It’s about networking on a micro level.

Initially, they also hosted a number of business talks as well – to build the community – and even hosted some music gigs passing around the hat for the musicians. Caroline is a nurse but Huw managed to headhunt her into the business in January. “Working in an office is very different from being on a ward,” says Caroline. “As a nurse you never stopped in the office – it was a question of being told to get out there and do some proper work.”

Caroline brought fresh eyes to the project looking to making the surroundings even more attractive. “Fresh flowers are important – if you are going to spend 10 hours in a place then you want it to look well and feel comfortable and you need the windows cleaned so you can enjoy the nice views.”

Then COVID arrived. Was it a spanner in the works or an opportunity?

Then COVID arrived. Was it a spanner in the works or an opportunity? Initially, yes as they had to close their doors to look at implementing safety measures. Some people using the hub also lost their jobs. Things just stopped and some businesses stopped too.

In the closure Caroline and Huw began to have ideas. The sawmill is also attached to a small farm. They wanted to bring nature into the hub. First of all, they planted a wild plant meadow. Then they set up allotments in one of the other fields and eight people have already signed up to tend plots. And they are having their first social event – with social distancing – this weekend.

“The allotments are a great addition to the Hub,” says Huw. “People can work at their desk and then go and dig in their allotment. It is very therapeutic.”

COVID has changed other things too – notably how people work and in this regard it would appear that Hub13 is coming into its own. Once fibre in in place, then the Hub provides a real solution to breaking the horror of the Wicklow commute up into Dublin.

There is flexibility in using the Hub too with people able to book for short periods. Before COVID this could be on a daily basis but the Department has asked for better control of who is coming and going so it looks as though the bookings will be weekly or monthly. It is still much simpler than trying to find office space. The other advantages are the kitchen area, free coffee and refreshments, and the communal areas. The seats may be spaced further apart but it is still a way for people to meet other business people and network.

As the country eases its way our of lockdown, Hub13 and Caroline and Huw have found a way to marry their passion for music, company and business. They joke that the pay is not great currently but in time that too should grow.

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