Celebrating rad working communities all over the globe! In this edition of community shoutout we chat to Delia and Russell at The Workery, a modern, stylish and bright co-working space with desks and private offices, located in beautiful bayside Melbourne, Australia.

Can you tell us a little about The Workery and the journey so far?

We first started a little pilot about 200m up the road that was only 80 square metres, so we only had 10 desks because we were a little bit nervous about doing it on the city fringe. We dipped our toes in the water and got full so we turned off all our Google Ads and marketing but people just kept ringing asking for more desks. We didn’t want to lose them so we started looking and found this place! Everybody who was there came with us here.

Moving to this space was even better because we’re really near a train station, and bus and tram. A lot of our customers really value parking and there’s a lot around here as well as the public transport. That’s a point of difference for us from other areas like Richmond, Prahran and South Yarra — people just really want the ease of parking and the ability to get to and from work easily in the car.

We moved in almost a year ago and fully renovated. We wanted to make sure that this place had the point of difference of being better than your home office. It’s for people living on the city fringe who don’t want to waste time commuting and the majority of our customers are in their mid 30s-40s with small children who want to be able to get to and from school or childcare quickly so choose city fringe over the city. 

Do you both run your own businesses too?

This began as our side hustle but has become more of the real hustle. 

Russell

I have an apartment renovation business — I’m a builder and we do kitchens, bathrooms, fitouts and renovate whole blocks too. 

Delia

My background is in tech startups with my husband — I did the marketing and PR so I worked with a series of tech startups before this came around.

So why coworking?

Russell

I was working from home and had a business partner who was mainly on site and I was spending a lot of time at home working away in my home office. It was actually quite nice, I had a dedicated room and everything, but I found it socially isolating. I decided that it wasn’t healthy to be sitting there by myself all day and only speak to other people on the phone, so I decided to have a look at coworking because I had heard of it. I couldn’t find anywhere close-by to where I live, so I had the idea of setting one up. 

I’ve known Delia and her husband for a long time and I thought they would be great to partner with, so we had a coffee and a chat, and then lots more coffees, went through lots of scenarios, did a lot of research, decided to go into business together and that’s how it was born. 

Delia and her husband have a great tech background and have run a successful business before, so we make a good team. It’s nice to share the business and go halves too. 

It’s about having skills that are complimentary.

Delia

I worked from home mostly — sometimes we had offices but I had never worked in coworking spaces and I didn’t know much about it. My husband and I were both working at home and getting a bit bored and finding it a bit hard to separate work and life from one another, so less and less work was getting done. I only found out about it when Russell approached us and I thought it was a great idea to get out of the house, have an office to go to and connect with people and settle down in dedicated workspace. 

We think that coworking has turned a corner in the last year or two — when we started four years ago, we had to explain it to everybody. Now most people kind of get it. People know to look for coworking now.

What does your space offer?

We have 24 desks in our coworking area, there’s a mix of full-time and part-time members and it varies day-to-day depending on who is here. The full-time members have dedicated desks and the part-time members have flexible desks, but they often gravitate to the same location. That’s another nice benefit of our space — it’s not so crowded that you have to hot desk every time you come, you actually can go to your favourite spot.

As well as our coworking spaces, we have quite a few private offices. We realised that these go quite quickly and there’s a huge demand for it, so we expanded to the other side of the building and opened that on the 1st August. We now have 740 square metres altogether. 

On this side we have room for 13 offices in addition to the 4 on the other side, some of which haven’t been renovated yet, and we’ve already filled 6 in three weeks so we’re growing really rapidly. 

We also have five meeting rooms, which is quite a lot per head for our space but it’s a great benefit — you can always get a meeting room. People use these for phone calls as well as meetings too.

We have a little kitchenette with free tea and coffee. We also have a large kitchen that we renovated and refurnished ourselves, making some changes and adding some lighting. It’s a nice space to have your lunch if you’re not heading out.

Can you tell us a bit about your memberships?

We have 48 current members which is a mix of office members, full-time members and part-time members. We also do casual day passes and have some of those on top of that membership base.

We get 1 or 2 day passes a week, but that’s not our main focus. We mostly have people on our memberships. We also offer an alternative membership which is a 10 day pass — you get 10 days, and you can use them whenever you want. It’s kind of like a gym membership and it’s really popular. It gives people lots of flexibility and choice and doesn’t lock them in to two days a week if they’re not quite sure if they’ll use them because of travel or customer site visits and things like that. 

What are your current members like?

Our longest members have been with us for over three years — from nearly when we started. We have quite a few members who have stayed since pretty much the beginning!

We have a real range of people: marketers, graphic designers, web analytics businesses, market researchers, tech startups, ice cream makers and other small businesses! 

What does your ideal community member look like?

Probably women in their 40’s looking for somewhere that they can just move in and start working without worrying about the internet or printers or other headaches, they can just come to work and get stuff done. They can also network, connect, collaborate and socialise. 

Also men around their 30’s with small children who live bayside Melbourne are sick of the commute to the city and paying 5x the rent for space in the city but still want a nice, professional office. 

Do you and your members work or socialise together?

More and more so — we’ve been spontaneous about that in the past but now we have more people, we’ve talked about doing more regular things because people want to network more. 

People do informally connect and collaborate — even today one of our members asked me for another member’s details because she’s looking for a digital marketer, so people are wanting to work together. Some of our members even have joint clients now and work together on projects. 

How have people found The Workery?

It’s a bit of a mix, but mostly online with search engine marketing. We’ve tried social media but it hasn’t delivered that much and we’re listed on lots of sites and we get some people from there.

We get a lot of people googling coworking Bayside and they find us.

What influenced the design of the space?

Our interior designer helped us to choose the design of the space. We wanted to make sure that we weren’t shabby-chic — we didn’t want to be industrial or factory styled, we just wanted to be up-market, professional, and somewhere where our customers would really look forward to coming to work and feel like it was really beautiful.

What can you tell us about the Elsternwick area?

It’s definitely undergoing a turnaround. The Block is on right now in Elsternwick and they’re renovating 5 historical Edwardian homes in a row and I think that’s kind of a sign of what’s happening. Elsternwick is the new shining star because it has all these beautiful historic homes, it’s a relatively wealthy area with a mixed demographic and mixed backgrounds and it’s very close to the beach — so it’s quite an up-and-coming, fairly affluent area.

 It’s definitely had a revival, particularly down this end. There’s a new restaurant called Bang Bang, new council park, new cafes, delis, upmarket pizza restaurants and bars and massive redevelopment plans in the works, and we’re kind of right in the epicentre of it all!

What is your vision for The Workery? What’s next?

There’s one more office in this building so potentially in the future if they vacate and there’s demand, the opportunity to expand further is there. We haven’t really talked about other locations, but we think it’s great having a large space all in the one location. When we were looking at expanding, the idea was that 300 square metres wasn’t quite enough — it was a good side hustle, but it wasn’t sufficient enough to dedicate all of our time to. At just over 700 square metres, this becomes much more viable for two people to dedicate a significant amount of our time too. 

It’s a good lifestyle business too — people go into business for different reasons — we’ve always liked businesses that have flexibility and could fit our lifestyles so that we can continue to manage the kids as well as work. 

So at the moment we’re just seeing where this takes us. We’ve only been in this larger space for three weeks, so we’ll just see what happens. It’s been surprising how quickly we’ve gone from 80 square metres to nearly 10 times as much as that in a little over a year. That wasn’t our plan but it just shows the demand. 

Do you have any secret tips for other coworking operators?

It’s about the space — lots of people come, but it’s about whether they convert to a member. It doesn’t suit everybody but we create a community and engage with all of the members personally, trying to foster communication between people. If people come, we connect them together and they can always talk to us. Our numbers are always there so they can always ring us, and they do. 

We’re also proudly not a corporate centre, we’re owned by owner-operators and we’re part of the community — our kids go to school around the corner and we live nearby. 

I think the design and the look and feel is important too. We did research and visited lots of places to get a feeling for what else was out there, and we specifically wanted somewhere that was really stylish. We looked at other places and saw that there were a lot of warehouses with the shabby-chic, industrial style, but they have a different feel and our target market is slightly older and established businesses so we matched the style to that. 

People ask us about business advice all the time and I always say market research. We did it for the first space, and even to expand into this we did more. Always research and ask the customer, really listen and take on board, look at the metrics, what are they really telling you? Don’t just run with an idea because you fell in love with it. 

When we were first toying with the idea of opening a coworking space, we asked a lot of friends and people that we knew, and everybody said that it was a great idea and they loved it. We thought that was great, but then when we asked them if they were interested in joining, they weren’t interested. People were really positive and enthusiastic for us, but not necessarily to be a customer. So that was a lighbulb moment — just because everyone’s really enthusiastic, doesn’t mean they’re all going to be customers. That’s when we decided to scale it down and do the test version.

It takes time to build up, and it did take a while. At first it was just two of us there — we had four desks and two people, because you have to start somewhere, and then a couple of people came in and it started to build. In order to take on a space like this on the first day, you would just be in a massive cash hole.

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We loved hearing about The Workery and its journey — huge thanks to Delia and Russell for showing us around and telling us their story! Be sure to check them out on Facebook and Twitter to follow the adventure!

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