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The Commons – coworking with a small business and sustainable vibe

The Commons in Melbourne’s CBD, QV

Coworking space The Commons was started in 2016 in Melbourne’s inner city Collingwood as a “side hustle” for its founders. It likes to fully offset its carbon footprint with 100 per cent renewable energy and the latest digs are no exception. It’s just part of the culture that’s directed to smaller tenants such as Who Gives a Crap and Vice.


According to The Commons co-founder and chief executive officer Cliff Ho carbon offsetting is costing the company 35 per cent more on its electricity bills, but he says it’s important for members to know that “their devices and buildings are powered by green energy.”

“Even our older members are attracted to it, and why not? Everyone knows it’s the right thing to do.”

There are also no plastic cups or straws in the offices and the company tries to educate members when they come through to explain how to manage waste.

“We recycle all paper and plastic, and compost.

“It’s about educating people so that when they go home they can keep it up.”

The expansion to the QV building is for 350 spaces. Designed by interior design firm Foolscap, it will offer a range of shared amenities, including a quiet zone library, amphitheatre, indoor golf simulator, record lounge and sensory room. It will also be dog-friendly.

It’s the fourth space for the company that was started in 2016 by Ho and school friend Tom Ye who were working other jobs at the time.

Others are in Collingwood, South Melbourne and Sydney’s inner city  Chippendale. There are plans to grow internationally as well.

The Commons Melbourne QV

The coworking space was set up before all the big players were in the market, according to Ho. He says there were about 10 coworking spaces in Melbourne at the time, and now there’s a few hundred.

“It’s grown, there’s that need for it in Australia.”

Ho told The Fifth Estate many operators are going after the enterprise crowd, which often results in a single company taking up an entire floor. But his company prefers smaller tenants, including Who Gives a Crap, PayPal and Vice.

There’s certainly demand for the enterprise model, he says, with enterprise customers making up as much as 60 per cent of total space for some larger players.

“And it’s constantly growing.”

He says the big operators are hiring ex-real estate types that know the traditional commercial real estate game and can attract big customers on six or 12 month leases.

But for an operator like The Commons that differentiates itself through its collaborative and dynamic coworking culture, the enterprise crowd can be problematic.

“They have their own culture, they won’t communicate with others [in the coworking space].”

He says his company aims for businesses with less than 40 staff. Any more than that and you risk “killing the culture.”

“It’s just not for us. It requires huge capital.”

The Commons Melbourne shared office space

This selectivity of businesses is what sets the operator apart.

“We curate and help to put together a diverse community that’s not made up of one industry, we have a mix of people and businesses under one roof.

“That helps drive community.”

He says the company will reject businesses that are the wrong fit, especially if they are just trying to tap into the community or sell something like legal advice to other members.

Fitout can also drive the coworking spirit

Another key ingredient in any genuine coworking experience is clever fitout design so that members will “spark up a conversation when they least expect it”.

“The spaces are designed to suit humans rather than the other way around.”

He says the team also tries to make sure people are getting off their desks and using the entire building rather than one more area.

“That’s also being resourceful.”

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