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Swedish rent-a-desk can help save expat lives

The Local · 3 Feb 2014, 07:00

Published: 31 Jan 2014 14:59 GMT+01:00
Updated: 03 Feb 2014 07:00 GMT+01:00

When "love refugees" Martha Sanchez from Mexico and Lionel Ferder from Argentina arrived in Sweden, they had few friends of their own and struggled to get motivated. Despite plenty of clients and assignments from home to get on with remotely, they found that being self-employed in a new city could be a very lonely experience.

“Working at home all day on your own is not a good way to stay sane,” explains software developer Ferder. “The only person you see all day is your partner.”

Graphic designer Sanchez had similar experiences, but once she got a desk in a shared office, things looked up.

“My boyfriend says that since I started work at the Impact Hub, I have become so much happier,” she says. "It is like I am a completely different person. “

While freelance collectives are far from a new invention, the Impact Hub is one of a number of co-working spaces that have recently sprung up in central Stockholm with a focus on social entrepreneurship. The offices allow sole traders to work alongside employees of small companies and organizations.

Sanchez' sprawl, the Impact Hub, is just one of about 40 offices worldwide, which provides work space for around 7,000 members. The Stockholm office houses 120 people in a converted Östermalm warehouse. IT, coms, and social entrepreneurship have all found a home here. The set-up allows people from different industries to meet and share knowledge, and potentially share or introduce new customers to each other. For start ups, including expats launching their Sweden-based career, this can prove invaluable.

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Jesper Lindmarker co-founded another shared Stockholm office, the Entrepreneurs Church (Entreprenörskyrkan). As its name suggests, its members call a converted church their office, where travel agents sit side-by-side with copywriters and game designers. Lindmarker became a convert to sharing office space when he set up his own company a few years ago.

”You suddenly realize you don’t know anything. But coming here, I found that I could sit alongside people who actually knew stuff,” he says.

Tom Dowding is a British expat who works from ”The Church”. While his ten employees work in the UK, he leads the team from Stockholm where he lives with his girlfriend. He is considering whether to open a Swedish branch, and says that sitting next to an accountant at The Church means he has an expert right next to him if he takes the plunge.

Sanchez has similarly employed her office neighbours to help her, whether penning and editing official letters in Swedish or helping her price her work at reasonable rates for Sweden.

Many managers make sure their tenants interact, not just by an inofficial ”By the way, have you met so and so?”, but, for example, through hosting events and seminars. The Church also has a rock-climbing group. Impact Hub manager Gabriella Silfwerbrand says she tries to figure out which tenants will get along, and the office has regular breakfasts, lunches and fika breaks, where people get to know each other.

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Adam Jorlen runs Superhero Spaces, a not-for-profit that promotes the concept of office collectives around the world. Jorlen truly believes the model can change the world, hence the name superhero.

“With the systems and old ways of thinking that limit creativity, which we have now in big business and governments, it will be really hard to tackle global problems, such as climate change,” he said, before heaping praise on the model.

”These places are where the real innovation of the future will take place.”

Story continues below…

The Impact Hub's desire to house many social entrepreneurs echoes Jorlen's aim not simply to set up a fun place to work, but an office that fosters innovation. The Hub's ”ideal tenants,” says Silfwerbrand, are "people who are looking to have a real impact, either on their business sector, or more directly on society through helping underprivileged groups or tackling environmental issues.”

For their tenants, a degree of flexibility is also a lure. Expats wanting to share space can rent a desk from just one day a week. Ferder, for example, works at the Impact Hub around three days a week.

”Otherwise you just stay in your pajamas all day,” he tells The Local. ”And where else do you meet Swedish people if you work on your own?”

Danny Chapman 

DON'T MISS: Courting Sweden's job market: one lawyer's tale

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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