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The Amp: Another fabulous day at the office

The Amp offers a productive space for Vancouverites who work to make the world a better place. And yes, Rover can come, too.

As big-city real estate pressures increase the appeal of shared spaces and employees and entrepreneurs seek out alternatives to the dreaded cubicle maze, coworking is surging in popularity. In Vancouver’s changemaker community, The Amp is getting the formula right. We caught up with Nicola Parr, The Amp’s Coworking Community Manager.

What is The Amp?

It’s a coworking space located in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. We’re a social enterprise launched by Ecotrust Canada in September 2014, and our name was inspired by our location in the historic BC Electric Railway Company Building. We offer supportive, affordable, creative space for organizations and individuals that are working towards positive change. Just to name a few, we have environmental organizations as members, such as Fraser Riverkeeper, an entrepreneur-focused impact accelerator called Spring, and we have a group called Kids Up Front that works to get children in need into concerts and shows.

Do you actively screen prospective members for values alignment?

No, it just happens organically; we get a lot of enquiries from possible members who already know what we’re about, because they already know someone in the space. When we do get an enquiry, we start a dialogue to get an idea of whether it’s a good fit or not. If it isn’t, there are other coworking spaces in the area, and we all refer people back and forth all the time.

Do you tend to capture organizations and companies as they are just starting out?

Not necessarily. We have the Light House Sustainable Building Centre, they’re eight-plus desks, they have been around for a while, and then yes, there are newer ones. We are a little different in that we don’t have a lot of your classic freelancers. A number of our members are smaller teams linked to larger organisations. That’s the case with Evergreen, a social enterprise working to transform public landscapes into community spaces with environmental, social and economic benefits. Their main office is in Toronto, but they have team holding down the fort out here in The Amp.

How has coworking evolved in recent years?

It’s been around for a while, but in the past few years it has started to grow massively. Deskmag, an industry trade publication, recently released its 2017 Global Coworking Survey. As of 2015, the researchers were able to identify 8,700 coworking spaces worldwide. Two years later, here in 2017, they found 13,800. Membership more than doubled over that time; about 1.2 million people around the world now work in a coworking space.

What’s driving the coworking boom?

Societal preferences around work are changing. People used to need, and want, cubicles where they kept their heads down in a private space, but now people are looking for more flexibility and freedom. In addition, commercial rents in cities like Vancouver are very high—it has become very difficult for smaller organizations, and especially NGOs, to afford their own dedicated space. Also, many people just don’t want to work on their own at home. It attracts the growing number of people who are not wanting to work from home, but who don’t want to pay for a full office, so they just pay for a desk.

How are large companies and organizations responding?

It’s getting difficult for for them to ignore coworking, and many  are trying to figure out how to make it work for them. Companies know they need to keep their workers—and in particular their millennial workers—interested and motivated. And so they’re offering perks they might not have had to think about before, such as flexibility and a creative work space. Coworking spaces offer those attributes. That said, coworking isn’t just for millennials! We have a wonderful generational diversity represented at The Amp.

There are so many coworking options in the market now, what ties them together?

The core coworking values of community, openness, collaboration, accessibility, and sustainability are practiced all over the world. This may be why coworking seems to work so well for the mission-driven organizations and individuals we have here at The Amp. We share similar core values, and that is important to our members and the community and network they work with.

What challenges are common to all coworking spaces, and how is The Amp tackling them?

We are in an open office, so you will find people on the phone and chatting, and maybe it might get too loud for some, but we are pretty open about that. We ask people to be mindful of others, we don’t want anyone to sit in silence, but if you are having a meeting we ask you to please not have it at your desk!

You mentioned referrals. Do you compare notes with other coworking spaces?

Yes, we are a founder and a member of the Coworking BC Society, which spreads the word about coworking and shares best practices. We see one another as allies, and yes, on some level we are competitors, we also know that we are each unique, and we understand that we can all help each other.

Alright, Nicola. Hit us with the pitch. What do I get if I join The Amp?

We have a boardroom and a mezzanine meeting room, a lounge space, nice big kitchen, secure indoor bike storage on the ground level, a free gym in the building, and phone booths that allow people to make a private call. Our desks are custom-built from FSC certified plywood, and the space is bright and beautiful and full of heritage character, with high ceilings and lots of natural light. Of course there are also all the usual things you get in an office: A staffed reception,  free coffee and tea, a fully equipped kitchen, WiFi, photocopier, printers. There are many events, and we offer community building opportunities  like yoga, meditation, knitting, running groups, and pub nights. We try to provide opportunities for members to connect with one another, to build the community. We are also dog-friendly, that’s another feature common in coworking spaces. If that sounds like a match, give us a call or drop us a line!