Get to Work – and Really Enjoy It While You’re There

September 14, 2017

Christina Disler, founder of Werklab and thisopenspace host, shares how a community-first approach to space can transform your work experience.

Work life isn’t what it used to be. Gone are the days of waking up and toiling nine-to-five in the same office for thirty-odd years until retirement.

Technology has changed the way we work—work-life balance is shifting and people are seeking more flexibility. So what will the office of the future look like when nearly half of all workers are freelancers, contractors or sole proprietors? That’s what Christina Disler, founder of Werklab, is shaping right now. More than just a place to plug in your computer, this coworking space is an inclusive community that the members are building as they go.  

“When I was visiting my sister in Amsterdam four or five years ago, coworking was popping up everywhere,” explains Disler. “I was working in HR, and in 2011 I was at conference where they shared the stat that 40% of the workforce will be some form of independent worker by 2020. In the back of my head I thought, ‘this isn’t far away, keep your eye on that.’”

While Disler was running the HR department for a company of 200, she started noticing a shift during recruitment: more and more people were asking to work as contractors. She saw firsthand how negotiations were changing, and became fascinated with millennial work habits. “We feel connected because we’re artificially connected, but we do still yearn for that community piece and feeling of belonging.”

When she first laid eyes on that former factory that would become Werklab, something clicked. “To be honest, I actually found the space first and then thought of coworking. It was a gut reaction as soon as I saw it. I was inspired by it even though it was really gritty and grimy. The natural light was what triggered it for me,” she explains.

The location was unique, with panoramic views of the downtown core on one side and the North Shore Mountains on the other. “It felt so perfect. I never would have guessed coming up here that you would get that view walking in the door,” says Disler.

She set out to design a space where people could gather, work, and build a sense of community. Importantly for Disler, no matter where you are in the space, you can see downtown or the mountains. “I wanted to bring in pieces that had an industrial theme and then soften them. These steel tables I designed and made from materials from Quest Metal, the shop downstairs.” She mixed high-end pieces with industrial elements, taking hard metal and softening it with pieces of wood, fabric, and pillows.

But the space has also changed shape since she first opened the doors. “I had a mentor tell me that this isn’t like an interior design project where I wrap it up and walk away. Part of building community is that it changes shape every day. It’s a living, breathing organism. That’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned,” Disler says. As the community uses the space, she notices little tweaks are needed. She shifts things because it makes more sense for how people are using the space.

On any given day, Werklab hosts a wide variety of community members—anyone from a remote worker to a small business owner that has physical location of their own. “We have a lot of business owners who need to create space for themselves, and we help foster that,” Disler says. This is the main reason why Christina has chosen to become a host on thisopenspace, which has allowed her to further develop her community and connect to creatives, and entrepreneurs who are looking for space to grow their businesses. 

She’s also seeing demand from people that have nine-to-five jobs, but still want to be a part of the community and personal development that Werklab offers. “We’re trying to figure out how the next stage of the business can capture that demand and be inclusive to everyone,” she says. “We do a lot of programming, so we have a lot of different things going on that have nothing to do with work. Regardless of next steps, we’re anchored in our vision as a company to connect the curious and the doers, to create a new future together.”

Werklab aims to build community from the ground up. As members join, they fill out a questionnaire designed to help people find common ground. “I think as a society we hide behind our business cards, and we think that if we don’t share the same background in design, for example, we don’t have that much in common. But having deeper conversations and diving below the waterline right up front is what we do here,” she explains.

It’s this organic approach to community-building and holistic approach to working that attract members to the space. “When you look after yourself, you’re that much better when you’re in service of others.”

Learn more about Christina and how you can become a member of Werklab here. Photography by Britney Gill.

Are you feeling inspired to create for your community? Check out Christina’s space to book your next meeting or production site right here