Not that long ago, the only facilities in Florence for travelling business professionals or those without permanent office spaces were those offered by Marconi World Office, Centro Servizi Firenze Nord and Executive Service, all of which still provide offices and support services but with prices and facilities aimed at top companies and consultants. While a business traveller on a much smaller budget might sit in her hotel, laptop balanced on her knees, there was no such place for independent contractors or entrepreneurs. Enter coworking: sharing a workspace whilst undertaking independent business activities. Not only is coworking affordable but the collateral effect is ‘coffee-break synergy,’ the opportunity to bounce ideas off people from an entirely different field. It is a concept, moreover, that businesses and even a forward-thinking Florence city councillor are embracing.
In recent months, spaces for coworking have opened in Tuscany and in Florence. Many coworking facilities can now be found through the Foursquare (foursquare.com, search ‘coworking’) and Sharedesk (sharedesk.net) websites, with options that include hourly, daily and even monthly rentals. One name that pops up on both of these sites is Multiverso (http://firenze.multiverso.biz), which provides large collaborative workspaces in Florence, Lucca and Siena at competitive rates, including a couple of meeting rooms and a common coffee area. In 2013, Impact Hub Firenze opened near Florence’s Rifredi train station, a vast open space offering the usual desks and meeting rooms as well as logistical support, business consultancy and opportunities for incubation for young firms. It’s an experimental space where innovation is not only a buzzword but a way of working.
At the same time, many start-up companies and young business professionals, especially those in the IT/graphics/communications industries are embracing the concept of coworking and the 2.0 productivity tools that are part of the experience, doing business through virtual offices, with employees or partners physically separated by tens if not hundreds or thousands of kilometres during working hours. For these and other businesses, coworking usually means massive amounts of flexibility, budget maximisation and high efficiency levels, all conducive to a 2.0 way of life.
Even Florence city council has embraced the coworking concept. Giovanni Menduni, Florence’s innovation coordinator, is starting with his own office: removing phone landlines and desktop PCs and introducing mobile devices and 2.0 productivity tools. In time, Menduni expects that the traditional office will be replaced by an open space that will be fully integrated with a virtual location. Staff can be just about anywhere as long as they are online to achieve full virtual working capacities. Hot-desking is part of Menduni’s plans, too, as are small private offices managed via a collaborative calendar. His intention is that the whole should evolve naturally at a grassroots level, with happy, motivated staff working positively and enthusiastically. He sees that it will create a case study for the rest of the Florence city council offices (and maybe for local and national businesses and government offices, too).
For businesses and organisations, a coworking approach does not necessarily have to involve the hotshot technology and solutions in everyday office operations that Menduni envisions. These can be phased in over time. Moreover, suppliers, clients, banks and utility providers still have difficulty in interacting with such physically vague identities as virtual offices. (Having no fax machine would cause dire distress to 98 percent of Italian businesses and 100 percent of Italian state offices.).
Coworking has definitely arrived in Florence and Tuscany, and that is good news, not only for the increasing numbers of independent contractors, business travellers and work-at-home professionals but also for businesses and organisations. The involvement of a local government department is fundamental to making this approach a mainstream way of thinking. In the process, Italy might tackle one of the biggest issues facing the country: ensuring that its workforce is open to and effective in a flexible work environment, both physically and contractually.
The Florentine’s office, with the communications company Flod, offers a shared space with flexible rates: www.flod.it/cooffice.