Work/Life: Suite Genius
Work is changing. What used to be foundational to an office — a desk, a commute, bad coffee – is being called into question by a new generation of work spaces and employee expectations. The way we work is experiencing disruption that has us asking … what took so long? In our Work/Life series, we chat with the people that are changing the face of the modern work, and making it look really, really good.
Mitchell Purdy needed a place to get things done. After working primarily from home for six years as a freelance web-developer, Purdy’s office space was overtaken by his newborn daughter. His brain was similarly taken over by her sweet infant screaming. Within six months of becoming a dad, Purdy and his wife opened the first Suite Genius space in Vancouver’s Kitsilano. Five years later, the brand has expanded, as has the co-working model. With 40% of the workforce on track to be working freelance or temporary contracts by 2020, the need for flexible workspaces will only become more popular and prevalent. In this Work/Life, we chat with Mitchell about building a co-working space out of a nursery, and the dynamics of furnishing a roving office space.
Hey Mitchell, thanks for having us! To kick things off, can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do, and how you came to open the Suite Genius space?
My pleasure. We’ve run Suite Genius for about five years, and have two locations going. Before this was my full-time job, I worked as a freelance web-designer, and had worked as a sales guy and recruiter. Kind of a varied path, but it was the freelancing that really led me towards co-working spaces. I’d been working from a small home office and in coffee shops, but after my daughter was born – I suddenly have a screaming kid at home. My wife and I had kicked around the co-working idea a bit, so the idea of opening a place didn’t feel entirely crazy. Within six months of our daughter being born, we opened the Kits location.
We’d love to know a bit about the history of your space. What inspired you to build this modern work space?
I’m a really function-forward guy, so in the beginning the idea was simple. You get an office space, you make it usable. Over time, and with the help of my wife, the space evolved. I started to understand that if a person is going to come and use a space and do good work in it, they need to feel like it’s a nice place to be, and that it’s approachable. Otherwise, people are just going to stick to their coffee shop. Women especially seem to prefer a space that is more warm and design-oriented.
After a few months, we upgraded the Kits space with those tenants in mind. It was really when we opened the Mt. Pleasant location – a much larger, more central space – that we saw the space really change from a remote office into a co-working space. We suddenly had a lot more members, and so we needed more programs and collaborative work spaces. It gave us a whole new opportunity to think about what people needed out of our space. We also saw the community really start to jive. When you have a bunch of interesting people working on cool projects in a shared space, it changes the energy.
How do the spaces affect the work (and play) that gets done in them?
Well, the path to Mt. Pleasant had my wife and me really thinking about building a collaborative workspace. We were very inspired by the co-working spaces in the US – they were incredibly beautiful without sacrificing function. We also found that the co-working spaces, ours included, were very neighbourhood specific. The workers are representative of their communities, and so the programming needs to reflect that. People want to work near where they live, near their favorite spots. Our Kitsilano space is very Kits focused. The crowd is a bit older and have families, so our programs are day-time oriented. A lunch and learn session on gut health will perform better in the Kits space than in Mt. Pleasant. They prefer the Thursday happy hour.
When choosing your location and furnishing the Suite Genius spaces, what directed your efforts? What were you trying to achieve for the people that would come to work here?
It was an interesting challenge for us as we were working with our designer. We wanted to set ourselves apart as a space that considers design, but also to make sure the spaces didn’t look too “styled” or done. We didn’t want people to feel like they couldn’t feasibly use and settle into the spaces. Quality and longevity are really important as well – the couches are as highly-trafficked as our desks.
One of the most interesting parts of overseeing the co-working space is the changes in our clientele. These days, everyone is doing some part of their work from their laptop or phone. Our people are such a cross section of the industries, which again I think adds to our space. They’re all from such different industries and backgrounds – the people that are hanging out in our space learn so much from their co-working peers simply by virtue of sharing space.
When we talk about “modern work”, what does that mean to you? We’re seeing the way people want to engage with their professional lives really change. How does a space like SG support and encourage that change?
It’s hard to advance your professional career in a bubble, or while you’re working from home. Shared, flexible workspaces are a launch pad for people to get more work done, to figure out their most productive set-up, to collaborate with people that are doing similar things, to get quick access to different skill-sets that they might not have. We see it all the time: our space fast-tracks relationships and streamlines the way that our people do they business because they can bounce their ideas off a huge and dynamic group of people.
What is it about the modern work economy that inspires you? What do you hope your space fosters in the people that use it?
It’s been amazing to see the industry evolve. I certainly didn’t think five years ago that a decentralized, couch-heavy workspace would be so popular. To see everything change in that direction feels very exciting. It seems so obvious that this is a great way to work, it almost seems silly that we’ve been chasing the corporate, desk-bound means of doing work for so long.