Montreal's great coworking scene

After having completed a one year contract for one of my clients, it was time to work on some personal business projects for a few months. In order to break the isolation of working from home, I started looking for a space where I could work efficiently and meet other like-minded people.

In this post, I want to share with you why I chose coworking, and give you some insights in Montreal’s great coworking scene.

What’s coworking?

Coworking is a simple idea: a group of people shares the costs of a same working space while not necessarily working together. According to Wikipedia, the concept is not new. The term “coworking” was first used by Brad Neuberg in 2005 “to describe a physical space which he originally called a 9 to 5 group”. Since then, hundreds of coworking spaces have been created around the globe, and today it is common to find at least several in any major city.

Why it’s useful for freelance developers

Freelance developers often face the difficult choice of either working from home or finding an office space, unless they work on-site for their client.

I’ve already talked about the caveats of working from home in the third part of my series of tips for freelance developers in Montreal. While for some it works well, for others it can lead to isolation and a significant drop in productivity.

Finding and paying for a work space on your own, on the other hand, can be problematic. It usually means committing yourself to a lease for a year or longer. This is a risk for many freelance developers who often don’t have more than a few months outlook on their business activities.

This is where coworking comes into play; it allows for the same flexibility of working from home, while preventing isolation.

Montreal’s offer

Montrealers are lucky to have many excellent coworking spaces from which to choose: Station C, Ecto, Nexus, Espace 360 and more.

The majority of coworking spaces are located on the East side of Montreal, except for Ideal located near Lionel-Groulx metro and the Notman House found close to Place des Arts. However, some new spaces are currently in the works, like a new space in Verdun which hopes to open its doors in 2015.

Most spaces have a similar offer in terms of price and accessibility. Pricing plans vary only slightly, and usually range from 175$ for a limited access to 350$ for unlimited use. Almost all offer a free one or two-day trial. This is a great way to actually spend a workday on-site, meet other coworkers who are familiar with the space, and see what works best for you.

A short review of three coworking spaces

I personally tried three different spaces: Station C, Ecto and Nexus. All of them were very quick to respond to all my inquiries and were very helpful in helping me find the space that best suited my needs. Below is a short review of each one.

Station C

Station C is located in the Mile End, a block away from Saint-Laurent and St-Viateur. There are a lot of good restaurants and cafés in the area, which is handy for more informal meetings with clients or collaborators. Café Falco, a great Japanese café and bistro, is even located in the same building.

The space is modern and new, with very comfortable chairs and nice wooden desks. There’s also a fully equipped kitchen and a nice lounge with comfortable sofas for a quick coffee break or social lounging.

Justine welcomed me at the beginning of the trial day. She was most helpful in making me feel comfortable and productive. Everybody there was very respectful, and it was easy to focus on my work and get things done, even without headphones.

Nexus

Nexus is located in the heart of the Plateau, just one block away from Saint-Laurent at the corner of Mont-Royal. It’s very close to Mount-Royal Park, a big grocery store and your choice of restaurants and cafés. Nexus is home to Noesis Innovation, who shares the remaining space with freelancers and other small businesses. I was welcomed by Sylvain, Noesis’ co-founder, who was also very accommodating in helping me feel at home.

Nexus is almost certainly the most affordable of all coworking spaces in Montreal at 219$ + tax for unlimited access. Desks and chairs are of very good quality, and you can even use a bookshelf to store your stuff. The space comes with two meeting rooms, a small kitchen with a couple of tables and a comfortable waiting room for your appointments.

Besides the small businesses located at Nexus, there are many other new dynamic ventures in the same building, which add to the startup community feeling at the coworking space.

Ecto

Ecto is somewhat different than other coworking spaces. Built as a co-op, every coworker at Ecto is a member. There is a minimum 350$ fee to become a member, which is fortunately tax-deductible. Here, you get a true community feeling. People meet and exchange naturally when having lunch at the big kitchen table during the week. Members can also suggest and/or drive changes to how the space and the organization works. Current projects include serving muffin baskets and improving the meeting room booking system.

The space itself is very warm and welcoming, with lots of natural light, plants and a nice layout. Spanning across two floors, it’s bigger than most other spaces with several small soundproof cabins to make phone calls, a few large meeting rooms, and a lounge that allows people to relax without disturbing other coworkers. Sofas are also available on both floors for more comfortable work or break time. The kitchen is spacious and fully equipped, which is very helpful for the weekly Thursday potlucks.

Ecto is near Lafontaine Park and the Sherbrooke metro station. There’s even a small park right in front of the building with picnic tables and chairs for those sunny summer days. Sandra, one of the space’s coordinators, was very helpful and made it easy for me to feel welcomed in the Ecto community.

Try it for yourself!

At 219$ per month for unlimited access, Nexus’ price is hard to be beat and comes with the best desk setup of the three spaces I visited. It’s also located in the most central location. Station C is great if you’re looking for a modern and quiet space that is not too big. Located on Saint-Viateur at the corner with Saint-Laurent, it’s certainly a good choice if you like eating out for lunch and taking a break at some of the best cafés in Montréal. Finally, freelancers looking for a bright, large space, an open organization and a community feeling should definitely try Ecto.

Freelancers and small businesses are lucky to find a lot of excellent and convivial coworking spaces in Montreal. Even though most of them have similar base offers, the benefits are in the details and according to personal preferences.

I haven’t had the time to try all coworking spaces I mentionned in the introduction, and I’m sure they all have their strengths. I invite you to try them for yourself and let me know in the comments what you think!

Julien Gilli 09 April 2014
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