An Icelander, two Germans and a Brit are sitting in a bright and cavernous room in Reykjavík’s Old Harbour, drinking coffee side by side in total silence, physically together but intellectually apart. They are freelance PR representatives, freelance photographers, freelance whatever-ists, each renting one of six desks in a former industrial space called the Reykjavík Coworking Unit. Their tribe is governed by one rule: no assholes.
The idea of bringing a variety of independent creators together in a shared place is hardly a new one. Think tanks and creative incubators like Iceland’s former Hugmyndahúsið (“The House of Ideas”) were born of the idea that the collaborative nature of a diverse and unconventional work environment could produce extraordinary results.
The Reykjavík Coworking Unit springboards off of this idea, though with a less collaborative bent. “It’s a community of like-minded people, so there’s potential to be exposed to an idea that you could collaborate on,” says Valgeir Valdimarsson, who founded the space in April 2013 on the ground level of his friend Stuart’s photo lab. He threw in some vintage couches, minimalist design and a corner kitchen freckled with coffee cups and welcomed others to come and create. Coworkers rent on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis given most of them are transient foreigners.
A wave of digital nomads
Like others at the Reykjavík Coworking Unit, Valgeir had been working from home or posting up at coffee shop offices while travelling from place to place. He was running his communications/networking/creative ad site Takk Takk and bouncing between Iceland and the rest of Europe. In need of a change of scenery and a place to plug in, he joined a new wave of ‘digital nomads’ that developed in the early 2000s when Wifi and cloud networks became all pervasive. When technology went wireless, they too became untethered.
Amongst those currently taking advantage of the space are Patrick Ohler and Karin Rothgaenger from Germany. Each are renting desks for a month, essentially freelancing an office space so they can freelance their work, away from distractions in their busy city. “I have my phone here,” Patrick says, “and the office [in Cologne] could call me if they needed, but they know I’m away so I haven’t received a call in three weeks, but I’m still working.” Patrick works as an entrepreneur creating web companies and apps and the company he’s currently working for just needs him to find an environment conducive to this.
It’s a community, too
Peter Hartree of England, a web developer, has been renting his desk on a quarterly basis for about 631 ISK per day, which is roughly the price of a coffee and a snack at a Reykjavík café. He still visits his old workspace, a table at The Laundromat Café, almost daily but primarily as a place to wake up or wind down. He sees droves of wireless workers like himself. “The coffee shops in Reykjavík are full of people working at their computers. It’s not just students anymore either, it’s everyone,” Peter says.
According to the social networking site Foursquare, there are at least 20 coworking units in Reykjavík that vary from cubicles to factory spaces. Some are entrepreneurial-minded with a focus on helping start-up businesses gain footing. Others look like corporate offices or home offices that have been opened up to freelancers interested in renting.
If the living room area of the Reykjavík Coworking Unit could be seen as the office watering hole, it’s a respite of beer and popcorn. On a recent Monday night, coworkers were watching ‘Singin’ In The Rain,’ slumped in warm couches, glued to Gene Kelly. The talk was about last week’s beer tasting, the Icelandic DJ and Brazilian photographer who have just rented desks and the very pressing matter of which movie they would watch next week.
Click here for more information about the Reykjavík Coworking Unit.