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Shared office revolution takes off
Spacecubed boss Brodie McCulloch. Picture: John Mokrzycki/The West Australian

Tucked behind a stockbroking firm in the windowless, bottom-floor back room of a St Georges Terrace office block, a small revolution is under way.

It involves wooden cubby houses, retro bicycles and an energetic community chattering away in virtual space.

Spacecubed is already the subject of much intrigue on the Terrace for breaking the mould of a conservative Perth office. There's no mahogany-lined boardroom, beige cubicles or desktop computers in sight. Patrons - anyone with $22.50 a month to spare for a basic membership - bring their own laptops and tablet computers and sit where they like.

On the back wall a wood block model of Perth's CBD jumps to life with an animated projection of live, geo-tagged social media updates from citizens around the city - a bridge between the physical and digital worlds that makes up for the lack of sweeping river views.

But Spacecubed is not just some funky Gen-Y office space - it is a physical and digital community which encourages collaboration and invention. An internal Yammer community, as well as Twitter and Facebook keep members involved in what is going on when they are working elsewhere.

The idea emerged after Brodie McCulloch, the director of the not-for-profit organisation which runs Spacecubed, returned to Perth in 2010 after working overseas and saw an opportunity to use what he had learnt from other countries.

Among his inspirations is Nobel Peace Prize-winning economist Muhammad Yunus, who developed the concept of microcredit for entrepreneurs who do not qualify for bank loans.

"I saw a lot of social entrepreneurship happening overseas, I came back here and was looking at what opportunities there are in WA," he said. "We are such a wealthy State, going through massive change, how do we support people who will start building new wealth generators rather than just using what we've already got?"

With some assistance from the City of Perth and Lotterywest and a favourable lease from the building's owners, Mr McCulloch is on his way towards that goal. At a recent Start-Up weekend, participants were pushed to build an idea in 24 hours and pitch it to venture capitalists by the end of the weekend.

"Fourteen businesses grew out of that over the weekend," Mr McCulloch said. Among them was a social funding website for indie fashion designers, a mobile application for waking people up at their bus or train stop and a site designed to help find gifts online by building a story around the recipient to match them with the perfect item.

Mr McCulloch said more than 100 members had signed up in five months. "A lot of the people who are members here don't need an office, they can work from home but they still have to have meetings," he said. "It's not that you need a full-time space but you need access to that community and the social interaction you don't get from working at home."

Deloitte partner and WA technology leader Paul Klein said the idea of co-operative office spaces would help smaller organisations or entrepreneurs overcome barriers to entry in getting businesses off the ground. "Initiatives like Spacecubed are providing a flexible service to organisations which need a certain capability but haven't necessarily got the funds to set it all up themselves," he said. "They can leverage it without it having to be owned and run themselves."

He said Spacecubed was among a growing number of organisations adopting an activity-based, flexible approach to office work.

"I think what we will see more and more is people working from wherever, using whatever device and being less tied to physical places," he said. "I think we will see an increasing proportion of the workforce in any organisation who are mobile and more flexible in the way they connect and interact."