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Coworking in Budapest

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Five years ago, Hungary was the model for new EU countries. Then the financial crisis hit and the economy here crashed. The state faced bankruptcy, and the unemployment rate doubled. What does this have to do with coworking? Crisis opens up new opportunities, as old certainties are destroyed and people realize they must be self-reliant. There are now more self-employed people in Hungary. However, for coworking space founders it isn’t all a breeze. The market is still a challenge. So far, spaces have opened only in the capital city. But they have dressed themselves up in order to convince potential members about the benefits of this new style of work.

Budapest is famous for its blend of ancient imperial grandeur, socialist drabness and new capitalist modernity. New trams run alongside models from the 60’s and 80’s. In this environment coworking spaces can’t rid themselves entirely of traditional workplace structures when they establish their innovative concepts.

Two years ago Budapest saw the arrival of Loffice, one of the prettiest coworking spaces in Europe in the halls of a former sheet music printing factory. Up to twenty coworkers can sit together in the common work area. You can relax on the terrace just outside. A large meeting room makes clients feel welcome, and a large event space in the basement is a great place for small conferences and parties. The walls are decorated with art that contributes to the diverse atmosphere. And even the environmental record is impressive – the building draws its power from natural geothermal energy.

The founders obviously put a lot of work into convincing Hungarians of the benefits of coworking. “For most of Hungarians, the work in a bigger company and their traditional offices is still the most desirable model for their career," explained Eszter, a manager of Loffice. Only a few people can imagine a life in self-employment, and fewer dare tread down this path.

Many people are also still stuck in difficult financial situations. Even if they would like to work in a coworking space, not all of them can’t afford it, despite low cost and flexibility. That’s why Budapest’s newly opened coworking spaces – such as Palmahaz, MyCorporation or Loffice – offer traditional-style office space in addition to their shared workspaces.

But it’s not running too badly. Since Loffice opened, four more coworking spaces have joined them in Budapest. The founders of Loffice invested a lot of time and energy to create a good working coworking space, which inspired other people to follow their example.

There’s Colabs, whose two young founders began working in Loffice, then opened their own coworking space in an apartment near the Hungarian Parliament. They are currently looking for a bigger location. At Palmahaz (Palm House), in the eastern 8th District, which opened a year ago, is another space for about twenty members. And a few days ago a newcomer, MyCorporation, opened its doors on the western side of the Danube, the first one in Buda.

Although the working area is not everyone's taste at first, once inside, MyCorporation boasts a lot of natural light and high amenity value. And it has just started with a “soft opening”. This coworking space is a great example of how former traditional offices can be transformed, by tearing out the walls and building in a kitchen bar to make it a more attractive working environment.

The manager of MyCorporation is very optimistic about their prospects. While many people still cling to traditional models, the crisis broke the certainty that they could expect a permanent position in a large company forever, said Zsófia, "young people especially are very open-minded for new types of work and spaces". She also feels that additional services should be available at coworking spaces to help her members, like marketing, business development advisory, translation or accounting services.

Also Loffice has expanded with a smaller version, called Loffice Mini, which offers a more homely feeling atmosphere for work, and is situated only a few hundred meters from their main site. As a result, there are now as many coworking spaces in Hungary’s capital as in Warsaw, which has the same population size.

Even if these new workspaces aren’t immediate cash-cows, their meeting rooms almost fill themselves with minimal effort. Many cafes and bars are not suitable for meetings of more than four of five people, and a home office gives a bad image for customer conversations. For the same reason the event rooms are also booked up quickly. And in the end, the coworking areas themselves are steadily attracting users.

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