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Exercise Bikes & Tightropes: Coworking in Moscow & St. Petersburg

Coworkers taking a swinging break in ZonaSpace

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Russia is the biggest country in the world, populating one-eighth of the Earth’s landmass, spans across nine time zones, bridging Scandinavia and Asia. Over in the west, Russia’s two largest cities take hold. Deskmag takes a peek inside the coworking spaces of St. Petersburg and Moscow to find a thriving scene in both cities.

Nobody really knows what Russia is all about – we know of Putin, USSR (the Beatles song) and the infamous Moscow Mule. Yet we now see that old factories are being turned into stylish and productive coworking corners, for example, in Moscow, which is home to the strikingly beautiful St. Basil’s Cathedral, and St. Petersburg, which borders on the Baltic Sea.

“The coworking movement is growing rapidly here, a year or two ago no one even knew the word, now you hear about the new spaces every week, in both cities,” said Zara Malikova, a founder of the Atelier coworking space in Moscow.

With over 20 coworking spaces in each city, freelancers are still working under the table. There has yet to be a state coworking center with educational resources so startups can learn about the laws of starting up a firm. The fees and fines should be transparent from the start, said one freelancer.

Far from your drab office vibe, freelancers and small teams, remote workers, programmers and entrepreneurs are all coworking in Russia. They even have the mayor of Moscow visiting spaces (though no signs of Putin just yet). This is where journalists work and host panel discussions, where you can get cooking workshops and dive into interior design.

The vibe of “work, friends and a lot of ideas” takes hold, said Maria Konopelko, the director of Zonaspace, a coworking space with a ‘circus theme.’ The largest St. Petersburg coworking space is home to a set of swings, unicycles and even a tightrope in their coworking space.

Some coworking spaces have a minimum of a two-week desk rental time, others rent by the day. If you’re planning on heading on up to Russia, take a look at the guide below before you go. In Moscow and St. Petersburg, we’re touching down on a handful of Russian startups to see what’s inside. Just in time to commemorate the three-year anniversary of INCubator – the first coworking space in St. Petersburg on May 15.

Zonaspace

Located on the second floor of the former Smolny bakery, Zonaspace is the biggest coworking space in St. Petersburg. In Russian, the name translates to “Action Zone.” Filled with IT (mobile apps) web and graphic designers, Zonaspace is home to Sweet Weekend, a bakery market with 50 professional and amateur cooks hawking their wares. The journalism forum had top Russian journalists speaking and the Garage 48 hackathon as well.

You can book the space when needed, but the minimum rental time is two weeks. They do have a kitchen with appliances, a lounge area and nook for conference calls. There is fun as well – they have swings, a scooter, a tightrope, unicycles and more. The Zonaspace founder Yury Lifshits is a former Silicon Valley computer scientist with Yahoo! The master classes here are devoted to fashion, technology, media and travel. It's about 4,000 rubles per month for a community desk, 7,000 rubles for a dedicated desk.

Work Smart

You can always get a desk, but could you always get a secretary? Pegged in downtown St. Petersburg, 12,000 rubles per month will get you a desk at Work Smart. That fee includes the services of a secretary, a fax and photocopier machine, even a library of foreign business and lifestyle books. Extra costs will get you a rental lecture hall. The previous lectures include a talk about urban business and media by local editors.

Flacon

Over in Moscow, Flacon is a heavenly design dream with exposed brick walls and a glossy white staircase. Located in a former factory complex turned loft office, ad agencies and fashion showrooms are just a step away. This two-floor space just expanded to include 20 more seats. The top floor conference room is tucked in by a glass wall, which sits six in an executive setting. The master classes are far-reaching and unexpected. You can do everything from learn how to cook meatballs to take some tips on interior design. 

Home to an event and exhibition space, it opened in 2009 hosting lectures, film screenings, exhibitions, presentations and parties. The community here fuses the fashion, architecture and design worlds. That’s the point. “The idea is to create a kind of anthill,” said Alexei Balalykin, a coordinator at Flacon. “Everyone works individually, but by doing so benefits his neighbors.”

 Next Page: More unique coworking spaces in Russia 

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