Why Coworking Works in Christchurch

“It’s hard to articulate the shift from being an employee in a business to being its owner,” says Works Director, Leon Mooney. “It’s like these people were already my relatives, but now they’re my family.”

Leon has been with the Saltworks coworking space on Ash Street through its full lifecycle so far: first as a South Island Manager in the former BizDojo chain, through an international sale, then as General Manager in a new, local ownership structure and now, finally, as the owner of Saltworks and its newer sister space Millworks on Wise Street. “Those ownership conversations really kicked off around the first COVID lockdown in 2020. I loved being the leader, but it was still just my job. Now, it’s so much more than that. Every part of me is here at Works; the good, the bad and the ugly are inside these four walls.”

Christchurch-born but harbouring the classic Kiwi OE aspirations, Leon once thought he’d end up working on a ski field in Australia. Then, a chance opportunity at Vodafone helped cement his passion for both selling great ideas and managing great people. When it became possible for him to transition those skills into a business of his own, he couldn’t turn it down. “I knew I could go back to a corporate job and make great money, but I really love Canterbury and I thought this was my opportunity to make it a better place. I’ve watched through the years how the job growth created by Works has positively contributed to the region and its economic and social outcomes. Christchurch is where I’ve chosen to do business, buy property, build my family and, selfishly, if Works can help make it an even better place to live, that’s awesome.”

Leon’s passion for his Christchurch community translates into a commitment to supporting its businesses in every way that he can. “It just seems so obvious to me that supporting local businesses should be important to everybody. Of course, I should support local businesses and reinvest into the economy here. When everything flows back into the community it creates happy staff, happy families and just better humans. The trickle-down effect is a better experience for all of us who live here.” Works’ Community Manager, Brianna Banning has seen this passion in action. “It’s clear that this is what really gives Leon a sense of purpose. It’s his overarching aspiration, and what drives him.”

What Leon and his team are building at Works is a hub that prioritises human-to-human connection over business-to-business. A big part of achieving that has been through forming meaningful partnerships with others doing great work in Canterbury. “One of the most important relationships we’ve built has been with Boyd Warren in his capacity as General Manager of Innovation and Business Growth at ChristchurchNZ. I expressed a lot of thoughts to him about our innovation sector and how we could be using our resources better, in particular to support next-stage startups who are beyond that incubator stage, but maybe still need some resources to help them scale. We have upwards of 100 businesses at Works, many of which fall into that space. With Boyd’s collaboration, we’ve now set up a formal partnership with ChristchurchNZ which allows me to provide limited discretionary funding for Works residents who are creating jobs in Canterbury. This has helped us to attract residents like Wisk Aero who are working with groundbreaking autonomous electric flight technology. Boyd connected us with them and we were able to give them the runway to make it possible for them to operate in Christchurch.”

Works is also collaborating closely with other industry bodies and funders including Icehouse Ventures and Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce (CECC), Leon says. “We have signed a regional partnership agreement with Icehouse where we sponsor their members through management and training courses and they offer our members discounts on their pitching and investment courses in return. We are also in active partnership discussions with the Chamber to provide CECC memberships to all Works residents.”

On a day-to-day basis, Works continues to seek out relationships with partners that align with the Works values. This can be in a wellbeing space, as with their collaborations with O Studio and Yoga by Kotte; it can also be in the form of Works’ ‘Each One Teach One’ lunchtime sessions where residents can learn about everything from marketing to boat safety. “The idea is that everyone has something of value to share and we encourage them to do so over snacks provided by us. This can offer some pitch practice for startups who need it and also an opportunity for our residents to connect and get some really great advice. We have a sponsorship agreement with Shorthouse Consulting, for instance, and in exchange they provide our residents with top-tier business advice in an informal setting where they can ask questions and really gain the skills they need to grow.”

These sessions offer a great opportunity to see the true impacts of cross-pollination at Works, Brianna says. “The amazing thing is that not everyone here sits under just one business umbrella. So many people wear multiple hats now; I don’t think that we’re stuck on one path or in one career anymore as was the norm a generation or two back. There’s more acceptance of people’s curiosity to try more than one thing, and those hidden skills and talents often come to the surface during Each One Teach One sessions.”

Both Leon and Brianna have seen the dynamics of coworking evolve since the pandemic began, and are optimistic about the opportunities presented for Christchurch by the resultant fundamental shift in the ways that many people work. “We’re seeing these worldwide trends now,” Leon says, “for companies to buy desk space for employees who have been working from home. For many big businesses, I don’t think their workforce will ever go back to a traditional office that looks like it did before. You’re already starting to see that now in Christchurch. Combined with the more affordable cost of living and fantastic quality of life here, the effects of the pandemic have driven so many new people to the city from elsewhere in New Zealand and overseas.” “Even before the pandemic, “ Brianna adds, “Christchurch presented a really unique opportunity for a whole new city. I moved here after the Earthquakes, so I only know it as it exists now. It’s been amazing to watch all the opportunities that have been created by the rebuild since I arrived in 2017.”

Looking ahead, Leon – self-proclaimed ‘Ōtautahi Enthusiast’ – sees huge potential for co-working in Christchurch and the wider region. “My vision for Works is to have 500 members at sites across Canterbury which really cater to the changing needs and desires of a workforce that was, in some cases, already crying out for change and, in other cases, was jolted into that change by the pandemic.” When asked if he’s got his eyes further afield, he replies, “I’ve been on that nationwide ride before and I know that the service can slip when you’re spread that thin. What I really love about Works is that I can service both of our existing sites and ensure that the standard of customer service remains really high. When there is a challenge, I get to be the one to turn up and resolve it myself and that’s really important to me.”