5 Questions With: Christina Disler of Werklab

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March is mindfulness month so in my hunt to find great people to feature, I stumbled across Werklab, a beautiful and mindful co-working space in Vancouver that was founded by Christina Disler. They recently celebrated their 1st anniversary and have already had a very positive impact on the local entrepreneurs and working community here in Vancouver. We had a super enlightening conversation that lasted far longer than I expected so I’m sharing with you today some excerpts from my great chat with Christina, who shares her inspiration for the space and their mindful mission.

1) Can you give us some background on Werklab and how it all started?

My sister, who is an artist (all the artwork in the space is hers!), was living in Amsterdam before and had told me about the world of co-working. A few years ago, I went to an HR conference and found this stat has stood out for me. The stat said that by 2020, 40% of the work force will be freelancers, contractors, temp workers and that the work force will change. It was a statistic that rocked my world because I realized that 2020 wasn’t that far away. It was at the end of 2015 when the idea came up. The stat was becoming more and more real and the fact that we’re in a tech hub and the real estate’s high, I really looked at it from the light of social impact and almost from a light of project instead of a money-making business. I will admit that I come from a privileged position where I loaned money from my dad to do the construction. I’m also not trying to squeeze every penny out of this whereas I think that for a lot of other spaces, it’s hard to have integrity with building community when there’s really high bills to pay. We have a good rent here and at the end of the day, once you pay your membership fee, you’re part of this community, we don’t pinch you for anything else.

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2) How does Werklab work?

Some spaces do daily drop-ins, here we’re completely membership based. You don’t have to be here full-time. You can start off with just 5 days a month and work your way up. It’s hard to build community when you have all these transient workers signing up online for only a day. How do you foster trust, safety and vulnerability when you don’t know who the next person is that is coming in? We also have a vetting system, we interview people before they enter the space to ensure that they align with our culture and what we’re trying to do. We don’t just want someone that’s going to come in and just use it as an office, we want someone who wants to sign on and be a part of this community.

When I opened Werklab, I didn’t study the best co-working spaces, I studied the best places to work. At the end of the day, someone can come up with a fancier place to work at and more gadgets, but what people are here for is an intrinsic value. It reminds me of working at some of the cool companies; they aren’t necessarily paying you the top dollar they’re offering you an experience. What do you feel when you’re coming through the door? What’s the energy like? All those things are important. 

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3) What separates Werklab from other co-working spaces?

We actually don’t call ourselves a co-working space but rather a modern day work club because everything is membership based and we’re a mindful space. We have yoga classes and we hold events. For example, we’ll have someone from a natural cosmetic shop come in or we’ll have lunch and learns on health, etc. At the end of the day, the way we work has totally shifted because of technology, even when you leave here you’re still working in bed. So we’re trying to infuse and offer you things that you wouldn’t maybe have time to go out and do because you have so much work or are working on a big project deadline. We want to bring those things to you.

We have 73 members now and we try to get at least once a week, something going on in the space. We want to bring people together with the more natural human stuff, I want people to have real authentic talk in this space. 

Also, with the design of the space, we wanted to offer different areas for you to move around. People think that only graphic designers or coders, those are the creative people that are not working 9 to 5. But in reality, a lot of people work remote. You don’t have to be an “in your face creative” to be in a space like this because at the end of the day, creativity is in everything we do – it’s in problem solving, it’s thinking outside the box, it’s critical thinking, etc. It doesn’t mean that you need to be the best artist in order to be creative.

A lot of the time when we get stuck on a road block with work, movement – moving into a new part of the space, standing up, meditating on our bean bag, being able to stretch out on the couch or just having a quick chat in the coffee area, can all of a sudden reset you.

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4) Who are the people that have been drawn to the space?

The demographic is a total range. I thought we’d have a lot of people from the neighbourhood because we’re the furthest space East in downtown Vancouver but we have people driving all the way from Kits and all over town to come here, which is pretty special. Right before people start, we send them a questionnaire that has nothing to do with what they do – asking them where they grew up, where they were born, what’s one thing people wouldn’t know about them, etc. So even before people come in for orientation, we try to find links and connection with others in the space so that they already feel like they belong on day 1, even if they don’t know anyone. I really try to make an effort to go around with them and be there to support them. People call this home, it’s funny but true.

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5) A lot of the people in the community seem to really help each other out here in Vancouver, what does it mean to you to be a part of that and how has it helped?

I think the more as a business we become authentic and the more it is aligned with who I am and who I stand for, all of a sudden all these pieces start falling into place and just feels so serendipitous. There’s something really special about people on the west coast, following their crazy independent paths. It can sometimes feel so alone on the journey and can sometimes be really challenging but there’s so much support for Vancouver as a whole. I don’t know if it’s always been that way but that’s how things are shifting. I was talking to another local entrepreneur – Sonia from Woodlot and we were chatting about how expensive Vancouver is, so a lot of people have side hustles to make extra cash on the side. And all of a sudden, those side hustles start doing really well so they run with it. We’re all trying to survive together and there’s a really beautiful energy around this community. 

The past year has been a wild ride. It’s this living and breathing organism that changes shape every day but you just have to be present with it. It has been quite the mindfulness task in itself to let it happen. 

For more info on Werklab, go here.

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