Eva, Founder of MATES, a coworking concept in Munich
Although MATES is situated in a somewhat hidden backyard, it lies right in the heart of life in Lehel, a city quarter in Munich. The coworking space is spread across the various rooms and interestingly-shaped spaces of both levels of a former carriage factory. However, MATES is much more than yet another provider of flexibly-rentable office spaces. What is it really? That is the topic of my conversation with Eva Lichner, founder und director of MATES.
INGO: Have you ever worked in a regular, normal, office?
EVA: Well, that depends on how you define “normal“. In the past years, I’ve always worked in agencies and design offices that placed special emphasis on the importance of a creative atmosphere. That is extremely important to me – in terms of both an open and relaxed atmosphere but also an interior design that inspires. Whenever I visit a classic office space, where everyone works in their separate and anonymous rooms, I’m always shocked because there is just too little exchange that takes place there. I would not want to work that way.
In addition to a masters degree in International Marketing und Communication, Eva also studied Interior Design in London – and that is obvious when you visit the rooms in MATES. They do not give off an aura of some highly-styled and lofty aesthetic but instead combine historic industry charm with many loving details. Everything is very open, but as a result of many different spaces (Eva calls them “zones“) there are also possibilities for more quiet working areas: from a large reception table near the entrance to long coworking desks and small telephone nooks, comfortable meeting rooms and adjoining areas which two agencies rent on a permanent basis. Plants, pictures, old wooden boxes and rustic kilim carpets create an atmosphere that is more reminiscent of a living room than an office space. A designer lamp with carbon fiber lightbulbs in the entrance area creates a warmly lit feeling.
What role did architecture and design play during the development of MATES?
At the beginning, we asked ourselves: what does the workspace 2.0 look like? There are certainly some good examples to be seen within various Berlin start-ups, Silicon Valley and also local agencies. But we didn’t want it to be too playful – maybe you could call it more “grown up“. In the end, we wanted to create a bit of an agency feeling without being an agency. A creative atmosphere for creative people who want to be their own boss.
Is a certain atmosphere, or a certain space, necessary in order to be creative and productive?
Of that, I am very certain. One important aspect is the openness and structure of the space, which must make exchange and cooperation possible. Many additional details are required in order to create a suitable space for creativity. Finally, it was also important to us to intentionally create an atmosphere of comfort, almost a living room feeling. Why? We believe that time spent working is valuable time spent living. Therefore, we don’t want the people here to have the feeling they are “at work“ – and the feedback we have received tells us the same: freelancers that come here do so not only to work but also to exchange ideas and be inspired. A good and practical technical setup is a basic condition; this includes high-speed internet, printers on which one can also print in A3 format and, of course, a good coffee machine.
As if on cue, the electric coffee grinder behind us starts up and Eva explains the differences between the espresso and coffee beans, what goes in which grinder, and how to operate the coffee machine to two freelancers – this is also a big part of what creates the special atmosphere within MATES: more personal than a cafe and with more camaraderie than a home office.
How do you support the exchange between your customers?
To that end, we recently launched our own MATES-Community (mates.network). Not only does it provide a space in which we can inform people about our events, but each person can create their own profile and thereby present themselves and their work. In addition, we have received much interest from various agencies – via community-access they can search for suitable freelancers, look at profiles and even see their availability right there, online. In contrast to purely digital networks, however, we provide a decisive advantage: personal contact. We want to provide the creative scene in Munich with a face, where clients and service providers are brought together.
What future trend are you embracing with MATES? How will this develop in the long term?
There is, of course, the big trend towards globalization. And if you are young and single, it might be great being a “digital nomad“, making money with different jobs, traveling and visiting hip surf spots. But we are also seeing a counter-trend towards regionality. People are turning towards the „real“ un-globalized things as well – regional food, natural materials in home furnishings, personal meetings instead of online chats. The majority of our customers are from within Munich, many even from nearby neighbourhoods. They like living here and would like to work in Munich. On the other side of things, it is not sensible that Munich‘s agencies hire creative people from Berlin or other cities, simply because they can’t find anyone here. I am convinced that we have really great service offerings here in Munich and also much demand. MATES provides the basis where these people can find one another. Not only virtually, but in reality. And, because demand is so high, we will be opening a second location in Munich in 2017 – and one day maybe in other cities as well.
Not only in Munich but in all of Germany, agencies are complaining that it is hard to find good personnel. In contrast to the 80s, the advertising branch has lost attractivity in terms of employment. This may be an effect of internal measures: as a result of efficiency increases, many perks that used to make working at an agency so desirable and glamorous – be it the free buffet, free drinks, extravagant Christmas parties or agency trips to Cannes – have been abolished. In many cases, all that is left are long working hours, meager pay and a lot of stress. Many creative people quit and choose self-employment, because they want more self-determination and want to regain the balance between their work and private lives.
Is freelance work the better alternative, compared to regular employment?
That surely depends on the type of person you are. It is good for people who value being their own boss. People who are self-assured enough to acquire contracts and to live from project to project. Those who are motivated by being able to work for themselves, but who are also able to manage their capacities themselves, can set their own limits and stick to them – maybe for some young creative people it is difficult to be disciplined in this way. I have experienced that many employed, creative people are often unmotivated, dissatisfied and frustrated. Many self-employed individuals, in contrast, tackle their work with much enthusiasm, network at events, continue to improve themselves and inspire each other. Therefore, they are a valuable resource for agencies suffering from a lack of skilled personnel. However, it’s very important for freelancers to have a consistent meeting point and to not just waste away in their home offices. Many have experienced the motto and basic concept behind MATES: “Working alone sucks.“
MATES offers a variety of pricing options for creative individuals – from a half-day pass to permanent resident spaces with all-inclusive service. The two meeting rooms are available for rent to the general public as well. The MATES-Community is currently available to freelancers and agencies within Munich only. For more info about the coworking visit: www.mates-muenchen.de or http://mates.network