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Hot desks: Our favourite Brussels coworking spaces

20:28 20/02/2018
Break up the working week with a few hours at one of Brussels’ shared workspaces and freelance-friendly cafes, ideal for nomadic freelancers in search of new colleagues

The coworking culture is well and truly a thing. Freelancers, entrepreneurs, startups, teleworkers, consultants, digital nomads. These busy, but baseless, people are all looking for a place to park up with their laptops, whether it’s for a few hours on the move, a few days here and there, or a regular desk space with all the services of a proper office.

At one end of the spectrum it’s a line of people hunched over laptops and cappuccinos in a coffee shop who, if not actually collaborating, are absorbing a sense of comradeship. At the other it’s fully formed workspaces that offer networking opportunities, business events, professional hosts, break-out areas and even rooms for napping.

Anis Bedda, joint founder of coworking space Transforma Bxl, says the scene has been “booming” over the last couple of years. Bedda, who’s also co-president of Belgian association Be Coworking, says they range from niche spaces to massive projects. “Offers differ from one project to the other – some are very flexible and some less so. At the end of the day, a freelancer or startup can find what they need in terms of geography, price or flexibility,” he says. Here’s a taster of some of the options available in Brussels.

Pay up front

Many coworking businesses are responding to the need for flexibility with their packages, which range from half-day drop-ins to full monthly packages. Check terms and conditions as some have minimum periods. Most offer free trials, and prices usually exclude VAT.

Hanna Bonnier and her business partner opened Le Phare du Kanaal in 2016, making it the city’s first coworking space to be combined with a cafe. Her priorities were to make it affordable and flexible, bright and cosy, she says. “When I was working for the EU and seeing all these passionate freelancers, entrepreneurs, independents – whatever we call ourselves – moving to Brussels from all over the world, it amazed me. I was surprised that there wasn’t a place adapted to their needs for flexibility and ‘cheapicity’. I thought, why not offer flexible desks, for low prices and with no commitment, to this new generation?”

The canalside spot in Molenbeek has open-plan office areas and a meeting room upstairs, with a cafe below serving homemade food to coworkers and the public alike. A coded door keeps the workspace secure. With reference to their name, which translates as ‘lighthouse of the canal’, coworkers are jauntily referred to as ‘sailors’. Coworkers can buy a half or full-day, bundles of 10 passes, or 24/7 access for a month.

Benjamin Rey, 33, has been coworking there while establishing his language-learning startup, Ilini. “Coworking is great for focus, motivation, inspiration and socialising,” he says. “At Le Phare I get to meet a whole range of people who I can potentially collaborate with, or simply share ideas or experiences. Being surrounded by creatives is priceless.”

Workshop Cafe, on Avenue Louise in Ixelles, is a hybrid. Essentially a normal, free walk-in cafe, it’s aimed squarely at coworkers, which eliminates any ambiguity you may feel elsewhere about table-hogging. “I like it for working alone or in a pair,” says currency trader Saz Dosanjh. “There’s excellent wifi, plenty of plugs around, lots of space and a range of table sizes.”

At La Récré, near Place Stephanie, it’s a pay-per-minute deal that includes unlimited drinks and snacks, and access to a printer, scanner and projector. The first hour is €4, then 50c for each 10 minutes thereafter. You can stay all day for €16. 

Cafe culture

What makes a worker-friendly cafe can be quite subjective. One person’s inspiring hubbub might be another’s maddening distraction. To find your happy place, here’s a small selection popular with nomads.

New kid on the block L’Architecte, on Place Flagey, is proving popular for meetings and laptop sessions. Attached to ULB’s architecture school, it’s a canteencum-modern bistro that can get busy at lunchtime. But, says communications manager André Burstin, “we’re always pleased to welcome people throughout the day to do their work, study or read and drink coffee, especially since we’re on university premises and also run a bookshop”. English communications specialist Charlotta Odlind runs freelancers’ network The English Hub, and has held several meetings there. “There’s enough space to spread yourself out a bit, it’s in a central spot and it’s really light and airy,” she says.

Useful addresses

Factory Forty
40 Rue des Anciens Etangs, Forest

Transforma Bxl
13 Avenue Jules Bordet, Evere

The Mug
6-8 rue Charles Martel, EU quarter

The Library
Three locations

Silversquare
Three locations

Betacowork
4 Rue des Pères Blancs, Etterbeek

Coworking Les Galeries
30 Galerie du Roi, Brussels

Poz Cafe
92 Rue Defacqz, Ixelles

Jat Cafe
28 Rue de Namur, Brussels

Cafe de La Presse
491 Avenue Louise, Ixelles

WXYZ bar Aloft hotel
Place Jean Rey, Etterbeek
Laptops welcome in the cafe bar; they also have feepaying spaces with services

If you’re okay with a buzz, there’s plenty of anonymity in the Belga/Bar du Matin/Walvis family of cafe bars, which all have the same owner. There’s a similar vibe at Café Maison du Peuple in Saint-Gilles, where you can linger for hours.

This article first appeared in The Bulletin winter 2017. Browse the magazine here, pick up a copy in newsagents or subscribe today...

Written by Paula Dear