Admit it. You’ve missed it, just a little. Honest to goodness, actual, real human interaction. The lockdown had a certain charm to start with, no doubt about it. The chance to reduce our commute down to the time it takes to get from the kitchen to the lounge, being able to attend important meetings in your jandals via Zoom. But for many, especially in the creative world, nothing can replace engaging directly. Kanohi ki te kanohi - face to face.
It’s certainly how Chief Executive of Copyright Licensing New Zealand (CLNZ) Paula Browning likes it.
“You don’t get the same connection over technology. Maintaining relationships using technology as a bridge is OK but establishing them is different. From an Ideas perspective, to work on things that are going to bring new content or innovation into play, you need people to be able to come together.”
The Power of Unity
That sense of togetherness has long been what makes Aotearoa tick. In te reo Māori, it’s known as Kotahitanga.
So when Browning was looking to establish a shared space for creatives to come together - its name quickly became clear. After discussions with renown te reo advocates Scotty and Stacey Morrison (members of publishing world through their books with Penguin Random House as well as being highly regarded broadcasters), Kotahitanga was christened. Browning notes it “aligns with (CLNZ’s) vision for what the space would be and what matters to us - bringing people together in ways that deliver better outcomes at an individual level, an organisational level, an Auckland Level and a National level.”
This has been a move a decade in the making. Ever since Browning took over the role in 2010, a shared space has been the plan. She’d seen it work so effectively in her previous role, where 12 organisations came together under one roof at the Sport Auckland Sporthouse. “I saw benefits around information sharing, people discovering things they have in common, the innovation that can happen,” Browning enthuses, “I wanted to do something similar for the creative sector in Auckland.”
Location for Creation
The floor to ceiling glass layout with 180-degree views from Rangitoto around to the Sky Tower in a sought-after spot on Como Street in Takapuna certainly make the physical location inviting. Browning explains “The space has been set up, as much as an environment can be, to inspire a kind of connection. It’s open-plan but it does have other spaces. There are two meeting rooms in it, one that has a large screen and connectivity but we also have two writing or thinking rooms that are essentially soundproof where you could get some productive work done.”
Browning’s vision was finally achieved when Kotahitanga opened on Auckland's North Shore in late February and before the Pandemic brought virtually every office to a screeching halt, it already had two new tenants working alongside CLNZ. The Publishers Association of New Zealand and independent publishers Upstart Press, both as Browning calls them “small but beautifully formed organisations”.
Removing Financial Burden
The experiences of the last few months have presented some confronting commercial realities for many of these types of businesses. The cost of running your own office is now one many either need to rethink or simply can’t afford. With CLNZ on the search for more organisations to join this hub of creativity, it’s the type of proposition that will appeal to many.
Browning believes it’s a golden opportunity for start-ups to give themselves a leg up. “In the creative sector, we know we have twice the NZ average of self-employed. We’ve all experienced the work from home thing, that’s not what you want to be doing all of the time. Having somewhere to go where you are among like-minded people and not having to come up with ideas on your own makes a real difference.
“Smaller organisations...they don’t have specialist services like communications or access to financial support. Being with other organisations that either do have that or know of people that work in our world they can be connected to are of huge benefit.”
Kevin Chapman from Upstart Press is also a longtime advocate of shared space working. Upstart is made up of just two full-time staff “with an occasional third”. While the reduced operational cost of sharing facilities was an attraction, Chapman’s biggest motivation for relocating to be part of Kotahitanga was all about the energy of their workspace. In a stand-alone office, if just one of the Upstart team is away, it’s a recipe for disconnection.
“We are a creative industry and you want to be talking about stuff - not the commercially sensitive stuff but there’s heaps you can talk about,” Chapman explains. “We wander out, have discussions with the Publishers Association or Paula’s people (at CLNZ). It frees up in the mind.
“Quite often the answers to your problems come not because someone has answered them but because you have articulated it. Apart from it’s a lovely space and has lovely views and everything, it’s just amenable because it’s not just the two of us - there are other mindsets involved in our world.”
Browning agrees, stating from her experience “the location that gets the most stimulating conversations going is the kitchen. Everyone goes there at some stage during the day and you end up having these chats where you can be inspired by what others are doing. When you are working in isolation, you don’t see the same thing.”
Those points of inspiration aren’t even often about what you have in common. Chapman elaborates “it’s not about people giving you feedback on your designs, it’s simply having people talk to you and putting your brain in a different place for a while so then you go back to it and look at it with new eyes, rather than getting lost in your own thoughts.”
More Time to Shine
As we settle back into level one, many creative partnerships and organisations are already examining new, more effective ways to achieve their goals. The opportunity to support the creative sector at a time where many have been hit hard is important to Browning, with CLNZ open to flexible working relationships at Kotahitanga. “I think the Pandemic experience is going to change a lot of how people look to work. The thing I hope we will get back is the human connection is as important, particularly for innovation.”
It also creates time to focus on what you do best. Being a sub-tenant means no longer dealing with the landlord and a multitude of other operational issues, freeing up creative minds to focus on their mahi.
Browning has seen that type of clarity have immediate effect. “In our previous space, we had a writer come in because there were too many distractions at home so she wasn't being productive enough to meet her deadline. She came to us for three days a week for six weeks and she finished the book all thanks to being in the right environment.”
Written in partnership with The Big Idea. To enquire about Kotahitanga contact Esmé Barber – email@example.com