Breather is a Canadian start-up that offers short term office rentals. They provide over 500 alternative spaces for meetings and work across 10 major cities in Europe and North America, three of which are in Canada.
Co-founder and ex-CEO Julian Smith conceived the idea for Breather after realizing that there was a gap in the market for professionals stuck in cafes on their laptops. There was a demand for a third space outside of their home and company office.
“There’s a large market out there for offsite space, groups within a company who want to get out of the office, want to go to a different neighbourhood in the city, or even within their building just want to get out of their company’s space,” said Greg Hayes from Breather to the Globe and Mail in 2017.
Unsurprisingly, the landscape for office rentals has changed under COVID-19. Breather is still operating, but they have enhanced their cleaning policy and introduced a new program called Passport to help businesses cope.
What’s special about Breather?
Co-working spaces are nothing new, but Breather’s angle is two-fold: their rental terms are highly flexible, and they provide highly customizable spaces that cater to functional needs as much as stylistic preferences.
Accordingly, the spaces are designed by a team of in-house professionals who aim to create a welcoming, inspiring atmosphere with perfectly tailored lighting and all the equipment you need to get to work.
The modular furniture allows users to reorganize it to their liking, and the spaces come with a variety of bonuses like plants, art, and display books to add to the vibe. More practically, most spaces come with a large TV that’s hooked up to Apple TV along with a whiteboard and a projector.
Spaces can be concise and cozy, making them perfect for a small team of 2-4 people trying to brainstorm, or users can pick a larger one that accommodates between 30-40 people for big meetings.
“We are not creating just rooms that have only a boardroom table and chairs in them,” added Hayes. “Almost all of our rooms have a lounge area as well, and feedback from our users has been that a lounge area is very important.”
Users can rent a space for an hour, a day, or a whole week if needed. It’s organized through the company website or their app, the layout of which is akin to Airbnb. Once the room is booked, customers are sent a unique access code to enter the electronically locked space.
Office space trends are in a constant state of flux, and Breather has evolved along with the times. Take, for example, the meeting table: a traditionally rectangular object, modern offices favour round tables as the culture has shifted towards an emphasis on participation, collaboration, and inclusivity.
Breather upped the ante with their cleaning policy in light of the pandemic. Their team of professional cleaners use EPA-approved disinfection products to tackle frequently touched surfaces like doorknobs, sinks, tables, and electronic equipment. Cleaning is conducted between each hourly and daily reservation so no two groups’ germs overlap.
The design team has also stepped in to reorganize spaces so that they are compliant with social-distancing measures.
“Breather has identified ways to reduce occupancy in communal areas by staggering seating and increasing distance between people sitting at meeting tables, and in eating/lounge areas,” said Samantha DePasquale from Breather via email.
“They still want to encourage a feeling of community and ensure they’re accommodating different working styles, while simultaneously maintaining distancing standards.”
Going one step further, Breather introduced Passport to keep up with the workforce’s changing needs by providing flexible options to businesses that have either temporarily or permanently closed their office spaces.
Customers can purchase monthly plans with a set amount of day passes (five, 10, or 20) and continue to meet when needed, all while being in control of who enters the space. This allows them to maintain the company culture and save on costs since they won’t need to continue paying rent for vacant office spaces.
“However, there are certain actions that are difficult to replace virtually, with collaboration and brainstorming being major areas for us. Breather Passport provides our team with the continuity to be able to safely meet in person while our headquarters remain closed, and has allowed us to stay connected and creative.”