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Leadership & Strategy


The positives and negatives of co-working spaces

Co-working spaces
Co-working spaces can help you build your network.

Co-working spaces are enjoying explosive growth. Over one billion people will work remotely and in shared workspaces by 2020, according to Coworker, which connects people with co-working spaces.

Many of those who share co-working spaces tell stories of how they’ve found suppliers and customers in the same office as them. Need an accountant? He or she might be sitting across the corridor from you. Looking for a web designer? You could find yourself chatting to one in the communal kitchen.

We looked at the argument for co-working spaces and how to find a solution that reflects your company’s culture and clients.

Co-working spaces help manage financial and strategic risk

Regus, which was founded in 1989, now has a network that includes almost 3,000 business centres in almost 900 cities.

“Projections show that 30% of corporate real estate could be flexible workspace by 2030, up from 2% today,” said Richard Morris, CEO of Regus UK.

At the other end of the co-working spectrum, Kitchin Table is an app that allows women to open their homes – mainly in suburban areas – as venues for fellow freelancers.

Flexible workspace helps manage financial and strategic risk, according to Morris, enabling businesses to grow quickly and flexibly by taking more space as they need it.

“Much of the popularity is down to the opportunity to network and collaborate through inspiring workspaces and communities,” Morris added. “Flexible working can increase human interaction and result in a happier work environment. In turn, this means more productive employees.”

Richard Hewitson is production director of Microsoft SharePoint agency Silicon Reef, which was founded in 2017 and employs 12 people.

“Being based in a co-working space gives our employees a sense of business reality for home workers – it feels like you’re working towards a common goal,” he said. “As a sole trader it makes sense to have a physical location that you can meet people. What’s more, as a larger company you know where your staff are and they are safe, rather than having to provide health and saftey, and insurance for working from home.”

Finding a space that reflects your business

Jane Rutter, chief executive of digital and creative agency Zeal, describes her experience of co-working as “mixed”. She founded the company eight years ago and it now has 30 staff based in a co-working space in Leeds and seven in London. Rutter and her team appreciated activities such as lunchtime talks and networking events.

“It was fantastic when we first started and there were just three or four of us in the company because we felt very supported,” she said. “It’s good to be in an office space with other people even if they don’t work for the same company, so that you can chat to them in the kitchen, for instance.”

She found that a space operated by WeWork was overcrowded with small office spaces.

“It was always very busy and it wasn’t really the sort of environment that we’d want to bring clients into, especially those that are FTSE 100 companies,” she said. “All the meeting rooms had glass walls which obviously wasn’t good for confidentiality, especially when we were working with financial clients. It didn’t look professional when you had people walking past with skateboards.”

As Zeal has grown it has moved through four different co-working spaces. Now the company is large enough that she feels it has out grown the co-working model and needs its own space. It occupies an entire wing of around 5,000 square feet in a building in Leeds that has co-working spaces in other areas.

Rutter advises companies to spend some time in prospective co-working spaces to see what they’re like when the sales representatives aren’t around.

“Don’t be wowed by the cool staff, the coffee machines and the funky sofas,” she said. “Ask yourself whether you could really work here effectively and bring clients into the office.”

The evolution of co-working spaces

UNCLE aims to offer a better experience for those looking to rent a flat in London or Manchester and provides co-working spaces.

“As new ways of working and socialising emerge brands, including those in the rental market, need to offer services which cater to a growing millennial workforce,” said founder Ryan Prince.

He points out that as the rental market in London continues to evolve companies have adapted to offer access to gyms, cinema rooms and now co-working spaces. All of UNCLE’s residences have shared co-working spaces which residents use for both work and recreation.

“We keep hearing how the next generation are becoming lonelier and more isolated than ever before, that’s why we train our team to get to know residents and have the tools – including co-working spaces – to offer an opportunity for human interaction and a community spirit,” said Prince.

The benefits of networking and a posh address

Businesses based at Plexal are focused on a variety of different sectors related to innovation from cyber security to mobility. One of these is Durham Rose, a bespoke jewelry creator.

“Creativity, analytical thinking and innovative ideas come through shared communication and collaborative partnerships,” said founder Manu Bhardwaj, who has a masters in mechanical engineering.

Bhardwaj describes himself as a “geek” and is fascinated by observing the laws of physics and mathematics in action. “It was easy to make the decision to work among others with a passion for technology, engineering and producing creative solutions to real-world problems.”

Bhardwaj found the co-working space’s networking events particularly useful in developing contacts and new clients. Talking to people from other businesses has offered new insights and perspectives.

“Plexal offers members opportunities to come together and share projects or problems, to talk through losses and celebrate wins. Being exposed to other people and companies within Plexal has allowed us to foster even more creative, technological and holistic approaches to problems and challenges,” he said.

Hunter Collective describes itself as a “co-working salon”, studio and event space for fashion and beauty experts.

“We are shaking up industries and bringing skilled, like-minded people together. My industry needed to move forward and grow, HC is building the momentum and I can see changes happening,” said founder Lacey Hunter-Felton.

As well as networking, one of the positives of co-working spaces are the prestigious addresses and office environments.

Tim Oldman, CEO of Leesman, a benchmarking tool and thinktank for employee workplace experience, points out that this accommodation even includes celebrated The Shard in London – not a bad address for any business.

“When I started my first business back in 1995, we were in the back room of a mate of a mate who was downsizing his business and we had to go through a fire escape to get there. And that’s what small businesses did fifteen years ago. Today, small businesses pay £400 per person, per month and have awesome central London accommodation.”

Use Be the Business’ benchmarking tool to identify ways to make your business more productive.

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