Co-working has been expanding globally since the start of the 21st century, and nowhere more so than in London, where flexible shared workplace providers took up one fifth of the office space available in 2017.
The UK capital is now a world leader in the sector, easily outstripping its nearest rival, New York, in terms of space available and number of shared workspace operations.
So, what’s pushing this growth, and what benefits do shared workspaces bring to firms in the digital era? We spoke to Jonathon Trimble, CEO of creative agency And Rising, which is based at The Office Group (TOG) to find out more.
What does co-working mean?
Jonathon Trimble: Our understanding of the term evolving. Traditionally it’s very much associated with start-up, independent tech-related ventures that may or may not work, and a scene dominated by hipsters drinking coffee. But we’re through all that.
Today, the bulk of the market concerns companies that are considerably bigger. It’s the scale-ups like And Rising that are fuelling growth – firms that are maybe going from 30 to 100 staff. Then there are corporates like Amazon who are taking entire floors flexibly because they have special innovation projects that they want to put teams into.
So, co-working and shared workspaces really scales all the way up. At And Rising we could find ourselves working alongside a Google team with their own private office, as well as next to individual entrepreneurs using a co-working or lounge space.
Is co-working more cost-effective for organisations today?
JT: Our experience at And Rising illustrates the clear financial case. Initially, we had a 6,500 square-foot space which we designed ourselves. We built our own reception, kitchen and meeting rooms using a high-end designer and it was beautiful.
At the end of the five-year lease our tenant doubled the rent and we just couldn’t justify staying there. There was the cost of assembling and then disassembling everything, added to the instability of not knowing if the rents would be increased. It just didn’t make sense to go down that kind of path anymore.
Co-working makes much more financial sense, but it allows you to operate costs flexibly and adds weight to the idea that you don’t need to own everything front-to-back in life. It’s more about a sharing culture and tapping into the dexterity of a subscription-based lifestyle.
What are the benefits co-working at The Office Group has brought to your company?
JT: Some providers are very heavily branded, but this element is deliberately subtle at TOG so that the companies themselves can stand out and grow. We’ve been able to build our company culture, which is so essential today whether you’re recruiting and retaining the best talent or out to impress clients. Each building retains its own character, beautifully designed and engineered to enable you to express yourself and your company’s ideas.
How has co-working catered to your needs as a team?
JT: The buildings we use are superb both functionally and aesthetically, so workers within them can really flourish. TOG understands how individual requirements for members vary; it’s not all about working, rather it’s about creating a high-quality environment that complements work flows and modern working requirements.
There’s a huge kitchen, separating food and break-out areas from the main office space, there are bike racks, a meditation room, booths for individual or conference calls, quiet work spaces, more open-plan spaces – all tastes are catered to, whether you’re after ambient hustle and bustle, or a quiet place to get an interview done.
We’ve become more versatile as a company now that we’re members of a network, rather than based in one building. We can go into any of the TOG locations and use the various facilities that are housed there. One venue has content studios we can use, another has a running track on the roof!
People ask us where our office is and we can point out our HQ but add that we’re dotted around many places. It’s so useful when you’re meeting clients in the locations that are more convenient for them.
Have your networks expanded as a result of co-working?
JT: Not all cultures are conducive to co-working, but we’ve discovered like-minded people and natural collaboration taking place. You bump into interesting people, but scale that up to the next level where you have much larger companies roaming round in a much bigger space.
Co-working platforms hold lots of events where you can introduce yourselves to people and businesses working in your vicinity. I’m a big fan, in light of the journey we’ve been on. For us it makes total sense to go with collaborative working.
Has co-working changed your outlook as a business?
JT: When you realise the full potential of the culture, your mindset changes. An office space becomes a platform for growth, just as one might use web services. You’re living off someone else’s design systems and running your company on top of it.
The concierge element means the platform can handle catering or events for you. You can lean on it to make these things happen, instead of having a dedicated internal team to get things going.
It’s personal support – if something’s not working, or you need access, it all gets handled by the internal infrastructure and a full suite of office services. It’s very premium, on hand and it’s great to have around. It’s mind-expanding for us.
What does the future hold for co-working?
JT: The sector’s future will play out according to a cross between the capacity to support co-working in the market, against companies’ understanding of the concept and its advantages.
A lot of companies haven’t considered shared workspaces yet because of its hipster, solo-project association, but the meaning is changing. Co-working doesn’t mean hipster, it means scale-up and driving business to the next level. In TOG, we feel ownership of the building and part of a community – you power each other.
Generally, I expect the sector to expand a great deal, I think things will start to change as more and more organisations’ leases start coming up for renewal. That’s what happened to us – we had to go out and search, and we discovered something special.