Celebrating the people behind British small businesses

Playing well with others: coworking space versus the traditional office

Gone, or at least numbered, are the days of the stuffy office, where you sat in the same cubicle and saw the same people day in, day out. More and more people are now choosing to use coworking spaces, aka offices where several different companies or freelancers might work at any one time. It’s popular especially in the tech world, where start-ups don’t usually have spare cash to splurge on swanky offices, and so need to get creative.

Techspace London is a popular example of this new trend. Based near super-cool Silicon Roundabout in Shoreditch, it provides coworking spaces to a dizzying array of brilliant companies – they’ve housed over 80 in the three years that they’ve been up and running. Co-founder David Galsworthy talks a little bit more about what they do.

“The most important thing is the creative mindshare that happens every day,” he tells us. “Our office spaces are designed to encourage collaboration. Not only have several member companies discovered that they can help each other out with service providers, business ideas, or strategic advice, but a romantic relationship even started in our Underwood Street kitchen!

“My co-founder and I started Techspace out of frustration when were looking for our own office space. As rents continue to rise, we understand our service is imperative for fast-growth startups who just want to do their job and achieve their business goals, rather than worry about getting locked into long term expensive leases and finding office furniture! There are economies of scale in place that make sense for everyone.”

Sounds pretty good, right? We spoke to some companies who use coworking to see what they think of it. (Spoiler: the vast majority told us they weren’t thinking about moving to traditional offices any time soon.)

It’s flexible – and practical

“We are a rapidly growing company, so Techspace is a perfect environment because we can expand our desk usage on a flexible basis,” say Cem Savas and Emre Kazan of Plentific.com.

Will Roberts from Big Data Partnership, another startup fast expanding, agrees. “The flexibility of a coworking space has certainly been beneficial. At TechSpace, our office space and associated overheads scale with us at the same pace, which alleviates some of the growing pains that startups inevitably go through.”

There are other ace practical plus points too. “Techspace have a team of community managers who take care of day to day office admin, meaning we are free to concentrate on developing our business,” continue Cem and Emre. “The facilities are great too – fast wifi, large desks, and a chilled open plan setting which encourages collaboration between the different companies.”

Kate Bendix of MyItchyDog believes that renting her own office would be pointless. “I may as well be at home for the advantages it gives me,” she tells us. “But coworking means I only have one cost (my monthly rental) and no stress with a lease, the wifi going down or having to pay other bills on top. I pay for my desk space, and that’s it.”

It’s professional

“One of the benefits to this style of working is credibility,” says Harriet Subramian of Flourish PR. “Having answered my own phone, with dogs barking in the back ground for years, my existing and new clients saw me in a completely different light when I switched to a shared office space with a professional answering service and dedicated meeting room.  Like many people who work in professional services my clients expect and want a level of formality, and part of this is delivered by the setting.”

It’s a motivating and social environment

Being around other enthusiastic, hard-working businesses is a sure-fire way to boost your motivation and drive – as many small businesses have found.

“The move itself has been impactful since day one,” says Harriet. “Not only did I meet my future business partner, but my own attitude towards the purpose of my business changed – it no longer seemed like a short-term fix. This change in attitude and approach was ignited by the physical move into a shared office space. Shifting from home working to collaborative working in a shared space enables you to imagine a bigger future for your business.”

It’s also useful to have so many bright people around you. “Think of it as a big focus group – you’ve got loads of tech innovators and early adopters right at your fingertips,” says Michelle Songy, founder of Spleat. “Already in our first day, we have met some great companies we can work with and cross-reference for ideas, new business and ways of joint marketing each other. You can see what works and doesn’t work for other companies, and get all the free advice you want in the meantime! You won’t have any of these benefits from closing yourself off in your own space.”

Max Del Vita of Klappo agrees. “We’ve made several work connections as a result of being there every day, hanging out with like-minded companies and learning about events, opportunities and service providers. The office environment is important: we spend a good third of our life here so we want to like it!”

The cultural impact of being at a coworking space is much less quantifiable but the benefits are clear; the ‘buzz’ unique to tech startups helps to maintain the agile and ‘hungry’ nature of the business which is often lost as a team grows,” says Will. “Events organised by the coworking space itself play a part in this with regular pub nights, press showcases and opportunities to present to your peers for honest product/business feedback.”

Having different industries, skillsets and products all in the same room is a bonus too. “Startups in coworking spaces regularly exchange services after doing a ‘deal’ at the coffee machine – an opportunity that doesn’t exist if you are based in your own office. We’re about to benefit from a very talented creative team in the office, for example, who are helping us with a video project,” Will tells us.

One thing that freelancers often find, working from home, is that it can get lonely – when you’re in your own house all day it can feel demoralising. Having a routine can be really helpful. “I don’t feel isolated working in a shared office space, as I did when working from home, alone,” says Kate.

And, of course…

It’s cheaper

Costs can range from under £20 for a day, to fixed monthly fees of around £300. Factor in the money you save on bills, setting up utilities, equipment and everything else, and you can save a lot of money.

“Cost was an influencer when it came to choosing an office,” says Harriet. “My business was consulting and to keep my overheads to a minimum I chose a shared space. In fact, the building selected is occupied by several SME’s, each taking their own office or offices, and all sharing a collective reception and meeting room – it works really well!”

“You can work in a nicer space with all the facilities needed at a quarter of the price you would spend on a closed office space,” enthuses Michelle. “It’s perfect!”