Spaces: why co-working is not fad, but the future of work



What springs to mind when you think of a start up’s office? Strong coffee, bean bags and ping pong, right? Well, Spaces are looking to deliver on those expectations, and then some.

Last week, the co-working company opened its doors to host a panel discussion. Mark Reeves (Reach PLC) led the debate with Stacey Barnfield (Edwin Ellis Creative Media), Stephen Townsend (Associated Architects; British Council for Offices’ NextGen Midlands committee) and Chris Kay (IWG PLC) , around the pros and cons of working in such an environment. Here were some of the main points of discussion…



Designing the right space for everyone


Gone are the days of fluorescent lights, plastic partitions and asbestos (thank goodness). The environment where we spend most of our day has such an impact on how we feel about work, our productivity, and overall wellbeing. 

As part of his role with the British Council for Offices’ NextGen Midlands committee, Stephen Townsend provided insight into his research on optimum office space. Creating a place of work that meets not just the logistical and operational needs of businesses, but also the more intangible, emotional needs is crucial to our output. Touring offices around the city, Stephen has advised and even put theory into practice to help create inspiring places to build business.

But designing a ‘one size fits all’ solution is near enough impossible, surely? One of the points raised by a guest at the event, a freelance HR manager, was her need for confidentiality – particularly with phone calls. As Chris Kay was eager to point out, however, Spaces are one step ahead with this. Not only did the space provide bookable meeting rooms, but also soundproof ‘call pods’ for such a purpose. 


Kirstie and Phil are right


I’ve done it, too. Spending time moving from storage units, out-of-town office parks and converted barns. Finding quality, affordable office space for a start up is hard. Usually it means finding somewhere ‘out of the way’. As Stacey Barnfield recounted from his experience, when you start out, you feel awkward using your home address to conduct business. (My mind immediately jumps to Peep Show, anyone else?)



Having a space for ‘work mode’ is key, as is a space to receive mail and host clients. As Stacey rightly pointed out, the advantage of using the Spaces offices meant that his business was right where the action was. We all know how difficult it can be to squeeze that valuable 30 minute catchup coffee with a client when the travel time either side is longer than the meeting itself! However, taking advantage of the prime location means that startups can easily liaise with the bigger clients they’re all chasing, right on their doorstep. And that’s without having to fork out for the lease of an entire floor in an office block.  


SME is a dirty term


How many people in startups have inflated the number of people working for them? I know have. You want the business and you want to assure the client you have the manpower to do it, even though the streamlined team you have were going to do it anyway!

Starting out is tough. You have to think like the big company you aspire to be. However, there is sometimes comes a stigma associated being an SME. I’ve seen business lost in tenders to bigger, more expensive competitors for many reasons including the fact that if the project went wrong, no one would be fired for hiring the big guys. But if someone took a chance on the small company? Well, it would be their neck on the line as well.

Working out of a co-working space could therefore label an organisation as being small, with all the stigma that comes with it. But in reality, as Stacey and Chris explained, these co-working spaces are a hub of creativity, community and camaraderie. The ability to bounce ideas around the office, in a vibrant and energetic environment, means that when you hire one agency, you’re almost hiring 2 or 3. 



As a result, Chris Kay believes there is already a shift in the perception of SMEs, particularly those working in such places. These are lean, mean, efficient businesses and having the Spaces brand behind that actually adds a degree of credibility. They are part of an ambitious collective. It means more than just an office and a postal address. Again, as member of the audience mentioned, clients were actually excited to come and see their workspace. Perhaps there is something in the novelty factor of this growing trend that will help combat the associated stigma.


Going it alone


I suppose I’m talking more directly to founders here. How hard was the very beginning of business? The cold calls, the rejection emails, the faff with admin…it’s tough. Now the tough times don’t last, tough people do, and that is something I admire about every founder, entrepreneur and business owner. But it can be lonely place. 

This was a point mentioned to me in conversation about the debate by local videographer, Hope Drew. As she put it, mental health and well being is an important trend that is shifting the way we balance our lives and work. For her, the advantage of a co-working space would simply be the company of other people in the same boat. As always, in those darker times, knowing that you’re not alone or have at least the support of those around you can be the difference between carrying on or quitting. This is not simply a fad, Spaces and co-working offices like them, are helping to address a real need and support businesses.


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