Shared and creative workspaces – not just for hipster freelancers or start-ups

Desk cubicles and strip lighting are becoming a bit passé in the business world.

Traditional offices can be dull and dispiriting places to work. That’s one reason why co-working spaces (membership-based workspaces where freelancers, remote workers, and other professionals work in a shared building or office space) are becoming more popular.

And not just with freelancers. More large businesses, including accounting firms are using co-working spaces with pool tables, yoga classes, and quirky furniture you’d normally expect at a tech start-up.

The hope is that businesses will make more contacts, meet more talented workers, and motivate their own staff.

Happy workers

Workers in co-working spaces, may be happier, research suggests. Research published by Harvard Business Review found that people in co-working spaces were on average happier than those in traditional offices.

One reason for for this may be that there’s less rivalry between people in shared workspaces (workers aren’t competing against each other), which can make them more pleasant to work in, the research suggested.

Hubble is an online market matching freelancers and businesses looking for shared and traditional office space in London with those who have it. It also helps start-ups find business “accelerators” (funding) and “incubators” (helping new businesses grow).

One Hubble customer is iHorizon accounting. It has DJ turntables and graffiti walls in its office, says Varun Bhanot, head of PR and partnerships at Hubble.

“The reasoning for this is that their core customers are tech start-ups in Shoreditch [east London], therefore they have adopted a similar culture and identity to their customers.”

Another accounting customer, EY, wanted a quirky office to start its “enterprise” programme, which helps start-ups, Bhanot says.

Another Big Four accounting firm, KPMG, rents space at another fashionable co-working space, Interchange, in Camden, north London. Facilities include networking events, a gym and yoga.

KPMG says that its business advisers offer advice, practical support and act as mentors to creative new businesses in the London borough.

Companies are putting small “innovation” teams in shared workspaces, Bhanot says.

UK at forefront of co-working

The UK is the world’s largest market for serviced offices, with an estimated £16 billion of space, Hubble says, citing research by Capital Economics.

Large companies including Microsoft and HSBC are moving into co-working spaces to get access to the smartest workers, Juliette Morgan, international partner and head of the global tech group at property advisers Cushman & Wakefield, said in February.

Large salaries and “sterile” working environments are no longer enough to attract the best workers, Morgan said.

Large companies, competing with the technology sector for the brightest workers, have had to “up their game” she said. “This has led to an increased focus on stimulating workspaces that spark creativity and improve employee satisfaction…”

Work.Life also rents co-working space to businesses. It has offices in London and Reading and plans to open ones in Birmingham and Manchester.

It also plans to open another office soon in Clerkenwell, in partnership with Verizon, a large American telecom US telecoms company.

“You won’t find us in giant buildings with thousands of cubicles,” the company says. “We believe in the power of face to face collaboration, intimate spaces and tight-knit communities.”

Prices range from pay-per-use (£3.50 per hour plus VAT), which is suited for freelancers and start-ups, to £250 per month plus VAT for hot-desking and £365 plus VAT per month for your own desk or office.

Customers pay extra for meeting rooms.

Facilities include the business essentials (fast wi-fi, seven-day access to the offices) and start-up type perks (a visiting masseur, “beer and pizza” nights, “local discounts”).

Box: Co-working outside London

A flourishing tech sector, urban regeneration and the popularity of self-employment is boosting demand for co-working space outside London.

Basecamp, in Liverpool’s Baltic Quarter − a fashionable neighbourhood of former factories and warehouses near the city centre, that’s home to a growing number of tech companies and start-ups – rents office space to “like-minded entrepreneurs”.

Prices include £100 per month for a hot desk and £150 per month for your own desk and 24-hour access to the building, every day of the year.

In the city’s business district Ziferblat charges eight pence per minute (£4.80 per hour) to use a shared office. Meeting rooms can be hired. There’s free coffee, cake (and wi-fi, of course), newspapers, a piano and meeting rooms. The interiors are modern, light and quirky.

Spaces – a re-developed warehouse in a lively part of central Liverpool that’s full of bars and restaurants – is part of a co-working business that began in Amsterdam.

Members can also use any of the company’s other city offices, including London, Newcastle and Glasgow in the UK, Madrid, Milan and Geneva in Europe and New York, Singapore and Melbourne.

In Manchester, you can rent your own desk for £199 a month or a private office for about £1000 per month at Headspace Group. Facilities include meeting rooms, private work booths, refreshment bars, shower rooms and workshops, yoga and social events.

In Birmingham’s “creative quarter” in Digby, there’s Impact Hub. Charges for using office space in the listed building range from £15 per day plus VAT to £200 per month plus VAT for unlimited access to it. It has offices in 60 cities − including in Singapore, Amsterdam, New York, San Francisco and Madrid – and describes itself as “innovation lab, part business incubator, and part community centre”.

In Glasgow, RookieOven is aimed at tech start-ups. The office is in Fairfield Shipyard. Prices start at £120 per month plus VAT for a shared desk to £175 plus VAT per month for your own desk. Facilities include “retro” games consoles, kitchen, pool table and a small library.

Nick Huber is a freelance journalist and has written for Accounting Technician magazine, The Guardian and BBC.

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