Co-working spaces are becoming increasingly popular – according to AllWork, the sector in the UK has grown 25% in the last two years and now accounts for a whopping 15% of total office take-up inside the M25.
So is this an effective and economical way for start-ups and small practices to build their businesses – and could it work for the next generation of accountancy entrepreneurs?
Former professional rugby player Alix Popham is CEO at HUB XV, a collaborative workspace network including a site at Bath Racecourse. For Popham, the advantages are multiple. “The space itself is fit-for-purpose: relaxed workbenches fully equipped with plenty of power and Wi-Fi, but also breakout spaces, small meeting zones, and larger rooms you can book.”
It’s certainly an impressive place to call your office: a spectacular location with 360 degree views and concertina doors that look over the parade ring and finishing line.
For Popham, a co-working space is about creating a community and offering solid networking benefits. Members have access to free events each month, “and also offer discounted services to other members to encourage collaboration and sparking new ideas – it means everyone gets more referrals, and that helps build the business further.”
Popham reckons that “it’s much cheaper than renting office space – perhaps less than a third of what you’d be paying for full-time use.” Using co-working spaces is tax deductible; and Popham is also determined to encourage start-ups. “If you’re a new business, we give 50% off for the first six months of membership.”
Members use the space in different ways. “Some have offices at home and want to mix the space up; for some it’s about work-life balance and creating some separation from work and home; some run the business entirely and others just want to get out of the office for part of the day.”
Advantages for accountants
Robert Collings is a manager at UHY Hacker Young (East). “I’m based in Cambridge, but see clients a lot in London. Many of them use co-working spaces now and it not only works for them, but means I can carry on there between meetings instead of finding a coffee shop.”
Robert lists convenience, comfort and time-saving as the main advantages. “It’s enormously valuable to be able to have face-to-face time, rather than a phone call. If I had meetings that were three or four hours apart, I used to travel back and forth to Cambridge – this new way of doing things makes far better use of that time.”
There’s one potential disadvantage for accountants which is that as you need to keep everything confidential, you have to ensure that the co-working space’s servers are everything they should be. “With that security in mind, I am connecting through a VPN – this means the connection needs to be constant and that does occasionally drop out. It’s a small point though – the actual facilities have everything you need, and they are great places to be.”
High staff retention and productivity
Particularly if you are a growing business, co-working spaces offer you the chance to grow your office space as the company requires.
Arek Estall is MD at All Trousers, a marketing agency based in Cardiff; Estall has a permanent area in Tramshed Tech. “My motivation for being there originally was I thought it would be a great place to collaborate with other people who do similar, but not identical, things,” he says. “It’s created a flexible culture and we’ve got to know a lot of interesting people.”
“We’re a small business but the environment gives us all the perks of a large one. We’ve retained brilliant staff who might otherwise have found a small team insular or would look further afield – this is the best of both worlds.”
Keeping on top of the details
Are there things you’d have done differently, or tips to pass on to other start-ups thinking about setting up in a co-working space? “No regrets, but make sure you have a separate place where you can keep the paperwork and the practical stuff – it’s something to think about if you’re trying to work entirely from a co-working space” says Estall.
As you don’t have your name on a brass plaque on the door, “you can risk looking like a flaky or disorganised business; so be very hot on all the other areas of the business so clients can see that you are professional – you’ve made the decision as a choice.”
It’s a great place to be, Estall says – and definitely an option for professional services companies to consider.
Across the UK, the number of co-working spaces is increasing rapidly – could it be something for your organisation to think about? It might be also something to consider if you are self-employed and are looking to improve your work life balance.
Mark Blayney Stuart is Business Journalist of the Year, Wales Media Awards 2017 and Former Head of Research at the Chartered Institute of Marketing.