From pooling resources to using a hive mind: co-workspaces can prove fruitful for enterprises.
If running a small business sometimes feels like a lonely pursuit, shared working spaces could be for you. From networking opportunities to joining forces with university research teams, there are many advantages to communal working.
Kelly Molson found the Cambridge Business Lounge to be invaluable when she first moved to the city and set up her design agency, Rubber Cheese.
Following a Facebook advertisement, she found a mix of professionals from a variety of industries, the opportunity to run and take part in workshops, and spaces for networking, meetings and quiet time. It was affordable and had good biscuits.
Ms Molson says: “The owners are incredibly supportive and made a big effort to get to know me and why I was using the centre. Every time I worked there, they were able to introduce me to new people that they thought I’d get on well with, and potentially could work with too."
Make the most of networking opportunities
“One introduction led to co-founding a networking group, Grub Club Cambridge, which has been incredible. I’ve met amazing people, gained new clients, raised my profile in the city, been a judge for the Cambridge Food & Drink awards, been interviewed on BBC radio and made fab new friends,” she recalls.
Ms Molson advises asking questions of co-workers and taking an interest in their activities. “I’ve met new suppliers, friends and new clients sitting right next to me, along with a valuable support network.”
Barnaby Lashbrooke, founder of virtual assistant platform, Time etc, is a big believer. When his company evolved to a model more reliant on remote workers, he offered his unused office space free of charge to start-ups and entrepreneurs in Birmingham.
Mr Lashbrooke says: "It's nice to be in a position where we can give something back. I'd have loved someone to offer me a free co-working space when I was 18 and running my first business from my very cramped bedroom at home, as it does get lonely at times.”
He’s in no doubt that working alongside new people can be highly motivating. "Entrepreneurs tend to be inspiring, go-getting types that are good to have around.
Think about collaboration, not just your own needs
"You can get so much out of shared office space if you view it as a community of people rather than simply a service available to your business. The knowledge and ideas stored in that community can be the difference between your start-up succeeding or not,” he says.
Some communal working spaces are open to all, while others are tailored towards specific needs. Hubble, an online marketplace for finding and renting office space in London, offers sector-specific shared working spaces.
Varun Bhanot, head of business development, explains: “The hope is that these companies help each other, and benefit from the perks of the environment such as access to industry resources, workshops and talks by thought leaders in their industry.”
He has advice for making the most of your working arrangement. “Shared spaces are designed to engineer fruitful networking and ‘collisions’. Take advantage of those around you, as the chances are they are working on a similar problem to yours, or your company might be a solution they are looking for.
“Spend time in breakout and communal areas. Go to events in the space, or host your own. The best thing about shared space is that there is already a captive audience which is likely to want to listen to your pitch or useful advice.
He also suggests approaching companies about pooling resources. This can go far beyond comestibles such as the milk and coffee, there can be an opportunity to share printing, whiteboards, TVs and meeting room space. It could work out most cost-effective for all the companies to pitch in.
Give yourself room to grow
Mr Bhanot’s key factors in choosing your perfect working space include scalability: is more space available when your company grows? Are there enough meeting rooms so you can book time whenever you need it? Also look for local amenities, such as coffee shops and bars which are great for out-of-the-office meetings with colleagues and clients. And don’t forget the perks, such as weekly fruit drops and pet-friendly areas.
Universities can provide a wealth of resources to SMEs. Lancaster University has business hubs dedicated to technology, the environment and chemistry. Among its £35m investment is the new Collaborative Technology Access Programme, which gives businesses access to a suite of cutting-edge instrumentation and facilities worth almost £7m.
Companies can relocate their entire company, or just their research and development staff, onto campus, or take a hot desk or lab space as and when required.
Dr Mark Rushforth, head of business partnerships and enterprise at Lancaster University’s Faculty of Science and Technology, says: “Renting offices and integrating all or part of a business onto the campus enables faster business growth by providing easier access to our research, knowledge, events, training and facilities. Company staff, academics and research groups are able to interact on a day-to-day basis, co-design new opportunities and have direct access to knowledge exchange staff.”
Each business is allocated a relationship manager, who acts as a link between businesses and academics, facilitating joint research projects and ventures. Companies can also benefit from student placements, access to international markets through a collaborative working scheme, and access to other campus facilities such as libraries and sports centres.
Dr Rushforth adds: “Ask questions, share ideas, get involved, test new employees through student placements, tap into everything you can. There’s a lot of support out there.”
If you need advice on office space in central London please call Gryphon Property Partners on 0203 440 9800 or click on the following link - Gryphon