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No to Co-working Revolution? You Must be Mad!

February 13th, 2020

Having been in the flexible/co/mobile/disruptive/agile/home working arena (take your pick) since 2006, it may come as some surprise that we at TCN have shied away from co-working in the last few months.

We are great believers in the new world of work and the positive disruption which is improving people’s lives, improving productivity and innovation and encouraging more and more people to embark on the entrepreneurial journey of building businesses. Our vision is to be the leading provider of Creative Campuses in the UK.

Co-working has its routes in the desire for entrepreneurs to come together and pool resources for their mutual benefit. However, we are increasingly seeing the exploitation of the co-work trend by brands who have more interest in their own expansion and corporate domination, rather than providing a platform for fledging and growing businesses to excel. Of course, there’s always inspirational straplines and heart-warming imagery to sell the dream, but how often is this a thinly veiled marketing campaign to get punters signing up.

We undertook customer feedback across our portfolio to better understand what services would benefit our members, as we made plans for more flexible working areas, superior coffee, higher levels of design and a plethora of networking events. The result? Surprising! The resounding response was “save your money and let us get on with our business!”. Okay, so it wasn’t quite that but we had a realization that amongst all the noise of the burgeoning workplace sector we had started to leave our roots of offering inspiring places on a flexible, affordable basis and joined the arms race for expensive coffee, the shiniest apples and the headline-grabbing free beer tap.

In fact, we (re) learned that business is tough, relentless and there are some key basics that all small companies are after. Be creative in how you acquire and offer space and pass the benefits on to the companies that join you. Share their entrepreneurial thinking and be passionate in finding ways to keep things affordable – help businesses thrive. Expensive managing agents and weighty service charges (even when charged on an all-inclusive basis) only serve to hold a business back and ultimately limit rental growth.

All-inclusive deals whilst attractive in their simplicity, hide all sorts of printing, staffing, coffee and “free” beer costs. For example, rates are wrapped up in co-working costs even though government policy looks to give breaks to small companies. So perhaps the future of the workplace will be less co-working with the fancy “love work” stickers and free beer enticements, and more about innovative ways to offer affordable, flexible space combined with great design to encourage a collaborative environment for business development and new ideas to flourish.

When times are tough the priorities of Britain’s SME’s will be about survival, cash flow and being the best in their sector for their clients, and we want to do everything we can to help them thrive. The free beer and shiny apples will have to wait.

Richard Pearce, CEO, TCN

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