When looking to move the business into the UK I came upon the concept of shared office space. Coming from a very corporate background this was something I, initially, was totally against.
How could this work? I couldn’t imagine our company sitting together with a bunch of other companies! An unknown entity, people we had never seen before, with companies across sectors and different disciplines, I couldn’t understand how that would work together.
I imagined something like this:
My Office search started around Paddington, focusing on Managed Office Space of all shapes and sizes. Nothing really ticked the boxes, either too sterile and “door closed” mentality or questionable location.
One evening I sat and decided to extend the online search to the heart of the City. Within our budget I thought it unlikely to find anything more than a poky box office, we all know London City prices, lets face it, and I was looking for the whole shebang, modern, traditional and with curb appeal! No chance I thought to myself as I waded through a trillion Rental Property websites.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were indeed a few good options for managed offices, allowing immediate access and some were serviced. During the weeks following I visited possibly every managed office space between Paddington and Bank.
There are many possibilities out there, but none really ticked all the boxes.
I started to question why I was so against a shared space. All I could imagine was a space in which there was no privacy, where I couldn’t make calls and then had to overhear loud conversations on a business totally unrelated to my own. I did a little research and found an image of an “organic space”, although interesting it screams “LOUD” to me.
The above images shows the first Organic Office Space (Quickborner’s plan for Osram’s Munich office, 1965) – a unique Organic Space that deviated from the Classroom Style Shared Space that preceded it.
Nevertheless, my last stop on the search was a shared office space between the Walkie Talkie Tower and The Shard. I was only going because of the images on the website and to take it off my list of possibilities.
The first thing I thought was “I like the location – what a surrounding!” totally different from the Office Blocks in my Corporate life. This however, was not a total sale, I still wasn’t on-board with the “shared office concept”.
That was until I met the building Owner. He shared his enthusiasm for the companies that were sharing the space and he had carefully selected the tenants. After being introduced to the other tenants, a colourful and varied group of businesses and entrepreneurs, I thought, why not?
The contract was signed there and then.
We have now been in Lovat Lane for 6months in the shared office environment and I can happily share my positive experiences and boast about the wonderful personal and business relationships I have made in this time.
I have done a full 360 degree turnaround on my view of shared offices, I think every business should try it at least once!
Why the 360?
If not for the atmosphere, then for the relationships. What I never expected was that sharing an office space with different businesses would open our business up to more creative thinking, outside the box notions that only somebody from a different background and discipline can bring to the table. I always expected the mix of disciplines to be a negative rather than a positive. In the 6 months we have been here, I have learned to think from different angles and offer different approaches that ordinarily would not be used in a Software Company.
Lets take a few of the Tenants as an example;
The company with desks closest to ours are entrepreneurs whose vast previous experience includes investment banking with HSBC, Executives with EY and who now manage property developments seeking investment through to completion. Their latest project was the £500 mio redevelopment of Vauxhall Cross. The Project was backed by the Al Shawaf family. The Chairman of the company has been an advisor on Islamic Finance to Gordon Brown. Through him, I have had the pleasure to meet Inga Beale, CEO of Lloyds of London. These are relationships that have been forged due to our common space in the office and they are relationships that are more solid than the usual Business to Business Meeting relationships, we know one another well, we share good days and bad and we share the great British tradition of Office Banter!
The Company sharing space above focuses on developing financial services in emerging countries and is spearheaded by a great leader who was an executive at Barclays for 18 Years before becoming CEO. Whilst taking time for another British tradition, a Tea Break, we share stories and I am proud to say I receive advice on moving forward in the UK market. This kind of facetime you cannot pay for.
Perhaps the most significant of the relationships I have forged is that with our now Non Executive Director, who is a founding Director of MBNA and was MD of Citigroup, and who is thrilled to be involved with a technology company. We are the only Technology Company in the whole office!
Another important relationship builder on the business side is the aspect that whenever there is a visitor to any of the other companies in the Office Space we are introduced. We naturally never use any sales techniques with each other’s clients, but no doubt we are the first to receive a call if they need any advice on technologies.
There is no competitive environment at all and, in fact, it is quite the opposite, everyone else is promoting our solution without being asked! Because it is an open environment and a non-competitive space, it is almost natural that one becomes friendly with one another. I have managed to gain some very valuable insight into the financial sector as well as developed a great Network of people, including the responsible person of the IT livery group. I have had the opportunity to meet people who have been working in senior positions in the UK Government for the last 20 years – I cant, for one moment, imagine this would happen in a Regus Office.
Over and above the fact that the connections made and opportunities developed are far more than I could have ever imagined, I made friends. I would go as far as saying close friends.
The vibe in the office is so great that we are planning a trip together in order to get away for a weekend from the hectic city life.
Why am I telling you all of this? Well imagine I would have moved into a boring single Office unit, nothing wrong with it of course, but do you think I would have made the same level of progress? I think not.
To be fair, I think I hit the jackpot, I cannot speak for any other shared office space but I cannot imagine that the Owners so carefully select the tenants in other spaces. I would suggest a few viewings of each space to gain an idea of the dynamics at work between the tenants, make sure you really get a feel of how the space works and how many companies share it, the type of business they represent and what level of employee. After all, this is a space in which you will need to spend time every day and although you can pick your employees, your shared space colleagues cannot be chosen.