One of the modern incarnations of the workplace, the coworking space, has emerged from the necessity of some businesses to be more agile.
Coworking is an approach to work that involves a shared working environment. Unlike in a typical office environment, the people who cowork are not necessarily employed by the same organisation.
But how can a company embrace coworking without losing sight of the needs of all its employees? For example the quiet workers, who might need more privacy to work at their best?
Enter Techspace. This flexible coworking space hosts fast-growing technology scale-up companies. It merges the physical spaces with technology, providing businesses with innovative facilities that adapt as they grow.
Techspace – the origins
Techspace evolved out of existing businesses that the co-founders David Galsworthy and Alex Rabarts, were managing before 2012.
At that time, Galsworthy had a marketing company called Seen Digital. Rabarts had an online business platform called Stateless Systems. They were sharing an office together and had some spare desks. To reduce the costs of renting, they decided to fill in some of the spare spaces. But, they soon discovered that the “desk product” could become a stand-alone service.
They believed that more people would express interest in coworking. So, they decided to build a business from it. Techspace was born.
Galsworthy and Rabarts created the first two coworking spaces in East London, which is also known as “Silicon Roundabout”. The idea was to be closer to the technology community. “At the beginning, Techspace was a means to an end,” explains Galsworthy. In fact, the element of the community around growing a technology business, which sits at the heart of Techspace, evolved quite organically.
Today, over 1000 people work in Techspace premises across five locations in London. Virgin Media, Business Insider, Techstars and Squawka are among the community of tech start-ups and scale-ups using those spaces.
Enriched working environments enabled by technology
Techspace premises are seamless, frictionless and enriched working environments. “We empower our community to focus solely on growth and innovation. We leave workspace considerations to us,” explains Galsworthy.
Data collection is key to the way they manage Techspace. A virtual representation of the working environments allows them to solve any issue. And, in a time-frame which is faster than it would happen in a traditional managed office.
In fact, everything from the tables to the chairs, the lights, the sockets, the kitchen, and the toilets of every floor, in all the premises, has a virtual representation. The facility managers use it to manage the spaces daily. They have an app to check every area and flag any problem that might occur. This helps to create massive efficiency. For example, “if there is a problem with the light bulb on the third floor of the Old Street premises, we are able to classify it and flag it. We know immediately what light bulb is, and what its color is. We feedback that information into the system, and fix the problem,” says Galsworthy.
Coworking – a global phenomenon
“There has been definitely a global cultural shift toward new ways of working. Not just coworking. But, flexible working.”
Galsworthy talks about the benefits that the Internet has brought to businesses. It enables people to work in unconventional office environments. Outside of the traditional nine to five. Indeed, Techspace is open every day of the week, 24 hours per day.
He also believes that coworking exists as companies have started adopting new working methodologies. For example, the agile and lean approaches to innovation.
“Within an agile approach, teams develop a product or service through frequent iterations. They require regular meetings to continue to iterate. And, they need a flexible work environment to mirror those needs.”
In fact, one of the consequences of the agile and lean working methodologies has been the creation of open plan offices. Here, workers can sit at their desks at one point. But, they can easily have team meetings in a break-out area at another moment.
Coworking was initiated by the startup world. But today even big businesses want to modernise how they do business. And, “they are changing their workplace methodologies in a way that would have been unheard of even five years ago.” Indeed, some big companies are embedding coworking elements into new ways of working, which affects the way they lay out their offices.
A space for businesses of all sizes
In fact, originally Galsworthy and Rabarts envisioned that Techspace would be used by small and early stage businesses to collaborate, share ideas, and be part of the tech community. Yet, they understood that even big companies had an appetite to be part of a flexible coworking environment. So, Galsworthy and Rabarts decided to provide a full spectrum service for businesses of all sizes.
Similarly to many other coworking spaces, Techspace offers open plan areas as well as private offices. But, they also offer an enterprise function. In Galsworthy’s words “it gives a large business the chance to maintain its own culture. A company can have their own floor with all the services on it. Yet, they still have the network and the community around them.”
Is coworking for everyone?
The challenge is the impact that coworking has on the people using those environments. Is coworking for everyone? The employees who have worked for years in an institutional environment might not adapt easily.
“There is a massive cultural challenge, especially for the biggest businesses. They are peeling back years of culture that they were accustomed to.
“People in their 50s and above, have worked at the same desk for years. They have become used to have regular meetings, as opposed to frequent interactions. That is where companies are going to see more resistance to coworking.”
Galsworthy believes that the youngest generation of workers has a greater acceptance of coworking. “People in their 20s and 30s are looking for a working environment that is in tune with their lifestyle. They expect to work in a modern way.”
In fact, some corporates are reconfiguring their own buildings in order to become an attractive proposition to new talent.
“The workspace of an employer can often impact on the job decisions of young employees when deciding to go to work in a startup or in a multi-national or plc.”
Yet, generations apart, coworking spaces might not be always good for everyone. Some tasks might need an employee to avoid a noisy atmosphere. In fact, for Galsworthy, coworking needs to match an ongoing flexible approach to work. “Most businesses that do coworking have also a modern style to work.
“An employee might not want to be interrupted. They might need to get their head down. They might not want distractions. In those cases, the company should allow them to take time out or work from home to deliver certain outputs.”
So, it not just coworking that some companies embrace. But, it is also self-empowerment. “Flexible hours and timetables that allow workers to maximise their productivity.”
Some teams create their own internal rules to meet the needs of everyone. For example, “if someone is working with the headphones on, it means that they do not want to be disturbed.”
A community powered by artificial intelligence technology
Technology presents many opportunities also to the way Techspace manages its community. “We collect a large amount of data around the people and the businesses using our premises,” explains Rabarts. “The role of the employees using the facilities. The funding stage of their business. The sector in which they operate, and more.” They also gather data around their partners such as the investors.
The data allows the community managers at Techspace to create timely and relevant connections for its members across the community. For example, “if a business using our premises is in the consumer space and they are raising a Series B funding, our community managers can look at the database and find out the investors who specialise in consumers companies and have participated in Series B rounds. Then, they will allow the company raising the funding and those investors to connect.”
Future plans include using artificial intelligence within the system. The technology will learn over time. It will emulate the human behaviours that the community managers exhibit. “We are planning to launch a virtual community platform. The algorithms can improve the types of matching that the community managers make.”
In fact, Techspace will soon expand internationally, starting from Germany. As the business scales, the data increases. And, part of the job of the community managers becomes difficult to perform. “That is why we are bringing in artificial intelligence technology. To provide tooling for our community managers to achieve their goals. And, to provide our members with relevant connections and opportunities within Techspace.”