The Power of Workplace Community
With a growing number of people working remotely or from home, keeping interpersonal skills sharp has become an increasing challenge among the modern workforce. Sometimes it’s just nice to work out of a space where like-minded individuals are also busy getting things done and valuable networking opportunities arise.
The Office Group has facilitated this kind of working community and is among the leaders when it comes to coworking in the United Kingdom. With over 15,000 members across 33 buildings, 31 of which are in London, they host a diverse range of industries that call their spaces home. Alessa McNally, Head of Community for The Office Group, tell us how her organization has broken barriers to create a unique community that is at the forefront of workplace innovation.
How challenging can it be to strike a balance between workplace privacy and collaboration within the workspaces you offer? How does The Office Group address those challenges?
McNally: First and foremost, I think it’s really important for us that this is addressed in the design. All of our spaces have a very carefully considered design and it’s so important that we have a mixture of ambiances that all our members can take advantage of — regardless of what membership they have.
What I mean by that is how productive you are during the day can be affected by so many different things: mood, sleep, hunger, things that are happening in your life. There are some days you want to work in a really buzzing space where there’s lots of people eating, talking, drinking, connecting and then there are days where you need the polar opposite. For that reason, we make sure that our locations have a mixture of communal lounges, cafes, libraries where it’s understood that this is a silent space with no phone calls or meetings. Then of course there’s the coworking spaces which normally seem to be this middle ground where people are talking and working together, but is less ambient than a cafe, for example. For private phone calls, you’ve got phone booths and focus booths which don’t need to be booked, you just step into a free one and use it for however long you need to.
Things like that are important for us to be able to provide because when you have a community like ours that is as diverse and inclusive as this one, it’s impossible to make everybody happy. It’s kind of the difficulty and the dream and the same time. While it’s impossible to keep them all happy, it’s very important for us to try and cover all our bases and to find new bases to cover too.
What are the fundamentals of a great coworking space that addresses both efficiency and employee satisfaction?
McNally: We’re not necessarily a coworking business. Yes it is a product that we offer and something that we love, but more often than not we describe ourselves as being in the hospitality business. We’re here for our members and we’ve really built upon that principle in the past and up to today.
That being said, I think what’s worked for us when it comes to coworking is that it isn’t just the space, it isn’t just a big shared room that you show up, pick a seat and work from — it’s very much the community side of things. Regardless of whether you have a mailing address with us, a virtual office so to speak or an office space that has 40-50 people in it, for us it’s the fact that our members cowork and they’re engaged with each other. If their businesses aren’t compatible, they often become friends and go to our cafes and get lunch or have a beer at the end of the day at our bars.
I think this thing with community and coworking has really snowballed organically for us. You will see a lot of spaces that are directed at an industry in particular, whether it’s a space that’s just for tech, fashion, media and so on. For us, we have a very open-armed approach and with that we find ourselves in this very fun position where we have to keep on our toes.
The Lounge Membership that The Office Group offers is a very interesting concept. You can access over 25 different lounges to individually work. What was the inspiration behind this concept and how successful has it been?
McNally: The inspiration behind it was really looking at what we were providing and realizing that we were missing something through speaking with our members and understanding the need to evolve. This was a question of who your audience is, you have to know who you’re speaking to and who you’re appealing to.
Our coworking membership allows you 24/7 access to buildings seven days a week, you can come and go as you please, and that’s incredible if you need it. If you don’t, another kind of membership is necessary to address those needs. We were looking at people who are forever on their feet, they’re running to and from meetings all the time. Who uses a coffee shop? Who are they? Those are the people who need to just sit down for a little bit to consolidate what they’ve done during the week.
We looked at that and said “we’ve got coffee shops” and “we’ve got lounge areas” and beautiful spaces with a community that this specific group of people can connect with. For that reason alone, we figured out what we were missing. We were missing a lighter membership for the people who need to drop into a space one day a week and not break the bank.
The Office Group offers flexible leases to allow for growth and change. What are some of the needs you solve for a company in flux (in expansion or consolidation)?
McNally: It’s definitely the flexibility of it all. When you see companies that are growing really quickly, you notice the same things all the time. We’ve got businesses within our community that exist for quick growth, whether it be a business that is growing fast but doesn’t necessarily have the means to take on a full-time CFO for example. We’ve got businesses within the company that provide a part-time CFO, someone to come in four times a month to handle that kind of stuff at a fraction of the cost. For things like that, scaling up and whatnot, they’re using the community to their benefit.
The flexibility of the memberships themselves are also crucial. You can increase into an office, you can increase into a coworking membership, wherever it is that you’re starting, at the the drop of a hat. We recently introduced studio offices, which are studio spaces within our coworking spaces that are aimed at young businesses that have never had an office before and suddenly realize they have a team that needs to sit together everyday. From there it allows them to figure out what office life is like and then they can eventually take the next step up to a premium office space.
On the flipside, it’s not uncommon that some businesses start to struggle and they need spaces where they can decrease in space just as easily as they can increase. We’re in a time where some businesses can’t predict what’s going to happen five years in the future, they need to be in a space where they feel confident whether they grow or things don’t work out the way they expected — we can help them with that.
With respect to today’s modern workplace, what do you think the future of the office will look like in the next 5-10 years?
McNally: For me personally, I would hope to see larger open spaces where everyone is working together. In 10 years or so, I would love to say “gone are the days where CEOs are sitting in a glass corner office on the 27th floor” and instead sitting and working with everyone. The top-down changes a little bit where everyone is working together and the design of their space follows suit.
You’re always going to have departments and people taking caring of different things, but I really hope the places of the future foster a togetherness where everyone feels like they’re working with peers. Spaces that allow you to make your own decisions while working together and really enjoying it.