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Benefits of Co-Working Spaces for Small Businesses in UK

Nigel Graber
Graphic designers working in open plan office|busy co-working space with people|Two people shaking hands in a large modern coworking office|Busy shared working space

If you’re self-employed and work from home, you’ll know the score. You answer to no one but yourself, and you can work in your PJs, in the garden and in your own sweet time.That’s the upside. The flipside is loneliness, lack of discipline… and distraction. Ah, distraction. As in the cat, the dog, the TV, the Internet, the grass that needs cutting, the dishes that need doing, the morning paper and the afternoon nap.Maybe you’ve tried a coffee shop. But perhaps you got tired of the wall-to-wall jazz, the backache from trying to work in the over-comfy chairs, or balancing your laptop on the cistern when you popped to the loo.All understandable. So is there a halfway house? Oh yes. Co-working spaces (hyphenated so as not to be confused with cow orking) have been springing up across the UK for a few years now.

What is co-working office space?

In brief, co-working spaces offer freelancers, start-ups and the otherwise self-employed the chance to come together in a fully equipped office space for a flat-rate membership fee.Predictably, London sits at the hub of the action. In fact, the English capital is the world’s capital for co-working spaces. In 2017, there were 2.5 million square feet of office space leased to flexible-workspace providers. That’s a 190 percent increase on 2016. Research from Cushman and Wakefield shows just how much the sector has taken off, with 21 percent more square footage in the capital signed up to flexible workspaces than to all other commercial office leases.From 2016 to 2017, there was also a 10 percent rise in rent paid by flexible-workspace providers in London, with leases averaging £65.50 per square foot.

How do co-working office spaces work?

Co-working spaces are just like a regular workplace. Except that you won’t be working with colleagues. According to researchers at the Harvard Business Review, that’s a good thing.Apparently, with little direct competition or internal politics, there’s no work persona that people adopt as they walk through the door. Working around people doing a range of different projects can also reinforce your own work identity, they say. Here’s what you’ll typically find in a co-working space (besides exposed-brick walls, trendy lighting and free coffee):

  • Shared working space
  • 24/7 access
  • Conference and boardrooms
  • WiFi
  • Shared printing, copying and scanning
  • Private Branch Exchange (PBX) phone equipment
  • Shared kitchens and restrooms

In swankier venues, you might even find cafes, fitness and sports centres, libraries and storage facilities.And if you want to go mega-trendy, you show up at the Google Campus in London. Here, seven floors of office space are given over to freelancers and new companies in Shoreditch’s buzzing Tech Nation. There’s a whole raft of services to pick from in a ridiculously hip workspace in which the plants tweet you when they need watering.Of course, you don’t need to be in London to enjoy co-working opportunities. Facilities are springing up in all the UK’s big cities, but they’re especially prominent in Manchester, Glasgow and Birmingham.There’s usually a flat-rate membership fee for lessees, with the fee structure geared around the number of visits per week, month or year, or based on a single visit. Generally, you won’t need a deposit and there’s no minimum stay.

What makes a good co-working space?

So, what do freelancers need to look for in a co-working space? Free coffee is always nice, but there are more practical elements to watch out for.Furniture is key. Chairs and tables in co-working offices usually look cool, but you shouldn’t overlook lumbar support. It’s hard to be hip when your back hurts.A range of furniture is also a bonus. Desks should come with task chairs, some people prefer the elevated feel of bar tables, and there’s a growing demand for standing desks, too. And look for comfortable sofas and low tables in the communal areas, to encourage interaction (and networking) between workers.The best co-working spaces will be run by community managers who love dealing with people. They’ll get to know you well so that they can find out what your needs are and connect members to each other and make people feel comfortable right from the start.Speaking of comfort, watch out for homely touches such as cushions, ornaments and other knick-knacks, coffee table books and even bars. Spaces that exude personality, as well as looks, are the ones you’re more likely to return to. A bit like dating.

What are the benefits of co-working spaces for small business?

For small businesses, there are many benefits of co-working beyond the provision of tables, chairs and WiFi. Here are a few:

1. Networking

When you work alone, there’s a barrier between you and the rest of the world. Co-working puts you among people with different skills and different approaches to problems. Try to find a co-working space specifically geared around your sector, to increase the power of this benefit.Working like this, co-working spaces can help start-up ventures grow by bringing together home-based professionals who can pool ideas and knowledge. They can network, refer leads and generally grow together.Maybe you’re looking for a bookkeeper, a web designer or a copywriter? Someone to sort out your social media? Offering your products or services to other members, maybe at a discount, could win you new business without the expense of marketing.

2. Beating loneliness

Working at home can be heaven. Peace. Quiet. No gauging where you stand by the width of your boss’s smile.It can also be devastatingly lonely, isolating and terrible for your social skills and mental health. Human interaction is an essential part of life, particularly in a work environment.In a co-working space, everyone will be working on their own stuff, but they’re all like-minded people—none of whom is competing with you for promotion or the approval of the boss. You can all help each other. At the end of the day, you’ll go home feeling fulfilled and energised.

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3. Removing distractions

Do you lack discipline and focus? Are trivial things, like laundry or the vacuuming, taking precedence? Do you break off regularly to play with the dog? Help the kids with their homework? Take a nap? Watch a little daytime TV?Then you’re a perfect candidate for co-working. Leaving the house and all of its distractions lets you separate work life from home life. This gives your day structure and you’ll enjoy all the benefits of office life with none of the downsides.

Busy shared working space

4. Flexibility

Maybe you work from home but you’ve given some thought to leasing office space? Perhaps you’ve already discovered the hassle that comes with that kind of commitment. There’s the fixed-term lease, the equipment, broadband, utility bills and so on. It’s like all your home bills, doubled.With a co-working space, you don’t need to worry about all of that. It’s someone else’s problem. You just rent the space on terms that suit you, your lifestyle and your budget.

5. Emotional support

No one’s denying it. Running a business can be hard. Everyone has times when the phone doesn’t ring, when clients don’t pay on time and when you truly doubt yourself and suffer from imposter syndrome.When those moments strike, being on your own only compounds the agony. All the more reason to rent co-worker space and surround yourself with dozens of people in the same boat. Get emotional support, trade advice and enjoy a sounding board for your ideas.

6. Saving money

Yes, we know you’ll actually spend money on a co-working space. But you’re in control of your expenditure. There’s no lease to sign. Also, renting or buying an office with similar facilities would be crushingly expensive. Plus, you’d need to buy all your equipment and furniture. So, take that money and invest it in your marketing.One prominent communal-space provider, Nick Clark of co-working space The Common Desk, has said that businesses could save up to 75% by taking the co-working plunge.So, a co-working space is good at boosting morale and productivity but also a way to cut your outgoings as well. That’s pretty impressive.

7. Better well-being

Have you got a gym at home or a yoga studio? A pool table or table-tennis table? A café? Or even a bar? You have? Great. I’m popping round right now.For the rest of us, co-working spaces make a lot of sense because many of them provide great facilities such as these. In other words, the kind of facilities you’d enjoy if you were part of a big company.Even better, though—you’re not part of that big, faceless corporation. You work for yourself, yet you get to work with people who aren’t genetically programmed to stab you in the back every day. They’re there to help you. It’s a positive, relaxed, healthy environment. That can only be good for business.

Two people shaking hands in a large modern coworking office

8. Looking professional

Many potential clients will want to meet you face to face before a project begins. They want to know you’re a living, breathing human being. One who can be trusted to deliver on time and to a high standard.That process begins with making a great first impression. Inviting a client to your home might involve everything from silencing the dog to clearing up odd bits of Lego. It’s also unlikely that you’ll have a purpose-built conferencing facility tacked on to your house.Meeting a client in a plush conference room in a co-working facility looks way more professional than getting together at home or in a coffee shop. You’ll also have instant access to full office facilities. It shows you mean business.

9. Being inspired

Let’s face it, working in an office generates a buzz and a mentality that stems from interactions with fellow workers. Research by Office Vibe found that co-working made 64 percent of people more productive, 68 percent more focused, and 90 percent more confident.

Try co-working for free

If we’ve persuaded you that co-working can help you be more productive, sociable and professional, you might want to give it a go.Try a Google search for co-working spaces in your own town—they’re springing up regularly even in market towns across the UK now. In many places, you can try out co-working with a free one-day pass. In any case, a typical day rate outside of London is only around £20.Why not give it a shot? Just go easy on the free coffee.

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