Two Worlds of Coworking

Wed, 07 Jan 2015

On our recent visit to London we were directed to check out two coworking/shared office spaces. Without any prior research of either place, we blindly made our way to check these spaces out to see how they compare to what we have seen and experienced in NZ. This casual approach in turn caused great surprise as we arrived at the first space We Work in South Bank.

To us We Work was the sort of co-working community that would appeal to companies with an established clientele that needed to benefit from a serviced office space. It offers a solution where they can work privately and independently, but also at a fit out standard that would encourage these companies to invite their clients into the space. You still got that open shared community feeling, but quite clearly people's space was theirs and not shared with others.

The main question we posed, considering the fixed nature of the different business spaces, was met with a hesitant answer - "What happens when there is churn and growth?"

On every floor there is a central kitchenette with coffee, tea, water, beer (all the essentials). There is bookable meeting space, phone/quiet booths, lounge/breakout space and central utility area. But unlike the modern office space it is not what we would call open plan, and therefore appeared to be fairly inflexible if companies were to expand or change.

This takes us to Central Co-working “Escalator” in Whitechapel, are more "bohemian" part of the city. Escalator is housed in an older style low rise building in the more rustic East End of London. To enter into Escalator you must go through a public café typical to something you would see in K’Road or Cuba Street (Auckland and Wellington respectively). This sets the tone immediately for the type of co-working community Escalator is.

Escalator is operating full time over two floors, and is home to tech start ups and those with aspirations to be the next big tech success story. This is where Escalator is unique. Centrally curated on the 1st floor, Escalator is split between two working areas. One side is occupied mostly by young people who have their desk space funded for three months by Mircrosoft Ventures, giving them the opportunity to work on and produce a product as a start up company. A product may get funded if it is appealing to the invited investors at the end of the three month period.

The other side of the first floor is similarly funded for potential start ups by Barclays Bank. Here co-working members are working on tech developments that support the financial sector. Again this is a temporary offering by Barclays, with financial and business guidance from Barclay’s to assist.

(Barclay's Incubator above)

Escalator is your typical raw looking open plan co-working community feel. It is fitted out, but not finished and polished like We-Work. It has the central kitchenette, meeting spaces, central breakout, but feels more like a university campus than a served, curated shared office space. To give an example our host, Julie who runs her company Tudor-Reily out of Escalator was coincidentally moving into We Work as it suits their company and business activities better due to the age of the business and their clientele.
In our opinion, from our experience in both spaces, co-working spaces can co-exist through differentiation. The key is understanding your target community and ensuring your space is located, designed, curated and has all the faclilities they need. Connection to technology is a must and wifi is everywhere but "invisable", while you will always find a spot to plug in your device to a power supply or a screen to share or use privately.

As illustrated (with the Tudor-Reily story) We Work and Central Working are technically competitiors, however these communities are pitched at two completely different clientele, and both appear to be successful in doing it. In a city like London, where the cost of real estate is astronomical, these spaces are important to a large group of small businesses and aspiring start ups. It helps to build and sustain the vibrant nature of this city giving a wider group the opportunity to be a part of it.