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The trouble with co-working offices

04 February 2016

Demand for co-working office space is set to rise dramatically over the next few years. But is the reality of sharing an office with others as beneficial as it seems?

Uncomfortable chairs and a lack of peace and quiet are just two of the facilities complaints from occupiers of shared workspaces. Graham Smith, marketing director at office design company K2 Space picks up the story.

I’m sat in the café at Second Home, a former carpet factory turned co-working office space near Brick Lane in Shoreditch. The 24,000 sq ft space is the brainchild of Rohan Silva, a former adviser to prime minister David Cameron.

The space was full within a few weeks of opening, with members paying either £350 a month for a roaming membership or £550 a month for each permanent desk space. Members also get other benefits like food from a top chef and after-work events including networking and live music.

Andrew Burger is UK managing director at Sydney based agency Switched On Media. Andrew has a roaming membership at Second Home, which entitles him to the 'first-come-first-served' workspace. Andrew does have positive elements to his experience so far: "Second Home is accessible and flexible; it's also cool and it gives us instant clout. On the flip side, you do have to give up some of the comforts you would expect from a conventional office. Making a phone call in here is pretty difficult. I’m a salesman – I need to speak to prospects and clients – and co-working space isn’t really cut out for this."

Andrew reveals that there is a less-than-perfect reason that sees him get into the office early on a regular basis. “Some of the chairs are awful. Instead of a standard ergonomic office chair, there is a mix of seating, which means it is a case of trying to grab the best of what’s available.” I get the sense that Andrew will need to move from Second Home, perhaps to another co-working space such as WeWork or Regus as the company grows and matures.

Talking of other co-working spaces in London, Silva has been less than complimentary about them. He describes Soho House in the Evening Standard as “a very Nineties, yuppy thing. You are there to be on show. We do not give a crap what you wear.” You could describe Second Home as a millennial, hipster thing where people probably would raise an eyebrow if you were to wear a suit.

The overall impression that Second Home is a great place to visit or drop in at, but perhaps not a place to make a permanent home. One of the appeals of co-working space is that your company can grow into the space. Taking on a new employee? No problem, just take another membership. But with popular Second Home at capacity, how will this work in practice?

Co-working office space is a credible alternative to permanent or even serviced workplaces - offering small businesses in particular, an affordable, effective new home. However, they aren’t able to deliver the benefits that come from having your own office. Co-working seems to be full of compromise and this approach to working simply won’tappeal to the majority of businesses.

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