Co-author: Dale Johnson, content specialist and digital nomad of three years
In an age where digital is taking over the world, the way businesses utilise their premises is undergoing a rapid transformation. And while the need for the traditional office is declining, the need for affordable, flexible workspaces has boomed since the turn of the decade.
ICSUK has predicted that by 2020, 50% of the UK workforce will have at the very least some remote capabilities. However, these predictions were made before the COVID-19 pandemic. For the many non-essential businesses who continue to operate from home through the crisis, there will no longer be any excuse to not have flexible working policies. The number of companies and employees who work flexibly is only set to rise.
Naturally, the remote movement has meant a drastic increase in the number of businesses and services that facilitate remote workers. In just one year, between 2017 and 2018, the number of flexible office spaces in the UK rose by over 5000.
For coworking operators looking to grow their businesses, the demand for the service is clear. But the conventional approach to creating a coworking space involves committing to long-term leases in already empty offices and investing in their refurbishment to host a variety of desirable amenities. For operators ranging from WeWork to independents, this model is high risk and often capital intensive.
There is another way.
Pubs and restaurants are already in a prime position to offer flexible coworking spaces. They have idle space within their premises at prime working hours. They are often located in high-traffic areas close to where people live and shop. More importantly than all the above, they have the amenities like delicious food, wide selections of drinks, and comfortable and beautiful designed spaces that coworking operators are already trying to replicate in their refurbishments of old, empty offices.
Whether you’re a general manager of a UK-wide chain, or an owner of a cosy pub, bringing ‘flexible coworking’ under your umbrella doesn’t need to be a complicated process: when you break it down, it’s actually quite simple. Just like any business, all it takes is to understand the needs of your customer.
If you do have under utilised space at your premises, here’s a very simple guide to turning it into a comfortable and effective space for remote workers.
Firstly, make sure your internet speed and connection match the needs of a remote worker, and not just a customer.
Arguably, this is the most critical factor to remote workers seeing your space as a worthwhile place to work, and not just somewhere to check emails, have a chat, then move on.
Coworking spaces will be the first to tell you that slow or temperamental internet will have a negative effect on a new customer’s experience. If this does happen, no beautifully decorated interior, engaging community events, or even delicious coffee, will suffice.
Fast internet is the key to people choosing to stay for several hours or the full day, or leaving within 10-30 minutes of arriving. If remote workers open their laptops, connect, and everything starts loading slowly, you’ve already lost them. And the likelihood of them coming back will pretty much drop to zero.
Fortunately, resolving the issue of slow internet is not too complicated. There are three things you should consider:
Plan speed. A remote worker has different needs to a customer. Customers only largely browse and communicate via text or voice with their phone. Remote workers need enough bandwidth to hold calls, and download and upload data. Your speed required will depend on the number of people consistently working at your space. But, a good rule of thumb is to aim for a plan that provides at least a speed of 100mps.
Router position. If your space is far from the router, or behind thick walls, connectivity is going to be difficult. Consider choosing a space in your premises close to the router. You can also buy wifi extenders to help increase the range. Make sure you test connectivity and speeds on your own laptop in the space, before opening it to remote workers.
Security. Make sure access to your internet connection is password protected. And make sure the password is easily accessible to remote work customers upon arrival.
Secondly, assess the lighting in your space.
Naturally, the lighting of a room is very important when it comes to working from a laptop. Eye strain caused at the workplace is repeatedly linked to an incorrect distance between the user’s eye and screen, and an incorrect intensity of lighting.
But common to popular belief, making the room brighter isn’t always a home run solution. When it comes to lighting, the more important decision is the use of natural lighting vs. artificial lighting. OneInternet’s recent survey of remote workers revealed that a lack of natural lighting was a key factor in some workers' decision to change coworking spaces.
If you can, opt for a room for your coworking with windows, where you can control the level of natural lighting coming in. Working in an environment with good natural lighting also contributes positively to health and mental wellbeing.
However, if this isn’t an option, artificial lighting is still more than capable of creating the ideal working environment. Colour plays a key role in this. Avoid dim and moody colours, as they create an environment that’s less energetic. Where you can, stick to white light, but control the intensity through shades.
In terms of design, there are also things you can do to make the room feel brighter and more productive. Avoid or remove large furniture that takes up too much floor space. Plants also help to create a more natural feel.
Thirdly, make some adjustments to the layout and design of the room. A remote worker is looking for more than comfort.
Striking a balance between comfort and productivity is challenging, but very doable. Naturally, hospitality venues offer a friendlier and warmer vibe than a clinical, white-wall office space. But a key component to the success of any coworking spaces lies in its interior design, and the arrangement of furniture.
While it may look and feel good, resist the urge to pack your space with overly-comfortable seating. Large sofas and armchairs are great for relaxing, but not ideal for working for hours at a time.
Chairs that encourage an upright posture, but with some give for leaning backwards, are best at making sure someone can stay and work for prolonged periods without feeling pain at the end of the day. Cushions are good to include with seating, as they mould to the shape of different backs. Bar stools are also best to avoid.
When it comes to layout, privacy is always a key concern of remote workers. No one likes to feel as though anyone can see what they’re doing on their laptop. Tables arranged around the room, rather than through it, allow people to work against the wall, facing outwards. Or, if they’re facing the wall, they’ll have a recess of space behind them, rather than a group of people.
This layout also helps open up the room. Spacious rooms instantly feel more inviting. As with any service, the customer’s feedback is vital to building on your experience. So be sure to ask your customers how the layout is, and whether they would prefer to be seated in a different way. Tables and chairs can easily be moved, so this is something you can adjust as you go.
Finally, leverage your existing services and make them easily available to a remote worker. Food and drink is an excellent place to start.
This is where hospitality venues have an incredible amount of value to add to the remote work experience.
To see this first-hand, we need to travel to Bali, Indonesia. Arguably one of the first places to actively promote digital nomadism, coworking space Hubud was founded there in 2012, amid the peace of the rainforest in Ubud.
As the years went on, and more coworking spaces popped up, spaces had to get creative and facilitate as many needs of the remote worker as possible.
This started with spaces partnering with hotels. Next came food and drink outlets. And finally, many of these spaces now offer the full experience, from airport pickup to weekend events, all included in their monthly price. One space in Bali’s side cafe became so popular, people actually thought the space was a cafe first, and coworking space second.
Hospitality venues are in a unique position to facilitate these needs, with minimal effort. A pub already has a kitchen and serves food. A hotel already has rooms. So tapping into these additional services is an excellent way to keep a coworking customer using these spaces.
If you consider a typical 9-5 workers day, there is in the very least a lunch break. People who drink tea and coffee will also often drink at least two cups throughout the work day. While it may not make sense to open up the kitchen entirely, there are a few simple things you can do to give your working customers access to food and drink, so they don’t need to leave and look elsewhere. These include:
- Set-menu for breakfast or lunch times
- Vending machine, or specified coffee/drinks station
- Menus on the table
- A waitor/waitress checking in, or a simple way to order food and drink without having to leave a laptop unattended
Coworking alone is a difficult market to crack, with some reports stating only 27% of coworking spaces are profitable after their first year in business. Desk space alone is not enough, and the more services a space can provide, the more membership options they can offer and the more value they can add. Hospitality venues are in a prime position to offer these services, with minimal additional work.
How businesses utilise space is going to drive what the high streets and public spaces of the future look like. We’ve already seen a huge increase in the number of businesses operating within shared premises. And businesses are becoming multi-functional, such as coffee shops becoming spaces for tech meetups, pubs offering brewing and distillery experiences, and many more.
I once saw an ice cream parlour turn into a bar after dark. Oh, and the parlour was smack bang in the middle of a roundabout. Creative, to say the least!
As more people are able to work remotely, the desire for community, comfort, and services while coworking will only intensify, as remote workers search for flexible options away from the four walls of their home.
If your business operates in the hospitality sector, you’re in an excellent position to offer these services to a growing remote workforce. With just a few simple changes, there’s a brand new type of customer you can bring into your ecosystem, for the long haul.