Week 19 – London. eOffice Founder, Pier Paolo Mucelli, visits the newly opened and ambitious coworking space in the City of London: Us&Co. Here he meets with Chris Bishop and Warren Lewis to discuss the co-working concept and its place in the market.
How did you and your team become interested in the co-working office space concept?
We had been involved with serviced offices before, but we realised that offices and the way people use them had evolved. Fast-growing companies and freelancers need a highly flexible environment. We wanted to create the next generation of co-working office where our members could come in and work in an open-space environment that gives total flexibility of financial commitment.
Who designed the concept?
We have an in-house interior design and an architectural team who are very talented. Our concept was to create grown-up co-working space with innovative design, many breakout zones and comfortable meeting spaces like the early co-working operations. On top of this, we wanted to add a layer of professionalism so that our members would feel comfortable inviting their bank manager to a meeting… our meeting rooms are serious and equipped with the latest technology.
The market is exploding at the moment and many operators are taking on traditional leases more than owning the buildings. Do you own this building?
Yes, we do, and we have completely refurbished it.
Can you describe the various components of the building?
We have a cycle park and shower block in the basement. Between the 2nd and 7th level we have 300 workstations with 50 workstations per floor and, within each floor, we have communal breakout areas and kitchens.
On the 8th floor, we have a hot-desking area with 50 hot desks, 2 meeting rooms and a board room that seats 12. On the 9th floor, we have a beautiful breakout area with stunning views over the Thames that we call the Club Room. People can come to have a coffee, eat lunch, and bring their guests for informal meetings. This space can be rented for events and it has a professional kitchen for the caterers.
Do you consider this a test pilot for more buildings?
Yes, we want to roll this out. We are looking at doing this with other buildings we already operate as more traditional serviced offices in the City. We acquired a building in Stratford in November 2016 earmarked for this concept.
Who do you think your typical clients will be? Are you looking to create a mixed community or focus on specific sectors within the market?
We are open to anyone interested in the co-working environment. We want to appeal to a broad spectrum rather than focus on a specific sector. We are not attempting to “curate” our members, as some other operators do, but believe our product has a universal appeal. We have had enquiries from freelancers to tech companies to Venture Capitalists. We offer enormous flexibility from a single person to teams of 50 or more and some companies have taken a whole floor with their own breakout areas and meeting room. We have an advantage because we have the whole building and can provide various offerings, whether it is a floor of 50 desks, 10 desks, or a single desk.
As I came in through the main door I noticed that there is an access-control device. Technology is such a central part of our lives; do you have any specific tech solutions you’re offering?
We have a fully integrated client management and interaction system. All members have access to the Us&Co portal that can be used to book meeting rooms, review invoices, interact with other members and check what’s on in London – a real online community. You can even operate the entrance control panel from your mobile phone.
There is Wi-Fi throughout the whole building to provide members with connectivity as soon as they arrive – all included in the desk rate that covers everything from technology to tea.
In the co-working world, the community is a key element. Is this also true at Us&Co?
Yes! The Us&Co portal allows members to share information and make themselves visible to the community, search for each other’s services and start initial networking online before they meet face to face. This sense of community is what attracts people to a space like this. You find individuals with single offices starting to feel isolated, but here they are part of a greater network – this is how the community helps growth and productivity. The Club Room is a popular meeting place at lunch time and will also be used in the evening for member events.
Do you offer any private offices?
Yes, due to demand we have decided to offer private offices on the 4th floor. This will be made up of 2x 14 person offices and a selection of smaller 4-8 person offices. It will be a great mix and an excellent addition to our offering.
How do you see the competitive scenario in the flexible office market developing within the next few years?
There is definitely more competition than 10 years ago. Many operators still offer very traditional offices. We believe what we offer is the next generation of flexible offices combining all the latest trends and ideas of how offices are going to be used in the future.
What are the main challenges and opportunities for you in the next few years?
Finding the right space is the most challenging thing!
What about the effects of Brexit?
Brexit has created a lot of uncertainty about the future which has meant that both small and large companies are reluctant to commit to long-term leases. This should be good for our business – in the long run, there will always be a demand for space in central London.
Finally, do you see any specific areas of London that are growing or with good potential for growth?
We just acquired a building in Stratford. It is a very good transport hub, and the connection to the City and the West End is great. We are looking for similar locations which can offer better value than more established areas, but with good transport links. We have already seen what happened with Shoreditch for instance. People initially went to Shoreditch as it offered good value, but have had to move out as it has got more and more expensive. The challenge is to find the next Shoreditch.