Week 23 – London. In the Workplace Series today, we are presenting one of the newest additions to the London flexible office market: Fora. In their first space in Clerkenwell, that opened this January, we met with the two Co-Founders Enrico Sanna and Katrina Larkin. Here is their inspiring journey towards success:
How did you come up with the concept?
Enrico: The very origin of Fora comes from my background working in large corporate environments, where I experienced very depressing and boring office spaces. While working for Deutsche Bank, I was fortunate to be involved in their hospitality portfolio. Through this experience, I realised the great importance of hospitality in a space, both in terms of the customer experience and the user experience.
My perception was that the office was still stuck in the last century, but with the arrival of tech companies, such as Google and Amazon, there has been a revolution in the way we approach the workplace. I was excited to be a part of this revolution and explore how to bring hospitality to the future of work. Luckily for me, there were two fellow students from MIT that were interested in the same subject and willing to invest in this project with me. They introduced me to Katrina, and together we shared thoughts and ideas and created a shared vision regarding the customer journey and the future of workspace.
Katrina, what were you doing at the time?
Katrina: I have always been interested in physical spaces in terms of how you create communities and spaces as destinations.
When Enrico called me, I was already involved in the launch of another co-working space, and what I really missed while developing this space was thinking about and facilitating the everyday needs of the actual people who were going to work there. People have more needs today than just a desk and a kitchen. We are going through a really big change in the hospitality industry where expectations and standards have risen dramatically, but the service is not quite catching up.
So, when Enrico called me, I got the opportunity to contribute to a space made for people and the community, where the focus is on their needs.
Enrico: And that brings us to the point where we started planning Fora. We spent a whole summer visiting spaces, researching the way people are using these spaces and what users like and dislike about co-working, and we did focus groups to learn more about the perceptions of different concepts. The result was Fora, a space where our residents can experience a new level of service and design, which enables them to focus on developing their business whilst Fora takes care of the everyday essentials. Everything we do here enables our residents to be more productive. We call it “A Space to be Brilliant”.
Did you have the buildings at this time?
No, but we were buying throughout the process. Today, we have 10 buildings that we own, and we are developing them all under the Fora name.
Are these entire buildings or parts?
They are entire buildings. In fact, this is the only site where we have just one and a half floors. The reason why we are doing entire buildings is because we want the ability to produce spaces that are completely bespoke, in order to provide our residents with a hassle-free experience more akin to a premium hotel. We want to curate the complete journey within our space, from the moment people enter and all the way to the top floor. This approach also allows us to make all the changes we need, without having to go through a landlord.
Let us move on to the design of the building. Can you explain a bit about the importance of the design as a part of the concept?
Enrico: Katrina and I have designed the space with the support of some of London’s leading architects. We have also hired a great interior design firm who have been doing a lot of fantastic work for Fora and have really thought about the next generations of workspaces.
In addition, we use feedback from our residents and combine this with fresh thoughts from the outside world. We believe that co-working in London has developed a similar “London Look”. Therefore, we are trying to explore more opportunities that are out there in the world and see if they would be an interesting addition to Fora.
Katrina: Personalisation is very important! For instance, when it comes to our sofas, we make sure that they are all hand selected. You would never see repeated sofas across our space. This approach gives every lounge their own look, which creates a varied work environment for our residents to enjoy and feel at home in.
Enrico and Katrina, can you please describe the main elements in this space?
Katrina: When you enter the building, you come straight to our restaurant, welcome area and bar and the Fora steps, which also function as our event space. Palatino, the restaurant opened by chef Stevie Parle, is open to the public but also our residents, who can order from a special menu directly via the Fora app. This service, which we call Room Service, offers our residents the opportunity to order restaurant-quality food directly to their office or meeting room – again, providing a hassle-free experience so they can focus on being more productive. In the evening we change the music and the light in the restaurant and bar space, in order to create a different atmosphere that people can enjoy. We often see people networking in the bar or having dinner with friends.
The Fora steps is a space where we can have presentation and talks and social networking events with our residents. All the buildings we are developing will have these steps as standard.
If we continue to the lower ground floor, entered from the restaurant area, we have access to the underground bike storage, restrooms, resident lockers and shower rooms complete with complimentary towels.
We then move on through the security gates on the ground floor and enter our residents’ welcoming area. From here you can find the Owned Offices, Owned Desks and Open Desk areas along with our high-tech meeting rooms, fully equipped kitchens, and access to the Reading Room downstairs. The term “Owned Offices” is very important for us because we want our residents to know that they own their own space here. We just enable them and provide what they need to grow their business.
What is the total capacity of the space?
We can accommodate 382 people in this space.
And you mentioned about the app, how does that work?
The app is really important for us because it enables us to provide a better everyday experience for our residents. Though this app, they can book meeting rooms, order food from the restaurant, connect with other residents, and communicate with the Fora team and concierge desk.
So, how did you decide on this particular location?
Enrico: Because we are driven by design and service, we thought as Clerkenwell is a hub for design in London, that it is the perfect spot to open our first space. The location also provides a good mix of people, which gives a better balance in the community. When it comes to opening new buildings in London, we think about our existing network. Because being present in more distinctive areas in London will create a better network for our members to enjoy.
Katrina, can you elaborate a bit more about your typical members? Will you be targeting specific sectors?
Katrina: Our spaces are not created for a particular sector, but for a specific mindset. This is not a space for people who want to come in and play ping pong and drink beer, but for people who enjoy the challenge of work and want to be more productive – whether that be the self-employed individual, a small start-up, SMEs or even global corporate companies. Here, they have a far better chance at being successful because we support them and look after the details in the space and provide a professional environment.
Whether these people are tech, creative, finance or from other sectors, it is really their mindset that brings them here. The beauty of bringing like-minded professionals together is that it opens doors to start interesting conversations within our community.
In this first building, we have invited a few people to come and work here. One because we really wanted to make sure that everything is running at 100%, but also so they can start reaching out to their networks and help us create the foundation for our network.
Finally, how do you see the market evolving in the next 5-10 years?
We are very excited. I think that the market will grow because there is a proper trend and a demand for flexible office solutions.
We think that Fora delivers a highly differentiated product through our design and service credentials, and this differentiation is very important moving forward. Because our clients have a 30-day notice period, it is extremely important that we deliver our value proposition and keep our promise, in order for us to retain our customers.
That delivery is very hard because, in the end, it all comes down to the strategy approach, the culture you build, and the need to go the extra mile for your customers.