Week 26 – London. Welcome to a new week and a new feature in The Workplace Series. Today we are presenting Workhouse, an unbranded and urban workspace in the heart of East London that was founded by Mat Kemp, Charlie Harris, and Polly Pemberton. Today, eOffice Founder, Pier Paolo Mucelli has interviewed Polly to learn all about this growing coworking hub.
How did you and the other co-founders come up with this concept?
It is really the other two co-founders, my husband Mat Kemp and Charlie Harris, who are responsible for the initial idea. About three years ago, they had their own businesses and were in need of a place to work from. In the process of finding the perfect location, they took on the third floor of this building, renovated it, and filled it up with people they liked to work with. It went so well that they soon took on the second floor in the same building. Recently, we grew again when we acquired a new building close to Devonshire Square, which is a small and beautiful five-storey building that is full at present.
Polly, can you explain more about the design elements of the two floors that you are managing here?
Mat is a designer and therefore the one responsible for the design here. We keep it very simple with a lot of glass, a lot of light, and lots of industrial features, such as the completely unfinished ceiling, which looks great. I think that we have a very Shoreditch look: it is not overdesigned and does not have a corporate feel to it. Also, it is completely unbranded. Most workspaces have very visible branding, but we don’t, in order to allow the focus to be on our members’ business, and not ours.
Because Mat and Charlie have experience in starting their own businesses, they understand exactly what new startups feel like. Therefore, we pride on being more flexible and friendly than most operators to allow the best growth environment for our tenants.
And in terms of facilities such as meeting rooms, desks, and so on, how is the space composed?
We have four meeting rooms that are included in the membership fee, and then we have private offices, hot-desks, and kitchen facilities. To book the meeting rooms, we have a simple Google calendar where you can book free of charge.
In addition, we have always had open networking space encouraging our members to meet people and socialise with each other. At Workhouse we really value the communal space and the importance of a strong community.
What is the total capacity?
At the moment, we have about 120 members, but we have always room for more people looking for hot-desks. We believe it is good to keep these available because some companies work on projects where they have people coming in on a temporary basis, interns, mentors, freelancers and we always make sure that we have room for them.
We are quite flexible in terms of accommodating for our clients’ needs. If they want more space, we can put two private offices together, and if they want a private meeting room, we can create one inside their private office. We will do all that work for them and hope that they stay.
What about technology, is there a specific request from your members?
It is all about the Internet. People just need to have a good and reliable connection because they can’t work without it. In addition, we offer 24-hour access seven days per week.
It is very interesting to witness the growth of the startup community in East London. Do you collaborate with any other operators in the area?
Yes, we do. When we organise talks here that are not always of interest to everyone in our space. We feel that it is nice to open that up to other coworking spaces in the area because it could be of interest to them, and also out of respect to the person who is giving their time.
It is lovely to witness the growth of the startups, and that is something I really enjoy about being here. For instance, we have a great example of a company who started upstairs with a few desks, graduated to an office, and got a larger and private office downstairs. Now, they have just been bought by a bigger company and will be moving off to a new building somewhere. We also have another company that started with just a few desks and are now ready to move on to somewhere bigger. For us, it is lovely to see that even when they grow, they still stay a part of our community. It is always sad to see them leave, but that is a part of their journey.
Polly, how do you manage your community?
Very lightly! I find that people don’t want to be told what to do all the time nor attend hundreds of networking events. They want to choose for themselves. However, we still do something, such as Friday night beers, educational talks, and a newsletter to keep our members informed. Once a month I also make toasties in the kitchen upstairs, which functions as a popular, cheap, and easy networking event. I also make vegetarian soup once a week that our tenants can buy, which is a fun way for me to contribute to our community.
What sectors are your members from?
We have got a lot of companies from food related industries. In fact, one of our partners does a food event called Meatopia once a year. It is a food festival that happens at Tobacco Dock and is all about meat and barbecue with chefs from around the world. It’s an outstanding event that we’re proud to be a part of it.
In addition to food, we also have companies from recruitment sectors, architecture, accountancy, magazines, furniture designers, and a lot of tech obviously. So, it is a very broad and varied mix.
Polly, are there any challenges or opportunities that you are facing at the moment?
When the companies here have just been bought, we can help them in finding and renovating a new building where they can continue to grow their business. This is a great opportunity for us to show that when our tenants leave us, we don’t forget them but continue to look after them.
Let us discuss a bit about the coworking market, what are your thoughts about it and what are your plans for the future?
We have been looking at new buildings and one of the things we are considering is adding a gym. It just the beginning of an idea, but interesting to see how bringing a gym into a coworking space could add to the whole product.
Do you think the coworking market will continue to grow?
Yes, I believe so. Especially in terms of huge corporate companies starting to utilise these spaces. More and more corporate companies see the benefits of giving teams a base in a coworking space and because they know it is a good opportunity to be a part of a community and because of the flexibility.