Work & Wellbeing

Workspace: The office provider that's unphased by Brexit and big competitors

15 min read

24 April 2019

Features Editor, Real Business

How many office space providers are there in London? The list is endless. So what makes one stand out? Workspace, the office brand that's big on supporting business growth through data but low on the over-branding can give you the answer. Are they worried about WeWork style competitors or Brexit threats, no way, they say. We visit their China Works site, a stone's throw away from the river Thames and Big Ben to find out more.

Picture the scene, during the late 1980s, a group of savvy property investors secures the freeholds of a series of unassuming industrial buildings across London. As the years went on, and as London steadily became the global property mecca we know it to be today, these sites, located in well-connected areas, would rise exponentially in value too. Seems like they were indeed, onto something…

But the freeholds gave the investors another ace to play, it gave them the ability to hold onto these buildings forever and turn them into whatever they pleased, this was to be – shared offices.

So, into this perfect melting pot of high-value sites, metropolitan locations, and freehold acquisitions Workspace was born. But what makes the 65 sites strong office provider stand out against all the other ‘on-trend’ office brands in the capital?

Workspace owns its own office buildings…

Whilst a majority of commercial and private properties in London are leasehold based, Workspace owns the freeholds of their properties. This means they have the agency to renovate the internal spaces to accommodate the needs of their clients as they see fit, whether that’s knocking through walls, or even two-floors at a time to give growing businesses what they need to grow more.

Workspace follows a data-led approach to support its businesses

“We have a client facing aesthetic,” says Workspace’s Head of Business Development, Andrea Kolokasi, who I meet in the Brooklyn brick-exposed style breakout area of China Works, one of Workspace’s original portfolio properties close to the river Thames and Big Ben, “we intentionally select buildings for purchase with an emphasis on the architecture, it’s about retaining the individuality of the buildings and their industrial qualities and design, we’re not about having an overly branded look,” she says.

China Works, first impressions: ‘Less’ branding really is ‘more’

When you enter a Workspace building, (which I did for the first time this month), it’s evident that Kolokasi’s words ring true, upon crossing the threshold of China Works, you’re not aware that you’re entering a building that’s part of an office-space mega brand.

Unlike the all-present fluorescent display signs on view at WeWork offices where the customer is made very aware that each office building is part of one big group, Workspace feels more like a carefully crafted attempt at creating individuality and ‘a sense of the boutique’ across its different locations.

“We’re all about subtle branding,” says Kolokasi, “you may pass by a small sign outside the entrances of our buildings saying you’re entering a Workspace, but that’s about it. Our resident businesses have strong identities of their own, and some are creative, so they don’t want to feel part of a cookie-cutter model.”

SMEs require flexible working spaces that practice what they preach

China Work’s breakout areas have a boutique feel, (including modernist kitchen spaces).

“We host growing and established SMEs in our Workspace locations,” says Kolokasi, “but what do these businesses have in common? They need to attract new talent, and they need a nice environment to do that in. Moreover, the staff that work for those businesses also need the same kind of flexibility. That’s exactly what we offer through our locations,” she adds.

Unbound from the building constrictions that many leaseholders face, Workspace is able to cater to the physical needs of growing businesses, this includes major renovation overhauls within their buildings, “we have the ability to literally knock through floors and create truly expansive office areas for our clients,” adds Kolokasi.

– In this regard, the investment returns for Workspace is that their resident businesses never outgrow them. Instead, they can retain them for the long-term, and watch them grow and prosper.

Workspace allows startups to upscale to successful SMEs

“It gives us great satisfaction to watch the businesses in our buildings grow into successful SMEs, and that we can facilitate their continued success,” says Kolokasi.

This process can start right from the micro stage, she adds, “this is where our hot-desking spaces come in, sometimes, we get co-founders of a startup who want to hotdesk with us, and then they find they’re growing and need to upscale to an office. Because we have multiple locations on offer as well as the agency to create bespoke spaces for growing businesses within our buildings, we can ensure that they stay with us when they upscale.”

Workspace likes a healthy B2B ecosystem

Workspace like to retain the original architectural features of their buildings, (an office space at China Works).

In terms of tracking the growth of their resident businesses and their changing environmental needs, the key differentiator with Workspace is that they have a dedicated team of advisors who liaise with the businesses on a regular basis to see what they might need.

Their role is to assess exactly what the businesses need at various stages in their growth journey at Workspace, “we’re available to talk through options with businesses, such as whether they’re ready to move up a gear and get an office space, it’s an organic and open approach we have with our clients.”

Using data to see when clients are ready to upscale

“We use data to follow our customers on their journey with us,” says Kolokasi. “For example, if we see that our hotdesking customers apply for two memberships, and then four for their startup, we then know that they’re growing and we can ask them if they’re ready to upscale to an office,” she adds.

However, this ‘working relationship’ isn’t just top-down, it’s across and between the various businesses that call the Workspace spaces home, “we have a perks platform that through discounts and other incentives encourages the resident businesses to trade with each other, but there are also networking events and event sample sales hosted by retail businesses in our Workspaces,” says Kolokasi.

“We’re not interested in running office sites where businesses work in isolated and self-contained units,” adds Kolokasi, “we really mean it when we say we want to facilitate an interactive community of lively businesses within our Workspaces.”

The impact of Brexit on their high net-worth property portfolio

The exterior of Workspace’s China Work’s site in Vauxhall.

But is the Workspace team worried about the negative impact a no-deal Brexit, (or any Brexit deal at all) could have on their large portfolio of expansive and currently high-net-worth central London locations? “We have 65 sites within the M25, we’re a confident London-based business and we intend to stay that way,” says Kolokasi. “Whatever happens, London is the location of our business and what we’re about.”

“We know our market, and we’re built on over 30 years of property based experience, so in response to your question about Brexit, we’ll be fine,” says Kolokasi with a breezy and assured confidence, (she’s worked with Workspace for well over a decade, so has already weathered one big property recession).

Owning the buildings means ensuring stable internet connections

One of the few ‘branded’ signs you’ll see at Workspace sites. (Location: China Works).

“There’s one particular statistic that scares me when it comes to business life in the UK,” says Kolokasi, “as many as one in four SMEs are held back by unreliable internet connections, and that’s disastrous for customer-facing businesses and for retaining consumer trust,” she says.

“83% of our office portfolio is committed to the WiredScore certification which is a commercial real estate rating system that empowers landlords to understand, improve, and promote their buildings’ digital infrastructure,” adds Kolokasi.

Again this is where Workspace’s unique advantage of owning its own sites comes in, “we have full control over the digital infrastructure within our buildings and can update and amend when we want to,” she says. “We provide our tenants with immediate access to high-speed internet connectivity, best-in-class levels of infrastructure diversity and robust emergency back-up services to protect against service disruption, and owning our own buildings means we don’t have to ask the permissions of distant freeholders to do it!”

How ‘sustainable’ is the Workspace group?

Thus far in my Workspace journey, I can see how the brand caters for the operational and environmental wellbeing of its resident businesses, but how about its impact on the wider (non-office) environment? Workspace’s Energy & Sustainability Manager, Karen Jamison fills me in on what the Workspace brand is doing to rep the green agenda…

“The property industry has come under fire for being profits driven over being sustainability conscious,” says Jamison. “But, whether we’re acquiring a new site and making it an eco-building ‘from the ground up’, or revamping an older site, we’re trying to put a dent in that damaging reputation,” she adds.

– Well, as far as I’m concerned, they’ve already have made a start in improving the eco-ethical reputation of the property sector, (11 of their sites are BREEAM certified, which is a global assessment authority for rating building projects).

“This has also meant that we have attracted a number of environmental and green energy businesses to our Workspaces, adds Jamison, “they need to work somewhere where their company missions fit their wider environment, and that’s us,” she adds.

Implementing green infrastructure into building renovations

Workspace works towards maintaining an eco-conscious approach to their building renovations.

“For example, here at China Works, we replaced the boiler system a few years ago to make it 90% energy efficient. For air conditioning and heating purposes we use an air source heat pump, which is also a more sustainable way of heating and cooling larger spaces,” she adds.

But, as any environmentalist worth their salt knows, companies can’t just ‘fix’ the sustainability problem for society, they have to actively encourage their respective communities, (namely their staff) to lead sustainable lives too, and this is evident in the vast basement space at China Works, which is equipped with bicycle storage facilities for staff, including showers and bicycle ramps that are directly accessible from the road entrance…

“We are data led in all we do at Workspace,” says Jamison, “this includes tracking the energy consumption of the businesses in the building, the idea is to make them mindful of their energy output,” she adds.

Jamison herself fits the proactive approach that all the senior staff I’ve met at Workspace seem to possess, when I meet her, she is on a tour of all their locations, and their cafes especially, to figure out how to tackle the non-reusable cups and utensils problem, “I’m collecting data on how our cafes are run,” says Jamison. “From there, I’m going to prepare a centralised manifesto that all our Workspaces will follow to be as sustainable as possible. You can’t get a multi-site organisation totally green overnight, but we are working towards it with confidence and purpose,” she adds.

– And that’s really the essence of Workspace, a brand that has confidence, and purpose in all they do, with their eyes fixed firmly on the prize, namely growing their locations and their resident businesses as sustainably as possible, office competitors, – and Brexit woes aside.