Choosing a coworking space: A comparison of coworking offices
Coworking spaces are growing in popularity across the UK, with the number of flexible office centres increasing by nearly 10% in 2017. But why are more businesses making use of them and how do you choose the right coworking space for your needs?
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Microbusinesses (fewer than 9 employees) make up around 96% of all businesses in the UK, which means there are even more self-employed and freelance workers across different industries. These include web development, graphic design, accountancy, marketing, couriering, and even dog walking! While not every trade requires a desk or an office, those that do are increasingly looking at coworking spaces to meet their business needs.
If you are a sole worker, a start-up, or a new business with a small team, it may not be viable to spend hundreds of pounds a month on a long-term office lease, especially if you have taken out a small business loan or have limited capital available. Equally, you may not be able to, or want to, work from home, leaving a sizeable section of the workforce in need of somewhere to conduct their business.
Coworking office spaces provide a solution to this problem, coming in many different shapes and sizes. Some global providers can offer a range of workstations and facilities, as well as many smaller, independent spaces that may be targeted at workers in a particular location or industry.
From flexible hot desks to individual offices, coworking spaces can cater for freelancers, sole workers, start-ups, remote workers, small businesses, and even large corporations.
It’s clear that, as the way we work moves away from the traditional 9 to 5 office job, coworking and shared office spaces are playing an increasingly significant part in our working lives.
Benefits of coworking spaces
You may question why you should pay for coworking space if you can work from home for free.
The choice of where you work is up to you, but there are many advantages to joining a coworking space, such as those listed below:
1) Flexible and cost-effective
Cost is a major reason why start-ups may choose coworking spaces rather than setting up in their own premises. Becoming a member of a coworking space will normally be considerably cheaper than leasing your own private office and will also give you much more flexibility.
Most coworking spaces offer pay-as-you-go or monthly contracts that can be changed or ended at comparably short notice, depending on how your situation changes.
These short-term, flexible contracts can work around your business needs, allowing you to scale up at your own pace. For example, if you’re looking to employ your first team member but don’t yet have an office, you may be able to add a desk to your coworking arrangement.
Not only does this flexibility help growing businesses adapt to their changing needs, it can also help you should your business plans not work out. Unfortunately, many start-ups face challenges within the first few years, with many struggling to survive, so using a coworking space is a less risky proposition than committing time and money to setting up your own premises.
For freelancers and remote workers, the flexible nature of coworking spaces allows them to drop in when they want to- if they want a change of scenery or need to meet a client for example. They don’t need to commit to monthly contracts or use the space every day; with many providers they can simply pay by the day or hour.
2) Join a community
Community is arguably at the heart of the coworking movement. Its success stems from its aim to provide an environment where freelancers, professionals, and entrepreneurs across different industries can work and share ideas. This builds a community where you can meet and learn from people with a range of talents and at different stages in their business careers.
Although some coworking spaces encourage this community element more than others, they all allow you to collaborate and network with other members, even if it’s just by talking to the person sat next to you. You may even be able to draw on the skills of other members to help you with certain projects.
Coworking spaces that emphasise the importance of community are likely to have networking events, socials, and workshops to encourage their members to exchange ideas. Spaces that are targeted at workers in certain industries may particularly promote these kinds of events, as they aim to create a hub of inspiration and collaboration to help people advance in that sector.
Collaborating on work-related projects is not the only benefit to coworking. The spaces provide a ready-made community where members can support and advise each other as they deal with the ups and downs of freelancing or running a business. This can help tackle the issues related to loneliness and isolation that affect many remote and individual workers.
3) Improve productivity
Coworking spaces can help workers be more productive and strike a better work-life balance.
By providing a professional yet relaxed environment to work in, shared workspaces can help members to focus on their work and learn new ideas from each other.
Working from home or coffee shops has its appeal, but this doesn’t suit everybody as a permanent arrangement. If your home is your workplace, it can be hard to find a structure to your working day and know when to “switch off” and relax, which can have a long-term negative impact on your productivity and mental health.
To counter this, many coworking spaces actively promote a healthy work-life balance by providing lounge areas and other facilities where members can take breaks during the working day.
They offer an environment where you can go to work, helping you to get a structure to your day, while allowing you to work flexibly and independently in a way that suits you.
On a more practical level, coworking spaces also allow you to focus on your work without the responsibility of looking after the maintenance of the premises. Unlike if you had your own office, you don’t need to worry about utilities, WiFi, or fixing any problems- you can just use your time to work on growing your business.
What do coworking spaces offer?
There are many types of coworking space which provide different work environments and features.
Not every space will have every option, but there are typically three kinds of workstation in coworking spaces:
- Hot desk
- Fixed desk
- Private office
For freelancers and sole workers, the first two options are likely to be the most suitable, as well as the cheapest.
Hot desking is the most flexible and cheapest arrangement as you can work in any vacant seat. Some providers may guarantee that you will always have a desk but others may not. This arrangement can be ideal for individuals just needing somewhere to set up a laptop for a few days a week or month, and it comes with the added perk that you will probably meet new people on each visit.
Fixed desks will cost more, but this arrangement does mean you are certain to have your own desk, or group of desks, where you can work, so you may not need to completely set up and pack away your work station each day (depending on the terms of the contract). For those who want to enter the space knowing they will definitely have a desk each visit, particularly if they will be using it every day, this fixed desk option may be worth the extra cost.
Some growing businesses expanding their team may prefer to rent a private office.
This could be in a shared office space made up entirely of private offices, or in a coworking space that offers private offices within its facilities, both of which can still offer flexible and short-term contracts. For more information on moving into a private office, you can visit our guide on finding your first office space.
Many coworking spaces also offer conference rooms, where you can conduct meetings with clients or other team members in your business.
However, coworking spaces are more than a collection of desks and chairs.
They also offer many other features, ranging from basic facilities that you would expect from every space to additional perks that may only be available in certain locations.
For example, coworking spaces may include the following:
- Mail-handling services
- Printers and scanners
- Kitchens and refreshments (tea, coffee, snacks, beer…)
- Weekend access and/or 24/7 access
- Secure storage
- In-house IT teams
- Social and networking events
- Break out/chill out areas with leisure activities
- Childcare/crèche facilities
- Pet-friendly areas
How to choose a coworking space
Coworking spaces differ in their designs, pricing, and facilities, so not every provider will suit your individual business needs. When choosing a suitable office space, it is important to first consider your essential business needs and not base your decision solely on the extra perks they may offer.
Some of the factors you need to compare when choosing a coworking space are:
You will want to choose a coworking office space that is easy to get to.
As most are located in towns and cities, public transport links are likely to be good, but it is worth checking what your commute would be each day. Although spaces in the centre of a city near transport hubs are likely to be more expensive than office spaces in the outskirts, the costs may balance out once you include the amount you will spend commuting- especially if you will use the space most days.
You may also want to look at the local area to see if it has shops, cafés, restaurants and other amenities that you could use during your working day.
Choosing a space in an appealing area with good transport links is a particularly significant factor if you are planning to expand your team or regularly hold meetings with clients. The space’s location, accessibility, and overall look can help to give a good impression to these visiting clients, and could also help to attract potential employees to your company.
As we have seen, your chosen workstation will impact the cost of coworking, and so will the location. Offices in high-demand locations such as central London and other big cities are likely to cost more than offices elsewhere, even if the spaces are part of the same brand.
However, the monthly or pay-as-you-go cost for the use of the workspaces is not the only fee to budget for. You should check what is included in the standard fee because, with some providers, you will need to pay extra for the use of other facilities, such as meeting rooms, locker space, or printing.
It is important to research all the possible costs you may incur, and work out whether a fully inclusive membership package or a cheaper package where you pay for certain individual services is better value for you.
Coworking spaces that offer lots of perks and benefits as part of their membership package will also come at a cost, so you should consider if they are worth the extra money (and crucially if you will use them), or if a cheaper and more basic space would be more suitable.
3) Contract terms
Each coworking space will have different terms and contract lengths, so make sure you are fully aware of what you’re signing up to and know what the rules are about changing or ending your membership.
You may also want to look at the potential for scalability under your contract.
Especially if you’re a start-up and you’re currently the only person in the business, your needs could change very quickly. So, it is helpful to know if your contract can accommodate these changes, whether that’s switching from hot desks to fixed desks, moving to a private office, or leaving the space altogether.
Because coworking spaces have different facilities, you should check if a provider has everything you need, and whether they are included in the contract cost or are subject to an additional fee.
You may also want to compare “non-essential” facilities such as gym access, massage sessions, or gaming areas, to help you to make your decision. However, you need to make sure that a space caters for all your business requirements first, such as printing and car/bike parking, and not make the perks the sole reason for choosing a particular provider!
Rather than getting excited about these extra facilities, it is more useful to think realistically about how much you would make use of them, and so assess if they are worth factoring into your decision.
5) Design and layout
Although points like cost may seem more important, the design and layout of the coworking office space are just as crucial to your decision as you need to like where you will be working! Spaces will have different desk setups, lighting, colour schemes, chairs, and more, so making sure that you will be able to work in your chosen space is essential.
There’s no point paying for a desk but when you come to work at it you find you don’t like the open-plan office or the colour of the walls. You will be spending many hours there, so make sure the design is to your liking as even a minor issue could affect how productive and happy you feel in the space.
6) Ambience and community
Similarly, experiencing the atmosphere and talking to other users can help you to choose a coworking space.
Some spaces may be very work-focused with a quiet, “library-like” atmosphere; however, others will be more talkative and encourage more discussion. So, depending on how you prefer to work and what you are looking for from your coworking space, some options may be a better fit for you than others.
Certain coworking spaces are targeted at specific industries, such as the creative sector or technology sector, or even cater for certain groups of workers such as working parents by offering on-site childcare facilities. These may be appealing if you are looking for particular facilities or want to meet and learn from like-minded people.
The only way you will know if a coworking space is the right fit for you is by visiting the site in-person, or even having a trial day before committing to a membership.
Now we have discussed how coworking spaces differ and what facilities and functions they offer, let’s look at some of the major shared workspace providers in the UK.
Coworking spaces compared
Regus is one of the world’s major providers of flexible and coworking spaces with thousands of centres located in over 100 countries. Members can use Regus workspaces in any location, which can be useful for those who travel internationally and for businesses looking to expand on a global scale.
Workspaces: Virtual office, Business lounge, Hot desk, Reserved desk, Office space, Meeting rooms.
Membership: Pay-as-you-go by the hour or by the day; Pay monthly for a set number of days or unlimited use. Contracts are for 1 month, 12 months, or 24 months.
Facilities: WiFi, printing and scanning, reception desk, call answering services, mail handling, ergonomic furniture, kitchen area, networking events. Exact facilities can vary between locations.
Founded in 2010, WeWork emphasises the community aspect of coworking spaces and can cater for individual workers to businesses with over 100 employees. They too offer a mixture of workspaces, including WeWork Labs which are targeted at start-ups and early-stage businesses, providing them with mentoring and coaching to help them grow.
Workspaces: Hot desk, Dedicated desk, Labs desk, Private office, Office suite, Conference rooms.
Membership: Monthly contracts. Fees for certain activities e.g. printing.
Facilities: WiFi, common areas and lounges, front desk/reception area, post handling, kitchen area, refreshments, networking events, wellness sessions, discounts and perks (business and lifestyle) from WeWork’s partners. Exact facilities can vary between locations.
With a focus on providing a happy and productive workplace, Work.Life has shared office spaces in London, Manchester, and Reading where members can work and collaborate. To try to create a happier workplace, Work.Life is pet-friendly and offers perks such as wellness days, yoga classes, beer and pizza nights, monthly massages, and more.
Workspaces: Hot desk, Dedicated desk, Private office, Meeting rooms.
Membership: Flex (Pay per hour or per day); Pay monthly fee for unlimited use of hot desk, dedicated desk, or private office.
Facilities: WiFi, printing and scanning, kitchen, refreshments, phone booths, networking and skill-sharing events, training opportunities, social events, discounts from partner businesses, wellness activities.
Headspace Group offers coworking space particularly targeted at the creative, media, and technology sectors. They have locations across the UK including London, Birmingham, Belfast, and Manchester and offer flexible membership plans to meet a variety of needs.
Workspaces: Coworking desks, Private office, Meeting rooms.
Membership: Pay per hour; Pay per month for a set number of hours or unlimited access.
Facilities: WiFi, kitchens, refreshments, manned office reception, networking events, discounts and deals from certain places, seminars, yoga classes, shower rooms, ergonomic chairs. Some locations may have extra amenities such as gyms, a roof terrace, break out spaces, recreational activities.
The Office Group started up in 2003 and has opened shared offices in several UK cities including London, Bristol, and Leeds. They aim to provide an environment where businesses can work and develop, with flexible membership options that allow businesses to adjust as they grow and change. They host many events for their members, including business-focused talks and workshops as well as more social and wellness-based events.
Workspaces: Virtual office, Coworking desks, Meeting rooms.
Membership: Lounge (pay monthly to access shared workspace for a number of hours each month); Pay monthly for full-time access. Pay extra for certain functions e.g. mail handling, call answering and forwarding, lockers.
Facilities: WiFi, phone and focus booths, kitchens, bars, gym discount, member events, skills workshops, socials.
As well as the larger providers mentioned above, there are many local, independent coworking and shared office spaces in cities and regions across the UK.
The kind of coworking space that is best for you will depend on your needs as, for example, if you are likely to travel and work in multiple places, then it may be worth choosing a global chain. If, however, you will be working mainly in one place, then you should examine the features and facilities of the coworking spaces in that area.
As well as comparing the obvious cost and membership plans, you also need to look at where you will be working.
Asking for a tour or a trial day before committing to a contract can help you to figure out if that particular space and its atmosphere is right for you. But remember, although perks like on-site gyms and free beer may be appealing, they shouldn’t determine your final decision as, ultimately, it is meant to be a place for you to work!
Rhiannon is a financial writer for NerdWallet, with a particular interest in personal finance and insurance guides for consumers. Read more