Every business has its own unique office requirements, and understanding the options will help get your SME off to a flying start.
While flexible working is hardly a new idea, the past decade has seen thousands of businesses take the concept to the next level – thanks in no small part to collaborative tools that allow a geographically distributed group of colleagues to work together as easily as if they were sitting in the same room.
Add to this an acceptance that you really don’t need sole use of your very own business premises to be effective, and the options available to today’s SMEs are as varied as they are exciting – not to mention affordable, too. Whether you choose to work from home, a local co-working hub or a luxurious shared office space, there are a growing number of alternatives to the cubicles of years gone by.
Office concepts fit for the 21st century
Twenty years ago, people dreamt of having their very own corner office, says workspace expert Chris Jenkins of Office Principles, an office design company that works with clients across Europe. Today’s entrepreneurs no longer aspire to this: they mostly just want a chair, a surface and somewhere to power up their phone and laptop. With that comes the freedom to feel that – whether they’re in their home office at 11pm or using the local Starbucks as their office base – it all counts as bona fide work time.
When planning a new workspace, Office Principles is often guided by the reality that, in most offices, the number of employees present at any given time is only between 60% and 75%. “We use those statistics to exploit the fact that a business can generally use less space overall and reduce the cost of occupancy,” says Jenkins, adding that office rental costs have skyrocketed in recent years.
Balancing different business priorities
The rising cost of office space isn’t the only motivator for seeking out an alternative, dynamic workspace option, though. Being surrounded by like-minded businesses at a co-working or shared office space also means you have a network of possible clients and collaborators at your disposal. Interacting with firms from other industries can help ensure that water-cooler chats become productive, useful moments that add value to both staff and companies.
“It can be hard to build a start-up on your own, and having a supportive community around you really helps,” says Patrick Walsh, founder and managing director of Dublin co-working space Dogpatch Labs. “That’s exactly what we’ve built here.”
Dogpatch Labs supports tech start-ups, and its residents include heavyweights such as customer-messaging platform Intercom and online learning platform Udemy, both of which have raised tens of millions of dollars in venture capital funding over the past few years. Dogpatch Labs helps Irish start-ups expand and scale, with the aim of turning them into global players.
“It can be hard to build a start-up on your own and having a supportive community around you really helps”
Patrick Walsh, founder and CEO, Dogpatch Labs
A shared office space can also improve workers’ well-being by encouraging a better work-life balance, making employees feel less isolated at work. This has multiple benefits for a business: according to the Economic and Social Research Institute, work-related illness causes 790,000 productive days to be lost in Ireland annually, while around 18% of those absences are directly related to stress, anxiety and depression.
“You have the ability to work where you want, with whom you want, and even when you want,” says Walsh. “It’s less formal than the traditional office, allowing for a flexible schedule. You can come and go as you please.”
Especially for smaller companies, shared office spaces help create peer support groups. These factors offer additional business benefits.
Don’t forget about work culture
You can’t just drop a team from a large corporate office into a quirky co-working space and expect them to start sitting on beanbags and sharing playlists. Work culture is often built alongside or before a business actually selects a workspace. So an awareness of which values matter most to your company, an understanding of the culture of your chosen workspace and a certain level of open-mindedness are all really important.
“Working alongside a diverse group of driven individuals allows you to understand different perspectives. It fosters new ways of thinking,” Walsh says. “Co-working gives you more than a place to work and some people to share a space with – it allows you to network on a daily basis, and provides you with a community support system that wants you to succeed.”
Selecting the right work venue requires SMEs to consider the external as well as the internal, so you’ll need to seek out more than the perfect hot-desk setup. Firms must consider what their chosen office says about them if they plan to host meetings with clients, or events that reflect their brand. For instance, a graphic design start-up won’t want to present its work to clients in a windowless room with white walls, and a company that runs regular conferences will likely require access to a relevant on-site space or at least somewhere close by.
“It gives us a great sense of pride to be able to bring our potential clients to Dogpatch and show them the vibrant, energetic and innovative home that we have, which very much matches our company’s ethos,” says Hesus Inoma, founder and CEO of insurtech start-up WeSavvy, one of the companies based at Dogpatch Labs. “This, coupled with the opportunity to work among fast-paced businesses and other hardworking members, makes it a perfect home for us and our company.”
Work from the cloud
Given the workspace-related cost challenges that start-ups and small businesses are facing at the moment, particularly in the Greater Dublin area, businesses can benefit from thinking outside the box about their requirements. Meeting up just one or two days a week is a solution that works well for many teams in terms of productivity and work-life balance, especially when the cloud already facilitates easy and collaborative remote working.
Two such cloud-based tools are Slack and Trello. Slack is a chat platform that allows teams to keep in touch, while Trello is a digital app that helps organise workflow into a convenient digital Post-it Note-style system. Tools like these can easily be utilised to create virtual spaces that replicate activities that might have traditionally taken place in an office.
Of course, it’s not all about virtual spaces, though – co-working venues can also contribute huge value when it comes to business development and business growth, Inoma says: “We have greatly benefited from in-house expertise, introductions and networks, mentorship programmes and the very many Dogpatch events on offer. [These] have made a huge difference to the way we work.”
When weighing up your options, remember that one of the best things about shared offices, hot-desking and even working in an internet cafe is you don’t need to make any long-term commitments. If it’s not for you, you can simply move on. For agile and open-minded start-ups, workspace options have never been better.