Business

Will Northern Ireland be next to experience co-working craze?

Part of the shared space at Ormeau Baths in Belfast

CO-WORKING spaces are often known for their energy, buzz and sense of community, but until now they haven't been the first choice option for new companies and solo entrepreneurs in Northern Ireland.

But that could be about to change as a growing trend continues to gain momentum. Our national office team has seen a ripple in co-working companies, such as Wework, Desklodge and Spaces by Regus, out from central London to many regions within the UK. Wework seemingly are the most aggressive provider and plan to double the size of its UK business in 2018 and double it again in 2019.

Amidst the new digital era, tech start-ups and entrepreneurial talent, our national office team has seen a spike in interest in co-working companies which could change up the local market in 2018.

To the property professional, co-working is known as collaborative office space, providing occupiers with trendy office space, centralised resources and, in theory, a shared network of like-minded businesses.

However, to its residents, it is a community. An inspiring environment where businesses learn from one another and generate new business opportunities together by developing relationships.

They provide a brand, a working day structure, an inspiring environment, a networking platform, social events, flexibility to scale-up, as well as a professional place to hold business meetings outside of the home.

Many of the start-ups who began life in co-working space are experiencing growth, becoming scale-ups. Some choose to expand the space they take in their co-working environment, others decide to take on a more traditional lease, often in the same building.

Every provider is different, however, the overall ethos is hospitality – a pleasant, warm, welcoming place in which to spend your time, a host as opposed to a receptionist, actively encouraged interaction with other residents. You are not renting a private windowless one desk room, you are working in a relaxed environment be that in an armchair, a desk, or a beanbag. There are private rooms for quiet working, and telephone rooms for private calls. If you specifically need confidential space then private offices are also available to rent on flexible leasing terms.

In Northern Ireland we already have some fantastic facilities including The Hub in Newry, Blick Studios in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter and Ormeau Baths in the city centre. In fact the partners that have already signed up to Ormeau Baths, including Eagle Labs, TechstartNI, Ulster University and UK Business Angels Association, show the credibility and demand there already is in the city.

We have demonstrated that our market can modernise to support the new wave of future tenants, but our landlords need to remain ahead of this trend.

While some of the larger co-working companies may consider conventional leases, albeit at a reduced headline rents or management agreements; smaller firms and incubators, are bootstrapped so need incentivised rent to run. Once start-ups outgrow their co- working space, they tend to look inside the wider “office home” for their new office space.

In London co-working is fast becoming a solution for big progressive corporates, such as Dyson and EY, too. These environments provide flexible solutions for regional offices, reducing overheads and allowing expansion and contraction easily. They allow specific departments, such as IT, to work with like-minded technical people from other organisations, sparking collaboration and innovative solutions.

This year the power is certainly in the hands of the modern office tenant as they continue to dictate the facilities they want from their office space. Co-working has the potential to change up the market in 2018 and we encourage landlords in Northern Ireland to explore the opportunities to respond to this growing regional demand.

:: Greg Henry is associate director of agency at Lambert Smith Hampton (www.lsh.co.uk).

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