East Croydon Cool talks…Co-Working

East Croydon Cool talks…is a blog series that explores topics of cultural interest via local area experts. This month we chatted with several key players from Croydon’s Co-Working scene to learn more about the buildings which are fast replacing traditional meeting places to become the heart of both the local business and social community.

With the increase in start-ups and more entrepreneurial driven careers, co-working spaces are now a common site along the high street. Providing an inspiring space for people to meet, learn and do business with other like-minded individuals, these hubs are a lifeline for those who have gone against the grain of traditional employment. Here in Croydon, we’re spoilt for choice with Business Xchange Hub, Matthews Yard, NEXUS, Sussex Innovation Centre and TMRW to name just a few.

Additionally, the number of people taking on side-hustles (passion projects people work on to earn an additional income stream) has increased massively (a recent survey of adults in full time employment found that 1 in 4 are working ‘5 to 9’ after returning from their ’9 to 5’).

This has had a big impact of café culture, with many local coffee shops openly welcoming ‘lap-toppers’ with free wifi, easy to access plugs and refills (The Store in South Croydon recently introduced a ‘£5 Bottomless Coffee’ deal which runs from Tues to Fri from 12pm to 5pm).

So should you be signing up for membership at a much coveted co-working space or is hot desking at coffee shops across the Borough more appropriate? We spoke to representatives at Sussex Innovation Centre, TMRW and NEXUS to better understand the benefits of working within a co-working space.

How would you explain a Co-Working space/community?

Saffron from Sussex Innovation Centre:
“There are various different co-working space models, but our hub is a bit of a hybrid; we have offices with full-time tenants, ‘virtual’ members who drop in most days to use their laptop in a hot-desking room, and people who use our open plan space more casually, just for the occasional meeting or to get a few hours of work done in between appointments. Good co-working spaces should offer that kind of flexibility, and community is the other really important factor. When you’re working alongside people of a similar mindset who work in a different field, it creates a great environment for ideas and creativity to flourish”.

Marcela from TMRW
“By definition co-working spaces are shared office spaces, but the concept is much bigger than that. I see co-working (and TMRW) as a place of possibilities, where professionals and entrepreneurs can leverage a network, a collective mindset and set of experiences (good and bad) that is greater than their own. Yes, it’s true that dozens or hundreds of people can share an office and never talk or help each other, there’s plenty of that in the industry, but it’s also true that a certain kind of magic can happen if you nurture a culture of collaboration and ownership under that same roof. The first (ever) co-working spaces were not created as a business model, they were created in someone’s living room, out of the human need for connection, shared experiences and community. Community and co-working are intrinsically connected, and if they are not, then we’re just talking about serviced offices”.

Mark from NEXUS:
“The great thing about Croydon is that there are different models, each with their own unique look and feel to appeal to a person(s) need. A co-working space like NEXUS is beyond the bricks and mortar. We incubate talent and support our community to help them grow. Support may be through having a considerate professional set up so they can use the space to focus on ‘getting work done’ but beyond this we aim to make our community stakeholders in the NEXUS proposition. This sort of approach is beyond that what you will get if you work out of say Starbucks. Notwithstanding this, the coffee shop set up definitely has a place and offer. The conversations had within our walls, the access to events, knowledge and other talent, mean a co-working community can thrive and work off each other’s skill sets.”

What do you think has driven the increase in demand for co-working spaces?

Saffron from Sussex Innovation Centre:
“The idea of working from home is so attractive but the reality can be isolating and incredibly distracting. Someone recently told me working from home was bad for his waistline as he spent most of the day in the fridge! Working alongside other people helps you keep focus and separate your work and home life. Even if you’re always going to be prone to procrastination, having other freelancers and start-ups around helps you to get more value out of stepping away from your screen. Being part of a community brings all sorts of organic opportunities, from invitations to events you may not otherwise have heard about, to introductions to potential clients or collaborators”.

Marcela from TMRW:
“The demand has been powered mostly by economic changes. Like most other industries, if it can be rented instead of purchased, people will opt and even pay more for flexibility. Think bike sharing, car sharing, Fat Llama, etc. Same goes for offices. Why pay a fixed hard set 5 year contract for an office you don’t know for sure you’ll need, if you can pay as you go (and grow)? The way we work is also dramatically changing. Technology and the gig economy have made it easier for people to start their own businesses and to work flexibly and/or remotely. There’s a lot of us now working outside of a conventional office and job setup, seeking autonomy and better quality of life. Co-working spaces offer that support and flexibility that freelancers, remote workers and entrepreneurs need to be able to focus on their businesses”.

Mark from NEXUS:
“Various factors have instigated the increase in demand for co-working spaces. Large operators like WeWork have become attractive for other large corporates who wish to have staff working in smaller teams but across different locations without having to manage the overheads. For smaller businesses or start-ups, there have been good success stories from people who have worked within such communities. Through word of mouth this has encouraged others to realise the benefits of doing so. One of our NEXUS members recently said to us that she was grateful to have had the opportunity and courage to take the leap of faith and work from NEXUS having previously worked out of her home office. Whilst at home, she found the distractions there were always present. Getting up in the morning and ‘going to work’ from a spot like ours, puts one in a mindset geared towards productivity. It’s also important to remember that working at home or in a coffee shop can be a lonely experience. There are many challenges one might face as a small business and having the ability to share these experiences with likeminded people who are living the same life can be a welcome relief, helping to reduce stress / anxiety.”

Why is the interior design of the space so important?

Saffron from Sussex Innovation Centre:
“Again, it’s about flexibility. It needs to be suitable for a range of different requirements; you might have a FinTech founder meeting with a corporate client, web designers having a few coffees and brainstorming ideas, a salesperson needing a quiet zone to make some phone calls. We try to design our space with areas for people to interact in different-sized groups, and other areas to provide some privacy when it’s needed. People are also looking for somewhere that’s stylish and welcoming, but still a place where they can get some work done. We’re under new management at Sussex Innovation, and our new Chief Exec wants to eliminate white walls – so our space may be getting a facelift soon!”

Marcela from TMRW
“It’s more than proven that the environment you work from will affect your health, your productivity and your creativity. We built TMRW to be spacious, full of natural light, stylish and functional. And we also made sure to include a little chaos in our design, so if you visit the space, you’ll notice we don’t have straight walls or regular squared offices. That was intentional, as we know the brain thrives from unexpected visual disruptions. It’s also important to have a space that is functional enough to accommodate different needs and styles of work, while also being conducive for collaboration.”

Mark from NEXUS:
Farouk, co-founder of NEXUS and I have spent time working in the city and know how important it is to posture, in particular, to have excellent furniture that is ergonomically designed. We’ve sought to invest in the surroundings so that our community feel comfortable, especially when working long hours sometimes into the early hours of the morning editing pics or video content etc. We have bespoke signature pieces throughout the venue such as our Rosen bridge inspired pendant lighting fixture that overlooks the main space designed by British designer Timothy Oulton as well unique pieces that acts as functional art such as our velvet soft seating with ecologically recycled canvas on the back adorned with artwork and spitfire riveted boardroom chairs, swan seats and egg pods. We created NEXUS to be a space where people can walk into and experience the same level of fit out that one would expect from the very top establishments in the West End or the city. We didn’t want to go for the cliché WeWork/Scandinavian inspired look that we have often come across but rather have a space that is functional with the attention to detail that inspire creatives and people who hold these efforts in high value. The walls were kept clean of adornments as NEXUS is designed to be a true ‘working’ gallery. We are delighted to have hosted a number of exhibitions with our current show being curated by one of our members BetterShared.

If you could highlight one thing that makes your space stand out from others, what would it be?

Saffron from Sussex Innovation Centre:
“Support – we are not just a space with WiFi full of desks, we have a team of experienced staff who get to know members and offer them strategic advice to help them grow, and a new cohort of graduates every year, who we hire out to work on projects. It’s an affordable way of getting jobs done and talent spotting for growing companies, also giving the grads an amazing experience working with all sorts of different innovators in so many different sectors that they may not even have heard of. We’ve seen a few co-workers move into their own offices creating more jobs recently – it’s wonderful to be part of”.

Marcela from TMRW:
“Combined, our management team has built 18 companies and has 1 startup to IPO, four successful exits and a bunch of failures in the bag. We help our members and startups with their challenges (big and small) because each of us has been there, tracing that same path they are on right now. We’ve helped them raise several million Pounds in investment (from big-name VC funds that had never invested south of the river before), we’ve helped them staff their teams, we’ve helped them fix broken business models and we’ve been there to support them on their day to day experience of running a business. Together we have created an environment that is conducive for collaboration and has in one year generated over £250k in revenues between members.”

Mark from NEXUS:
Our group, Cellar Door, our main bread and butter activity remains in creative event management. We’ve lived and continue to live the life of a creative so we understand the our creative community first hand. This authenticity is both invaluable and rare. We created NEXUS because of the absence of somewhere (local) that really nailed what our needs were. We wanted to create a home for creatives that they would be proud to see as their own space. By the nature of what creatives do, people may only drop in a couple of times a week and some of our members work on international campaigns. However they know that on returning to London, NEXUS is their home and that the NEXUS network is global.

How do you foster a sense of community?

Saffron from Sussex Innovation Centre:
“We use Slack to communicate with members and for them to communicate with each other, and we try to create opportunities to socialise, from more formal events through to ‘Friday win’ drinks (where we have a quick drink on a Friday afternoon and share the achievements we’re most proud of from the week). We have an amazing team of people who really care and get to know our members, make introductions and help people feel like they’re not going it alone”.

Marcela from TMRW:
“Community starts with a sense of ownership. When members join TMRW they are invited to a conversation about where our community is going and where they believe it should go. Everything we do is co-created by our members and I make sure they understand there’s no community if they don’t show up, if they don’t share their time, their experiences, their networks, their feedback and ideas. I take the onboarding of a new member as an opportunity to plant a seed in their minds; I want them to see beyond desks and Wifi, I want them to see that there’s more value to get (and offer to others) if they give back and understand they have a level of responsibility with that community. Everything else sorts of fall into place from there. We have a welcoming environment and plenty of opportunities for connections to happen and for members to influence and shape the ecosystem around them, but I like to always remind myself and the team that, at the end of the day, events and software are just tools. The spark will start in much smaller and subtle things.”

Mark from NEXUS:
“We foster a sense of community by first making sure that everyone feels welcome, regardless of whether one is an experienced high flying business or just starting out. We also very much event led, given our expertise, where we curate events to nurture members and the wider community meeting. An example of this was a music industry networking night where local resident and NEXUS member Swiss from So Solid Crew Dj’ed. This was extremely well received, and we will be broadening this out with more events of this nature from November. We are also welcoming leadership accelerator Reena Dayal to talk about how our members can master the art and science of effortless leadership and learn to unlock their hidden creative potential. Listening to member feedback means we can deliver activities that they need / want, whilst at the same time bringing them together.”

How do you encourage members to work together?

Saffron from Sussex Innovation Centre:
“Again, through introductions, networking and signposting. We sometimes put on themed events, gathering a group of people together who are looking for a co-founder, or trying to sell their technology into local government, for example. You never know where the connection is going to come from, you just have to listen out for it and make the introduction when you spot it”.

Marcela from TMRW:
“It starts from the moment they join, like I said. If they have that seed in their minds, if they realise the infinite connections and possibilities, they will look inside the community before going anywhere else. And because we’re constantly encouraging them to meet and to nurture their relationships with other members, there’s also a level of trust in the community that is hard to find anywhere else. Hiring a service from Tom who sits at the desk next to yours, has two kids and is allergic to peanuts is completely different than hiring a service from a faceless company, and our members understand and value that. Most collaboration in our space will start as it should, through relationship building, in what could be perceived as a silly conversation over a kettle boiling or a Community Lunch. If they voice their needs they will inevitably be put in the direction of someone that can help, either by one of us in the management team or by another member. No point of contact can be taken for granted in a coworking space. A ping pong competition and a bake off are not just designed for fun, they are opportunities to connect the dots. I say to members all the time: someone in this space has the answer to the question keeping you awake at night; your job is to find them”.

Mark from NEXUS:
“Nexus is a space where the best creatives work alongside each other, sharing knowledge and ideas. We are pretty old school so are active in speaking to our members over and above using apps. Whilst apps are great, conversations held face to face are so much more productive. We make it our business to understand what different people both within the NEXUS members and out, might be working on and never hesitate to make introductions where skill/projects / ideas may have synergy”.

What type of people does your space tend to attract?

Saffron from Sussex Innovation Centre:
“We have one main criterion we look for – that is being innovative, a disruptive business idea that could help create new jobs. So anyone ambitious to create a business bigger than just themselves should be working from our space, as we offer so much more than just a desk for amazing value”.

Marcela from TMRW:
“We have a mix of tech, creative and digital companies, from one (wo)man bands to teams of 20, so it’s a healthy blend of people, but they all have this restlessness in common, which, as a result, keeps us always pushing to be better. Unlike all other spaces in Croydon, we’re purely for digital companies, big and small, and don’t accept lawyers, accountants, etc, which, we believe, makes for a better ecosystem for our members.”

Mark from NEXUS:
“We founded NEXUS for people just like us: a space for creatives by creatives. At NEXUS we come together as a community of like-minded people, from the creative industries, including but not limited to music, fashion, dance, art, events, copyrighting, film, marketing, PR, social media and design. We’ve been open for about ten months and thus far the growth has been organic. The natural footfall that we have attracted has first and foremost been reflective of our values – good people. There are no egos walking around just genuine passionate creatives eager to get work done and make a success of their talent. Our membership is very much reflective of the people of Croydon all doing great things”.

What should members do to ensure they get the most from their membership?

Saffron from Sussex Innovation Centre:
“Just come in – we have different levels of membership but those that make the most of membership are those that give lots themselves. We have speaking slots at events, and resources through our connection with The University of Sussex and those that make the most noise get the most oil”!

Marcela from TMRW:
“They have to show up. For events, for each other, for the conversations about where TMRW and our community is going. It’s fine if you’re just looking for a space to work from, you will get a great one, but the biggest value will always come from people.”

Mark from NEXUS:
“Share. Share content and what one might be working on since through our events in other areas within the group (Cellar Door) and also our promotional channels coupled with that of our member base, NEXUS has the capacity to really help take your business to the next level. Also sharing experiences will help a member learn quickly from the pitfalls others in the NEXUS community may have faced in their respective creative industries. We will also be announcing an exciting new initiative that is launching here at NEXUS from January 2020 so watch this space!”

 

Huge thanks to Saffron Saunders (Croydon Centre Manager at Sussex Innovation Centre), Marcela Donatello (Community & Programme Director at TMRW) and Mark Sarfo-Kantanka (Co-Founder of NEXUS) for their contributions.

1 thought on “East Croydon Cool talks…Co-Working

  1. Reblogged this on CellarDoor's Blog.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close