Sean: Can you describe what your remote office space in Cheltenham is like, literally what it’s like inside and whereabouts in Cheltenham it is?
Claire: We’ve got a couple of spaces – one of them is based in the town centre and another much bigger one in Montpellier, so we are really close to the centre of everything. We do coworking spaces and have about fifty desks that people just hire by the day. Or lots of members come in monthly for a set number of days to run their businesses. We also have some private offices, virtual offices, and meeting spaces.
S: So, there’s a variety of things there. What are you seeing in particular? What services are you seeing have an increase this week?
C: It’s just the daily passes for coworking. People who have never been into coworking before are finding that they suddenly need to work from home and might not have the facilities. They may have children at home, so they are booking in the night before and coming in the morning to have a desk for the day.
S: Are people literally doing a bit of Googling the night before? Doing a classic ‘office space Cheltenham’ Google and then you pop up, or are these relationships you’ve had with businesses before, where they are looking to start using that a bit more frequently?
C: When I’ve spoken to them, they’ve been saying it has been searching for hot desks and coworking desks on Google and up we pop. We’re the only ones who offer day passes so they’re booking at 10 o’clock at night and coming in at 8 o’clock in the morning.
S: And do you have a bit of a game plan for a week like this to try and entice people to keep doing that – is that your thinking?
C: Yes, we think it’s great for anybody to find out about coworking. Especially since there are so many industries that don’t think they can cowork who come in and then they actually stay. We had some people who came in yesterday just for the day and by the afternoon they had booked permanent desks and will be coming in every month. They were saying ‘why would we commute to London everyday when this is nicer and easier?’
S: Amazing how quickly these things can change. Do you know who ends up paying for that? Are the workers themselves coughing up for it or are they able to expense it back to their business so that they are not actually having increased costs of having an office?
C: I think it is roughly fifty-fifty. We send invoices directly to businesses so lots of them are expensing. But a lot of people are actually finding that – though they thought the idea of working from home is great and they’ve agreed to it – they’re going stir crazy and just pay for it themselves because they are so much more productive here.
S: Right, so it’s not just a step away from headquarters – this is a step away from the working from home that some people have done?
C: Totally. The kind of demographics of the people we have in, almost all have office space at home but they’re choosing not to use it five days a week if that’s what their job is asking them to do. It works much better for them to come in about two days a week and break the week up.
S: And are there other demographics? Do you spot trends of the type of person coming in to your workspaces?
C: The people that come in are so varied. The only thing that I’ve managed to narrow down is that they are all very intelligent. We have writers, authors, people that work for newspapers, we get the typical cyber people – as you would expect in Cheltenham – but we also get lawyers, recruitment consultants, and software engineers. The thing they have in common, among the variety of jobs, is that they’re really bright and they’re motivated.
S: Interesting. What consequences do you see of that when you have a bunch of intelligent, hard-working people of Cheltenham from various sectors all in the same space?
C: It works brilliantly because people who come in would normally be going to their own office and only speaking to people from their own industry. Instead, they are coming in and talking to people they would never normally meet in their work environment. So, we’ve got people that are doing cyber things talking to people working in defence who are talking to recruiters and accountants. They wouldn’t normally every come across these people so there are some really interesting conversations that go on in the kitchen here.
S: Fascinating stuff, Claire. Thank you for a bit of insight for us to see how it is affecting people’s work this week. Potentially, could this be another jolt for many people around the country to work in a bit of a different way? This will no doubt add to the debate about whether employers want us all back into offices as many days a week as possible. Does it make any difference to be based at headquarters or in a remote office space somewhere?