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Co-working: welcome to the sharing economy

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Sharing
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Martijn Roordink is the co-founder of Spaces, a co-working space network that spans 250 locations across the world.

Co-working is without a doubt revolutionising the real estate sector, but how exactly did it come about and what does it actually look like?

What is your definition of co-working?  Why it is important in this day and age?

Our perspective is that we are going through a period in which we are discovering a new way of working and co-working is one element of this. We are living in a disruptive time, every part of real estate is being disrupted and the traditional model is changing and having to adapt to this disruption. The question for real estate players is now, ‘How can I as a Building Manager define the working environment for my audience?’

We now have to deliver something that is so much more than a building that caters to demands which go above merely just being at work. We are now all looking for a new perspective, for an improved work-life balance that brings us happiness. From our working environment we crave high design, an ideal location, a shorter commute; all factors which make our lives better. We are now in a position where we have the control over these decisions, we choose to work for our own good, for the planet, for a life purpose and quality of life. These factors are of course influenced by political situations and climate change but it means we are much more aware of what drives us.

The younger generations are seeing this more than ever before and this means they have higher expectations but also greater awareness for their surrounding and their life choices. That might be that people are now prepared to work longer but maybe only four days a week, it’s about being able to make flexible choices and having an environment that allows that. With constant communications and easy connections, travel is easy and the work place is never that far away so co-working is an extension of that desire and way of working and living.

The great thing about co-working spaces is their ability to bring people together. At Spaces our philosophy is all about doing this, through discussions, events and the chance to interact. With loneliness being a big social issue, this is something which we know is important and one of the reasons why Spaces is so attractive. Despite the huge rise in technology, people still need physical interaction so being amongst others is crucial. We covet a sense of belonging and Spaces facilitates that. A sharing economy is hugely important and forms the foundations for Spaces.

Martijn Roordink
Martijn Roordink, CO-founder, spaces

Why did you start Spaces along with Frederique Keuning? What did the co-working market look like at the time?

We started Spaces in 2005 and at the time there were multi-tenant buildings, such as the World Trade Centre which comprised restaurants, bars and offices in one place but were very traditional. We saw an opportunity to be entrepreneurial and to offer flexibility, which at the time, did not exist.

We wanted to mix music, art and coffee with the workplace, therefore redefining our ‘perfect spot’. At the time, this simply didn’t exist. I remember then in Amsterdam there was a surge in interest in good food and drinks, people were suddenly aware of this and wanted better, richer experiences. In contrast offices were grey and dull and if you wanted to get a good coffee you had to go outside and get one, we wanted to change that.

When did you set up your first branch in Amsterdam? How has Spaces grown from that point?

We launched our first branch in 2008 and I have to say it was a big challenge. It was the time of the economic crisis so investors were telling us that they didn’t think it would work from a customer perspective. We were sure however that by offering clients a good environment with a product that suited them, a brand identity that worked for them and a sense of belonging, that they wouldn’t want to leave. This was confirmed when four months after the opening of the first branch, it was completely full.

Because of the financial crisis at the time we couldn’t grow as quickly as we would have perhaps liked. We had to create a new business model and adapt to being a small company that wanted to grow fast. After two years we managed to get to this place because the market had to change. The cultural change in the way of thinking was huge, now everyone realises what a benefit co-working is. The market had to change and we anticipated that and offered the right solution. Once the market had turned around and thinking had adapted, we were able to progress quickly with our next set of branches. In 2010 we opened a branch of 18,000 m2 in Amsterdam’s Central Business District (CBD), then one in the Hague and in 2014 a fourth branch.

The more we teamed up with big customers the more and more attractive Spaces became. Companies realised that re-working the attractiveness of their offices meant that they attracted better talent. It therefore became more a HR preposition than a real estate one, making it more about people than square metres.

In 2015 we opened offices in London, Melbourne and New York and to date we have 104 locations globally. A highlight for this year will be opening a Spaces office in the Chrysler building.

Does your offer change depending on the country?

I don’t believe it does. Behaviour within large cities tends to be very similar. People living in cities experience a fast-paced life whereby they crave energy and a certain lifestyle. This means that they are attracted to very comparable offers and crave the same kind of spaces. Amsterdam, being such an international city really acts like a mirror for what is happening across Europe.

Martijn Roordink

Our perspective is that we are going through a period in which we are discovering a new way of working and co-working is one element of this. We are living in a disruptive time, every part of real estate is being disrupted and the traditional model is changing and having to adapt to this disruption. The question for real estate players is now, ‘How can I as a Building Manager define the working environment for my audience?’

Martijn Roordink
Co- founder, Spaces
Amsterdam

How important was the second branch within the Dutch CBD in which BNP Paribas Real Estate was involved?

We teamed up with BNP Paribas Real Estate when a client was looking to relocate offices for 1-2 years. We offered them 9,000 m2 of tailor-made space. This co-creation demonstrated our ability to deliver such a successful tailor-made solution and is something Spaces continues to offer for clients across the world.

How have you manage to scale up so rapidly? What were the major challenges?

We act in a way like business franchises. We create firm processes and strict guidelines which can be rolled out anywhere. Location and design are key but once these are sourced these can be executed locally. We are able to move easily from a macro level to a micro one depending on the business needs. We adapt to culture and invest in our own.

Learning to let go of micro-managing is also key. We have to be constantly thinking about what our customers’ needs are, what their demands are and how we can improve. What can we learn, how can we simplify procedures and focus on our core propositions; events, meetings and offices and retain our brand values.  

What has your growth been like during the last 10 years? Can you give us some highlights?

I think what is really important for me is the fact that we had a dream and we are now living that dream. Although we have grown an incredible amount in the 14 years since we started Spaces, our mentality and ways of working mean it still feels like a start-up. We manage 700,000 m2 which is a significant amount but in comparison to how much space is out there, we are very small. There are still a lot of challenges to overcome and this is very motivating for us. We are growing, but not by too much.

We know that what is important is to consider each location where we set a Spaces office up and take the time to understand it and think about how the Spaces office fits into it. Smaller neighbourhoods within a city are our USP, as we consider why people live and work there and how we cater to those people.

What do you see when looking at main European capital cities and the prime office market?

The office market is becoming more and more expensive across Europe. This means that companies are more willing to invest in the sharing economy, taking a smaller piece of the pie so to speak. Our business model is therefore attractive as we are able to build good partnerships with building owners. They trust us as they believe that we can improve the life cycle of a building by attracting and retaining tenants, and when those tenants do move on, we are able to easily adapt and manage the location, no matter what changes may occur.

How are co-work spaces like Spaces impacting the investment market?

I think at the start investors didn’t believe we had a viable option for building owners. Now people are very aware of the added value of co-working spaces, and see that by adding a co-working area to a part of a building will have an improved impact. Now in the life cycle of a building, the owner understands that they need this flexible, co-working space to thrive.

I believe we are going through a period of change in real estate, the sector is being rethought and players are questioning how to future proof it. Spaces offers that solution and is impacting the market in that way.

How important is design for Spaces?

It is vital for our business. You have to create an identity for each customer but this has to also reflect the values of Spaces. In my opinion we have to make use of what we have on earth, to make something that is going to last so this also comes into our design.

Differentiation is key, just like when you go to a hotel or restaurant. We use a lot of minimalistic Northern European notes creating timelessness, we want tenants to be attracted and energised by the design. Of course we adapt to the space and building we set up in, so there are clear differences between our locations but we want there to be shared values and a shared identity.

What’s next for Spaces?

We are set to open 130-150 new locations so we will have 1 million m2 across 50 countries.

Our aim is really to keep growing, to make better strategic partnerships and to be more socially engaged. A highlight for us will be opening a Spaces in Wonderwoods location in Utrecht. We now have to deliver something that is so much more than a building: it will cater to the demand, going beyond just a workplace. We are all looking for a new perspective, for an improved work-life balance that brings us happiness. We choose to work for our own good, for the planet, for a life purpose and a quality of life. These factors are of course influenced by political situations and climate change but it means that we are much more aware of what drives us.

Growth for us is about maintaining the quality of our vision, building a better network for people, ensuring less commuting times, higher productivity and greater well-being.

Coworking Trendbook

Co-working TrendBook

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