No More Watercooler
The Future of Coworking?

image of The Future of Coworking?

In the first episode of Season 2, we speak to three very different type of coworking businesses and ask what covid means for the future of working together.


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Episode Notes

Recorded during the height of the lockdown, we spoke to three very different type of coworking businesses - Hannah Philp of Arc, Matthew Lloyd of Wurkr and Ben Carew of WeCoffee in conversation with Matthew Knight, discuss how COVID might affect physical and virtual coworking.

Hannah Philp is Co-Founder of ARC Club, a neighbourhood workplace for people who are tired of working from home. Find out more at  www.arc-club.com

Matthew Lloyd is CXO at Wurkr, an online office platform enabling distributed teams to work, build culture, creativity and remove isolation. Find out more at wurkr.io

Ben Carew is co-founder of WeCoffee which to allows anyone to work from anywhere by easily finding high-quality workspaces for free. Find out more at wecoffee.io

Guest Management: Stephanie Ressort
Theme Music: Composed and Performed by Mat Dobson

Share your thoughts


Matthew Lloyd: [00:00:00] We've gotta wear masks to go  shopping, but  I dunno how that works if you go to the bank though, does everybody think they're going to get robbed?

Matthew Knight: [00:00:15] I'm Matthew Knight and welcome to another episode of No more watercooler. This week, we have a wonderful collection of people together to talk about what the potential for coworking is post COVID. Will it have changed? Will the old model of turning up to a, a space with hundreds of other people be out of the window?

Or is it, is it the future of what our offices are going to be looking like? I am joined by Hannah, Matthew and Ben. Thank you so much for joining me this afternoon, Hannah, how are you?

Hannah Philp: [00:00:52] Oh, thank you. Yeah, we're, I'm gearing up to open a space in less than two weeks, so I'm rather hectic, but I'm delighted to have found the time to join you all for a conversation.

Matthew Knight: [00:01:07] Thank you, Hannah. I really appreciate it, Matthew, how are you?

Matthew Lloyd: [00:01:10] I'm great. Thank you, Matthew. We are currently in phase three of deescalation on Island and, COVID is, has had a, a positive impact on our business. So it's probably different from many other organizations. I suspect

Matthew Knight: [00:01:27] That's great to hear and Ben, how are you?

Ben Carew: [00:01:29] I'm very good. Thank you. I'm enjoying working from home and spending lots of time in the garden and yeah, very good. Thank you.

Matthew Knight: [00:01:36] Well, thank you for coming together and discussing this. I've very specifically brought you together because you, you think about coworking in very different ways. So I'd love to start off with, if you could just give us a, a brief introduction to how you see coworking as, as your business model, portrays it.

Hannah, let's start with you. Can you tell us about Arc

Hannah Philp: [00:01:56] Yeah, of  course. So Arc is a neighborhood workspace and it was really created, From my experience and that of my cofounders in the workplace that we needed, someone that was in between an office space and home. it was either that we had already had an office space, but spent one or two days a week working from home or that we were freelancers, but didn't want to take.

out the customer office. Now there's many reasons why people don't want it enough. Some of them, have come yeah. To force even more recently with COVID-19 one of the important ones being that some people, for some people, it doesn't work having a long commute. And then they might have other commitments and domestic commitments narrow to home, or for some reason or other want to have a workplace as much narrow home.

So art club is different from what many people might be familiar with in coworking. And it's always going to be in residential neighborhoods, not in city centers, we've designed an operating model that can, be, that can take on. Underutilized assets. So like ground floor, retail, small spaces, and we're really focused on supporting the idea of neighborhoods.

So we believe that, you know, everything that you need can and should be in your local neighborhood. And that, that might also bring us a greater sense of wellbeing, and kind of balance and all that.

Matthew Knight: [00:03:20] Then you also have a model which is very much around using underutilized spaces. Tell us about weak coffee.

Ben Carew: [00:03:26] Yeah, it's really interesting. And actually hang on, I should probably have a chat, at some point. So we launched a model providing totally free white space for people where they could get free coffee and big discounts on food and drink for free and on the utilized workspaces around London, our goal was to reduce Camita and put them distributed.

and. Non centrally located area. One of them from an environmental impact, or you worked on lots of mobility services, like ride hailing and transport solutions. And I believe the best commute is no commute, not helicopter from Uber or something like that. Perfectly not very environment

Matthew Knight: [00:04:06] we should investigate a whole is which, which of the apps is going to do, on demand horses first.

Ben Carew: [00:04:11] That'd be cool. Actually,

we had something not too dissimilar to get to the pub and back here, the interesting thing for us is we found that people didn't do it. They wanted to commute into  and they want to go and new spaces in zone one and wouldn't use the spaces locally, why we put them. So we love from what people were doing and started putting spaces.

And so in one, I'm really hoping postcode changes that maybe a little more used to this. I'm really interested to see what happens. But I don't know. I guess one thing the first time that I was wrong, I'm hesitant,

Matthew Knight: [00:04:54] very disappointed to hear that you don't have a crystal ball. Cause I think we could all benefit from that. And Matthew, tell us about worker because you're taking a very different model again.

Matthew Lloyd: [00:05:03] Yeah. So work is a virtual office. So it's a digital platform that replicates, an online. Office or coworking space, if you would like to revisit it in that perspective.

And it's the idea is to allow people to work from anywhere, but together so much in the same elk way, we, we wanted to sort of take away people's community, give people the time to spend, be more present with their family. and then also obviously the, the added benefits that are opposite of the carbon reduction, from this perspective as well.

And it was actually born out of a, a company that is a remote first recruitment agency, where they wanted a platform where they could all be together, but yet be present with their family so that the agency is, w so the stay at home moms and dads. So the, the founders thought, well, we need a space where we can all be together, work.

and then, and as the platform grew and as the, so the clients popped into the platform, everybody started sort of started asking, where can we get one of those for our teams? And then it sort of grew from there really. And one of the, what are the interesting aspects for us is that sort of for coworking, So physical offices it's we see it as something additional that you can have for your members, where if they wanted to still work in the coworking space, but one day they had to be working from home.

Then the team could still be together.

Matthew Knight: [00:06:45] So that's a great question to start with. I mean, Hannah, you you've mentioned here that your insight is very much that people don't always want to be working in a single place in the conversations, which you're having with your members. Are there kind of commonalities and patterns of people want to have a blend of office and home and a, and a third space, like a coworking space.

Hannah Philp: [00:07:07] Yeah. So I think that for different people, different things matter, but I would definitely say all the members, at least our initial members, they're really looking at arc being a bit of an anchor for them, when it comes to work. And so for some people, it's that they're not going to get back into their corporate office until the next year.

So they're looking for an interim space for six months. which they might continue a few days a week afterwards. Anyway, if they continue to work from home, it's really an alternative to working from home or a local cafe somewhere where they can just go for four hours and get their work done. That's very separate from that kind of personal, home life.

And I know for some people that it definitely works to work from home. There's lots of benefits and. You know, they might have a study or separate space, so they can kind of separate the two in London and particularly dense parts. And the East London, you know, you might have flatmates where you're both trying to share the same kitchen.

Your desk might be in your bedroom, creating, you know, blurring of space, that nobody really. Is that Keenan and so really arcs, yeah, a distinct sort of anchor for people, that even if they might only spend one or two days a week there, they're still coming there regularly.

Matthew Knight: [00:08:17] Ben with the weak coffee offering, you've very much been focusing on, on networking and community building as well.

Why is that an important part of what you're trying to do?

Ben Carew: [00:08:35] Yeah. And that was sort of born of a need of my cofounder and looking at what other people were doing in the market and thinking what I thought was fair as the money free long for a very long time. Well, we learn, whereas it was less it's about the space, but the other people who were in the space that made people want to come into it and want to return to.

I believe you can't be coworking

coworking anymore. It's just working somewhere alone. And I think it's with people's favorite cafes.

It's how you feel within that space. And that to me, is community going to your local shop or your cafe? so for us, we started really focusing on community and the workspace and now Slack groups, something obviously, you know, a lot about is. Oh, conduit for that community to engage and cowork with each other.

So I now look at the workspace as a facilitator to what we would, what we're trying to achieve as a goal, which is that connectedness ability to work from anywhere. That's why it matters to us. Cause it's what matters to our members.

Matthew Knight: [00:10:05] I miss you. I would imagine the, a lot of businesses are trying to figure out how they do bring their, their teams closer together at the moment, whilst people are working apart beyond the.

Operational, challenges of accessing the file server or, you know, making sure people can zoom with each other. are you seeing that a lot of your members are looking to put some more emotional support in place? How are they actually doing, helping people connect on a, on a deeper level?

Matthew Lloyd: [00:10:32] Yeah, absolutely.

It's a, it's it's interesting. You mentioned community and how companies are trying to maintain that sort of office. They even office, community. and certainly from the HR community, keeping it in HR directors that we've spoken to this, there's a lot of focus on trying to maintain that company culture, that company community, whilst we'd also work in distributed or at home.

I'm trying to, I suppose to a Latin exactly keep the, the isolation and the feeling of loneliness. To a point where it's bearable and to keep those lines of communication yeah. Open between the teams and sort of certainly channels such as Slack and sort of the companies that use work. And it's quite fortunate.

It's one of the bonuses of using to this day and a platform where they get to be all together and try and continue that community. But I think there's sort of quite a few other tools out there. The people are using, but I think sort of what's come

Matthew Knight: [00:11:39] out of this is

Matthew Lloyd: [00:11:41] that there's a lot more one-on-ones happening on a lot more regular basis within the community, rather than sort of once a month, things have sort of switched to, to the daily or weekly, which I think could kind of be a benefit, to try and.

sort of keep people motivated and happy within the world. Thanks. And that's what it's all about. Isn't this preempt communities and lots of people, you know, they, their lives are born in the office. They meet their wife, their kids, and so forth. And it'd be interesting to see how that

Matthew Knight: [00:12:14] changes

Matthew Lloyd: [00:12:15] as the world of work changes and sort of coworking spaces such as Hannah's where.

They get to go to a community place can be that next stage of the office

Matthew Knight: [00:12:25] sort of thing. And, and Hannah, I mean, you're starting a business at a time where nobody's allowed to go to physical spaces. How has that been for you?

Hannah Philp: [00:12:37] We were very lucky, I would say as a small business that, in terms of timing that we hadn't yet opened when we went into lockdown.

So we were able to really, You know, we weren't letting anybody down who was kind of using the space or it's signed off. And then we had to stop and, you know, we were able to manage and prioritize our staff and things like that. But I think, I think we have an opportunity to the improved the way that we're working now.

I think, you know, this has raised the consciousness of a lot of people about how much we can work remotely, how much we can be connected remotely with technology. also how much we need other people. Like I know this is a massive priority for you. Matthew Knight that this is, you know, mental health, the mental health of freelances is, you know, can be really challenged, by working remotely and not interacting with people and not having the kind of security or routine that you get from being part of a corporate team or an office.

And so I think we've been really interested in thinking about what are the potential changes that are going to be accelerated as a result of people having more time. Spent working from home, both in seeing the opportunities and the challenges and how can we be a part of really a new, a new solution.

Like if I just might be able to give one, one kind of key example, which, you know, all of our spaces, are going to be ground floor, fully accessible. And that's been something that we've been interested in because, you know, One in seven freelances. according to published data, which I can share with you is, has some form of disability and experiences, some form of disability that has affected that choice and actually working freelance because they can't access.

You know, an office. And I think to us, that was really interesting point about how many different groups actually aren't service by the, our current ways of working. And how then can we be a part of, we're obviously not going to be a solution for everybody, but how can we serve those groups by traditional ways of working.

Matthew Lloyd: [00:14:35] And,

Matthew Knight: [00:14:35] and just keeping on the topic of freelancers and independent workers for a moment. Ben, I know that you are investing quite heavily in, I suppose, like added services and opportunities that, that your members can get access to. So you run a regular event. It's where people can, can learn from specialists, your, your, I think you're bringing a lot of people together who end up working together.

Do you. Do you see that as an angle, that coworking spaces plays for independent people to kind of create, you know, a part of that team in some ways

Ben Carew: [00:15:10] yeah. In terms of the body,

it's an interesting one.


Yeah. More of a


It's more reporting.


Matthew Knight: [00:16:43] Really interesting aspect there about how. Coworking spaces or any spaces where groups of people are coming together, that don't necessarily work together as a really interesting engine for serendipity and making new and surprising Matthew, with, with the worker platform. you know, the, the thing which we have in offices, you know, you bump into people, you have a conversation at water cooler, you make a cup of tea, you, you over hear somebody talking about what they were watching.

Those, those little micro interactions add so much value to our relationships. Do you think there's a, there's a danger that digital tools are not doing enough to create those serendipitous interactions at the moment?

Matthew Lloyd: [00:17:24] Yeah, I would completely agree. It's the sort of the micro interactions, the social nuances.

And that you, you would be missing from the office. And I think you're right, you know, in certain platforms, that can be something that you would be missing. And I think that's where it comes into play with you. You have that sort of hybrid blend, blended approach, where you for, for example, for myself, I work from home, but I always.

For one day, maybe two days a week, I would go and work in a coworker in space purely because we're humans. We like physical contact. So as much as you can be in like a work at office, for example, and you're, you're surrounded by your work colleagues. It is always nice to go and meet new people and physical people to have a cup of coffee with, and you get that nice sort of blended approach from that aspect.

So I think we're looking at sort of a, a hybrid aspect from what, from what I've sort of understood them from what companies I've spoken to, they've almost gone. This is where there, how would they sort of return into work if you like that idea is that. If you want to work in the office when the office reopens, or if you want, I'll go back to your coworking space, then there's almost sort of, well, this is the percentage.

Put your name down. If you really can't work at home, then you are the priority to go back to a coworkers. But I'm really intrigued in terms of sort of coworking spaces. Cause here we've noticed that everything has to be sort of two meters. Apart. So, I mean, how sort of coworking spaces, how that's go into reflect?

Is it going to be like 50%, less capacity in this space and how does it work? It's an interest in. A feature that we were coming up against, and I'm not quite sure if anybody knows how it's going to work yet.

Matthew Knight: [00:19:31] Yeah. Ben and hotter. I mean, you, you both have physical spaces that you, you, you know, lease or work directly with.

Are they giving you guidance in, in how you need to return people to those spaces or are you clearly defining how people can and can't interact it's in those spaces? How are you, how are you coping

Hannah Philp: [00:19:47] with that? So we've, we've written, quite comprehensive environmental policy that we've actually started working on.

As soon as we went into lockdown based on industry, best practice government guidelines, and also what other companies are doing and have published. So we've invested, some money. In, in part that, so we're interested some screens, for example, transparent screens that are going to be erected throughout space.

We've completely transformed our capacities so that, and we're removing half of the chairs. So that we're all plan is actually to maintain social distancing throughout the space. from. The foreseeable future, basically. So if you come in, we're, we're really minimizing the chances of even if somebody has Corrina virus and the space of view of that passing between any members.

So we're going to have markings on the floor and, yeah, and we will actually be ready, I think, to publish that next week. And we're really keen to kind of publish it and share it with anybody else in the industry who kind of wants to take a look at, What we've found is like some of new source solutions in smallish spaces,

Matthew Knight: [00:20:56] getting out that crystal ball, which, which none of us have, what, what are our predictions for the next 12 months in terms of.

Of people's return to work, people's attitudes around where they want to work from. Do you think that we're suddenly going to see this huge numbers of people going I've had enough working from home? I just want to gain to it a different space or, do you think that actually organizations are going to be really proactive in terms of, of.

Designing policies of explaining where people can work from, should work from all, or give them the, the, the autonomy to make those decisions themselves. Matthew, what, what do you think that the businesses that you're working with are most likely to, to do when people start returning to physical spaces?

I think

Matthew Lloyd: [00:21:45] just, just from sort of conversations I've had, there seems to be very much a focus on asking the employees. Which is always nice to face the year. I think there they are. Yeah. Yeah. It's, it's very much sort of up to the employee. Some, as we, as we know, some people won't have a nice, comfortable home office, to work out off.

some people perhaps will not want to work at home, but equally they don't want to commute. So then, you know, you've got sort of your coworking spaces, that's that will be available for them. but I think there's the general consensus seems to be this hybrid approach that organizations will move to where it will.

Matthew, you quite rightly said you will give sort of some autonomy to the actual employee. And I think it very much comes down to, So data security as well and what type of organization it is and how, how much they're willing to spend on sort of the security in people's home networks, and so forth.


Matthew Knight: [00:22:55] it's, it

Matthew Lloyd: [00:22:56] is, it's a really interesting space and I think the verdict is out. but I think from conversations I've had, there's definitely more of a sort of it's up to the employee if they want. To work from home or not, which is sort of fantastic situation. And to, to hear,

Matthew Knight: [00:23:15] I see some interesting questions around the, the employer's responsibility there.

I mean, health and safety, of employees is the employer's responsibility. but no line managers going to go around and check that the toaster's kind of a, you know, Pat test has been done. what are the things that we think employers are going to have to start stepping up? Because if they're giving.

Decisions back to the employee of when they work and how they work. There needs to be some source of pastoral element there. Do do, are employers kind of letting themselves off the hook a little bit, how to do, do you think that there's a responsibility for employers to look after people regardless of what space they work?

Hannah Philp: [00:23:56] what do you think?

Matthew Knight: [00:23:58] What do I think? I think absolutely. Yeah. I mean, the. The health and safety at work act is a really has, it has some massive gaps in it because it, it requires as you to look after the wellbeing of people who are on site. but if you no longer have a site, what does that mean? And if people are working from home, there's obviously the physical aspect and there are laws to protect the safety of individuals at home.

And there needs to be some sort of shared responsibility there. But I, I think it's, I think the health and safety. Aspect covers emotional safety as well. And then there's the real gap. if you can't see that somebody he's struggling, we know it might be a little bit easier to notice that they are having a bad day or that their behaviors have changed.

But if they're at the end of the day piece of string digital or otherwise do, are you giving up some of your kind of moral responsibility there?

Hannah Philp: [00:24:53] I think that's, I mean, just like, from my perspective of running a small business, I mean, it has been really challenging since we've all been working remotely since March and you know, we're a startup and we're working, you know, Quite a lot.

And looking after everybody, I think it's very important that people, or like all employers always have an opportunity to share, their idea, their grievances, but also their ideas for change within a company. And that can be quite difficult to very low for very large companies. But I think that ties in with autonomy.

Like the more autonomy you're getting people, then the more kind of feedback you need from those. People and your employers to actually understand how you can be, best servicing them. And the more that you listen to them, you know, the better that you're going to be able to meet their needs and.

Matthew Knight: [00:25:45] And Matthew final question to you.

w if there's one thing which, managers can do to help their, their teams feel better connected at the moment, what would you say that is the single most important things for those managers to be doing with their people?

Matthew Lloyd: [00:26:00] I think that probably the single most important thing managers can do is a, a smaller print piece of work.

Which is a communication charter. And just so everybody knows how to communicate whilst I'm working from home or working remotely and cause that

Matthew Knight: [00:26:19] sort of

Matthew Lloyd: [00:26:20] thing intrinsically we'll give people this, the peace of mind, if you like of, if you send an email, how long that email is going to take to be replayed is what is Slack, your channel?

What communication needs to be put through Slack. what elements, would be sort of synchronous work against the asynchronous work. going back to the, the health and safety. I, one thing I've sort of being curious about is if companies provide sort of, yeah. To

Matthew Knight: [00:26:53] work from home policies,

Matthew Lloyd: [00:26:54] including health and safety looks after them.

Well, that has a positive knock on effect. For freelancers and contractors where they will feel that we've already set it up here. Yeah. Maybe we can add the value that we've created and give it to freelancers and contractors also

Matthew Knight: [00:27:14] because they, you know,

Matthew Lloyd: [00:27:15] essentially they never really, from my experience, they've never really thought about your homework setup if you're a freelancer, but if you're employed by the company, It probably got to think about these things and there may be a switch.

They click and they were like, well, actually, why don't we look after our freelances? And our contract is in this way

Matthew Knight: [00:27:33] is a, not just one podcast episode in its own. Right. That is an entire series on discussing that I think. Yeah. I I'm, I'm glad that we are, you know, the collective, we are starting to build.

more and more networks of support for those who don't necessarily have an employer or somebody to turn to that they, they can ask those questions. But as you say, Ben and me, if, if there is a collective group swell of people that are saying, actually, you know, there are lots of behaviors which are right, there are lots of gaps in the system.

there are lots of, of models which are designed for one. One way of working, but don't support by variety of needs or kind of different, requirements that those individuals and teams have. Then I think, you know, slowly, slowly, we're starting to chip away at it. I think, I think Corona virus has been.

horrific and, and really challenging for so many groups of people yet. It has also, I think Shaun a light on some, some really significant areas of, of changing has, has prompted a lot of, of, of change for many organized organizations and many individuals. and I hope it's not one of those things, which, you know, when, when we do return to.

Whatever was before that, it isn't just things fall back into the, the old fashion models I'm going to, I'm going to leave on, on one question for each of you. What's the first thing you're going to do when you allow back out again, when, when things return to the new normal hammer, what, where are you going to run off and spend the half an hour?


Hannah Philp: [00:29:05] well I'm afraid we're going to be quite boring, but I can't wait to be actually in our first arc club. I've been waiting for this for two years and we've had to push it back by four months. So I think I'm going to be celebrating with a beer in our bar with the rest of the team. And

Matthew Knight: [00:29:22] I can't wait. It's wonderful.

Ben Carew: [00:29:25] Right. Well, I mean, number one, I'm desperate, desperate to guy plumbing's. If anyone who listens to the podcast, I can go climbing and have good wife buy it. And ideally, because I'm an entrepreneur who has not made the recommendation and I will be looking in the comments.

And brunch every week on a Wednesday and it was coffee croissants, and our members can come along and we put it on. We're doing it online. I miss it. Like I wouldn't sit down and eat.

Matthew Knight: [00:30:08] Yeah, there's definitely. So it's, it's less shameful, sweet 15 croissants in front of other people, but sitting at home, ordering them online, eating through self. I dunno why, but, Matthew, how about you? What's what's the thing you're going to do when you're released?

Matthew Lloyd: [00:30:20] Well, fortunately we, we pretty much already have been released.

so the, the beaches that open the bars and restaurants that open, I'd be surfing again the last couple of weeks. but we we've only just been allowed into Island travel. So we have a snorkeling. Trip across a tenor reef on a tootle Safari.

Matthew Knight: [00:30:42] Okay. I think that that definitely wins the award for a kind of most exotic and interesting.

well, I mean the, I just, it just leads me to say thank you so much. I think the first thing that I'm going to do when I'm allowed out again, and that's nothing to do with COBIT that's the restraining order thing, is visit some coworking spaces. Cause I, I. As much as I love my house, I, I really, really miss being able to move from space to space and I've recognize just how, how much a critical part of having different environments and different spaces to work in meeting other people.

Having those conversations is a critical part of how I work. so I, you know, from the bottom of my heart, not only thank you for your time today, but thank you for what you do for the community is, and creating these spaces and places for people to work and interact. It's a, it's a, it's a critical, but I think underappreciated part of the ecosystem of modern work.

So thank you for joining us today. And, work well

this was no more water cooler, a podcast from Leapers. Supporting the mental health of the self employed. If you're looking for a community of peer support, tangible resources and content that helps, or just fancy a cup of coffee with a friendly group of people,

Matthew Lloyd: [00:32:00] join the team for people, without a team, visit www.leapers.co or search "Leapers community." Our production assistant is Stephanie Ressort, our title music was composed by Matt Dobson and I'm Matthew Knight. And until next week, Work Well

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