Coworking is nothing new. But for many business centre operators, it's seen as a challenging market and even a threat. Liberty Business Centres in Fife is one workspace provider that's meeting the challenge and making coworking work.
Coworking is worlds away from the average office. Classic coworking spaces are community-focused, innovative spaces that foster entrepreneurial spirit and provide an inspirational environment for businesses to thrive and grow. Coworking is not a way of filling empty space. It is an investment designed to attract a new wave of clients - those that harness mobile working and who need a flexible solution to suit their space-on-demand needs.
There are those who believe that business centres and coworking are like oil and water. Liberty Business Centres, a supplier of flexible workspace just north of Edinburgh, is proving otherwise. Managed by Jerry Alexander, the company recently launched a brand new dedicated coworking facility at its Rosyth location.
"I've been studying the market and our own client trends, and I believe this is the way work is going," said Jerry, who has been at the helm of Liberty Business Centres for 13 years. "All businesses use mobile technology, and our clients use the cloud on a day to day basis now. These technologies mean that businesses don't have to be chained to a desk anymore."
The coworking space - Liberty Hubspace - was launched in December 2012. Jerry explains that it was never intended to be just a shared office, as this is "too much like a standard office" and does not deliver the type of space that innovative, work-on-the-go businesses are looking for.
"Clients want a coworking environment for all sorts of different reasons," he explained. "Some want a workspace that's away from the distractions of home, yet still local. Some aren't suited to working at home and need the company of others. Some of our coworking clients are salespeople or start-ups - they're out on the road and need a place to land. So they come here."
There are several other key trends that are driving businesses to coworking. Jerry believes that the housing market is having an impact. Business owners who face limited space at home are turning to coworking spaces as an affordable 'escape'. Another key trend is redundancies, particularly among the 50+ age bracket, which is driving more businesspeople to set up their own businesses. For individuals who have worked a lifetime in an office, they need a space that has the same buzz - and they can't find it at home.
This sense of camaraderie is a key part of successful coworking spaces. Many coworking spaces have to work at it - fuelling the community vibe with informal get-togethers and networking events. But according to Jerry, the Liberty Hubspace vibe is evolving organically with very little prompting from the team.
"It's still early days, but we're finding that we have a good mix of businesses, some freelancers, some corporates, which keeps a dynamic ambience," he said.
He also explained that smaller business centres, such as the Liberty centres at Rosyth and Dalgety Bay, have a noticeable character as the space is more fluid - businesses come and go, start-ups grow, and firms move around the centre as their space requirements change.
And this is where business centres have a key advantage over 'coworking only' spaces.
Unlike sole coworking spaces, business centres can upgrade clients to serviced space as and when they outgrow coworking. This helps to keep their community 'fresh' and engaging with a healthy turnover of new businesses. Likewise, serviced office businesses can spill over or downsize into the coworking space. Or just use it for a change of scenery.
Liberty Hubspace is seeing demand rise steadily which shows that, if tackled correctly, business centres are certainly well suited to launching their own coworking spaces. Far