Diary of a Desk Jockey
It’s been a challenging time since the first Covid lockdown began in March 2020, but flexible workspace operators are seeing the changing nature of people’s working arrangements becoming an ideal fit for the kinds of workspace and services they offer. Here Mark Kass (pictured), CEO of The Hive Enterprise Centre in Southend-on-Sea and a member of the FlexSA Board, reflects on the last 400 days, and what the future may bring.
Six years ago, I launched The Hive Enterprise Centre in Southend-on-Sea, Essex in The Old Central Library, an amazing, Brutalist heritage building in the heart of one of the town’s most regeneration-demanding commercial boulevards in Southend Victoria.
As a not-for-profit flexible workspace, we’ve taken a huge battering during the pandemic, but we’ve fortunately been able to weather storms to stay open throughout to support our clients, largely key workers, critical infrastructure businesses, SMEs downsizing, new start-ups launching and importantly, providing safe-space and boltholes for local residents who just can’t work from home.
As a profit-for-purpose business, a social enterprise, we’ve always worked with struggling entrepreneurs; usually boot-strapped start-up founders, clamouring for funding, clients and new ideas and with scale-up enterprises looking for investment, expansion finance and skilled staff to fuel innovation and growth.
But the last 400-odd days, we’ve also had to be there for solid, established businesses thrown into turmoil following forced cutbacks, forced closures and for most, forced decisions they never thought they’d have to make.
Time to pivot, they said. Here’s a loan to fund something new and help you through, they offered. A loan, not a grant. Debt that needs to be paid back. Along with all the other deferred bills, taxes other loans…when things get back to “normal”. Hmmmm.
For so many, balance sheets have become triple-X horror stories, P&L’s, the stuff of nightmares and the countless hours spent cashflow forecasting, a tortuous daily response to fluctuations between doom and gloom and that now cliched “Light at the end of the tunnel.” Trying to think, re-think and re-think again and again potential survival routes, roadmaps and regimes to get through the week, the month the quarter.
Every webinar I signed-up to hosted a plethora of Nostradamus-esque gurus, all predicting the end of offices as we knew them, that the towers of our metropolis would turn into city centre resi-hubs, homeworking would be the future way-of-work that everyone craved and former town centre department stores will turn into funky co-working space that bolster ailing local economies.
Government’s regularly throwing heaps of money at pubs, clubs and restaurants…the “hospitality” businesses. But define hospitality? The best serviced office providers and co-working space operators ARE hospitality businesses, but we just happen to have the wrong SIC codes.
We’re business rates payers too, but as our rateable values are way over that crazy £51,000 threshold, the powers that be assume we have huge properties and therefore deep pockets so can easily weather the storm without recourse. Probably right for those that own their freeholds but what about us SME lease-holding operators?
Seemingly a great time for consultants. Not such a great time for business. Nor for landlords and empty building owners either and to be honest, it’s been pretty pants for us serviced office and co-working and meeting & conference space providers too!
As the fears of the pandemic ease however, confidence is slowly being boosted on all sides of potential deals but just as you think it was safe to go back into the water, goalposts shift and we all turn into real estate salmon, swimming upstream against a potentially uncontrollable current, leaping two rocks forward and sliding back one.
But humans being humans, we’re coming out fighting.
Innovation at every level has ensured some degree of survivability. Vaccines almost magicked out of thin air, Zoom suddenly appearing in homes that didn’t know what video conferencing was, cool new ways of getting McDonalds and Gregg’s sausage rolls posted through your letterbox at home and new friendships developing with that dude from Amazon that comes to your home every day delivering brown boxed essentials and all-too-often, non-essentials.
Clearly “flexibility” has become the watchword of the 2020’s. “Adaptation” too. As a business located in one of Essex’s infamous seaside and commuter towns we’ve totally had to adapt and become more flexible than ever and we work with our clients to do the same to survive and grow.
Our new clients coming on board are those that used to commute into the Capital. Now they’re living local AND working local. Time will tell how this all pans out but I’m going hell-for-leather to ensure we offer more than just desk space.
I’m passionate about making our clients feel like they’re at home whilst they’re at work and I’m doing whatever it takes to work with them – and their now remote bosses- to help them get through this.
I’ve built The Hive living on a mantra that shouts “our business buildings build and re-build businesses” and never more have like-minded members of The Flexible Space Association been so essential to re-starting the economy…and I hope we’re nearly there!
The Hive Enterprise Centre (Southend Victoria) Ltd
21 June 2021
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