Key Learnings From The Flexible Workspace Industry In 2020 (Part 6)

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Robert Kropp shares key learnings and insights from UK flexible workspace operators, The Melting Pot and HATCHERY.
  • Robert Kropp shares key learnings and insights from UK flexible workspace operators, The Melting Pot and HATCHERY. 
  • Both operators explain how they adapted to the events of 2020 and transitioned their business models. 
  • For The Melting Pot, this meant closing their workspace location — but armed with new purpose, they now have fresh plans for the future. 

As the 6th part in this series, I continue to chat with operators, industry leaders, and organizations throughout the flexible workspace industry. We dive into key learnings, pivots, and opportunities over the last year and what is expected for the future. 

If you missed the other five articles in the series, check them out: 

In this article, I have discussions with the founders of The Melting Pot and HATCHERY in the UK. 

TLDR Highlights: 

1.     Virtual Packages vs The Need for Human Interaction 
2.     A Location Closes 
3.     Rebuilding 
4.     Coming Back to the Office 
5.     Economic Rejuvenation through Distributed Teams and Coworking Hubs 
6.     Placemaking in a New Location
7.     Farms & Rural Workspaces 
8.     How Can We Work Better in the Countryside? 
9.     Demand Changes 
10.  Health & Wellness Built into the Workspace 
11.  The Importance of a Mission 

Here is what we learned and what’s next: 

The Melting Pot in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK 

In 2020, I had the chance to catch up with Claire Carpenter, founder of The Melting Pot in Edinburgh, Scotland. I was first introduced to her and the team as part of my exploration of coworking spaces and other workspaces globally a few years ago. 

If you didn’t know, The Melting Pot is Scotland’s Center for Social Innovation in Edinburgh and one of Europe’s first coworking hubs. Claire said that 2019 and the beginning of 2020 had been a time of growth, business success, and even an increase in international consultancy work focused on accelerating the placemaking activities of other coworking hubs. 

As we now all know, Covid came and significantly changed the physical and operational environment of coworking and much of the flexible workspace industry. 

The lockdowns and stay at home orders from the government meant that the space had to shut. Claire said they spent the next few months trying to understand what was going on and when they could open again. 

Key Learning During Lockdown: They immediately put everyone on a virtual package focused on maintaining and growing community engagement. As a result, they only lost 2 members during this time. However, Claire said, and I definitely agree, “coworking is about physical interaction” and “there is only so much virtual reality people want and need”. 

Ultimately by June, they felt that it was possible to open for clients. However, most people throughout the summer just wanted to go outside, on holiday, and take a break from being at home. 

The space continued to be slow and by September, “the writing was on the wall”. With “hyper anxiety and future lockdowns” for the foreseeable future, they decided to shut the current location down and “go into hibernation”. 

Location Closing: With that being said, their home and location of 13 years, was shut by the end of October. For Claire, she said it was not only hard professionally and personally, but the next step was less clear. 

Future: Although the year was a difficult one and full of unexpected changes, Claire says that the focus quickly turned to, ‘how do we rebuild?’, ‘where and what will our next location look like?’, and ‘what will people want and need going forward?’ 

Key Learning: Claire believes that coworking hubs need to think about how people will have gotten used to working at home. When people come back to the office, “what type of stimulus will be too much or not enough?… Some people are craving more people with noise all around them” and others are “hyper sensitized” to noise and distraction. 

In addition, we “need to be more aware of the psychology of people when they return to the workplace.” “Is 6 people too many (in a space)? What is a safe or unsafe space?” 

All of these nuances will relate to what a workspace and coworking hub needs to understand and support in its design, services, and support within the community. 

So what does Claire expect next for the industry and The Melting Pot? 

Key Learning: Prior to 2020, our workforces have had to work relatively close to where they live. However, “2020 opened the door to our imagination of more remote / distributed teams” which is drawing the attention of investment and growth to areas outside of just the CBDs. 

Claire says that their team have been advocating for years about growing coworking hubs in smaller towns, dying towns, towns that need to attract talent, commuting towns, towns that need rejuvenation and more. “Coworking hubs are a fantastic tool for economic regeneration, community development, job creation, job retention, and much more.” 

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    Future: Even though their main office is closed, for Claire, their strategy of “assisting people to create coworking hubs in their communities” still exists, and the demand for this is going to accelerate as more people remove the barrier that says “where people live is connected to where people work”.  

    Future Location and Incubation Program: As part of their corporate strategy for 2021 and beyond, they are also focusing on opening a new city center coworking hub in Edinburgh focused on social impact. The new location should be announced soon! In addition, they are looking to expand the reach of their Good Ideas incubation program, focused on social change ideas, shifting to a digital platform instead of solely face to face delivery. 

    According to Claire, their mission was never about just creating an office. “Our mission is to stimulate and support social innovation.” 

    Future: Claire says that, “if people can become advocates of coworking hubs, not just places that rent out desks, where people thrive, communities are built, interactions are nurtured, personal and professional development is nurtured … this will be the right combination of ingredients for our individual and collective recovery.” 

    The HATCHERY in England 

    I also had the pleasure to chat with Rich Mills of the HATCHERY

    According to Rich, HATCHERY “is a new business that transforms old farms and agricultural buildings into high-quality flexible workspaces, designed to support rural businesses and entrepreneurs.” 

    New Location: Although still in the works, their goal is to launch their first location in 2022. As part of this first location, they are looking to provide a campus like environment ‘at their farm on the outskirts of London, which in total will provide approx. 28k sq ft of space, including private offices, meeting rooms and makerspaces.’ 

    The idea is to “encourage people to work more locally”. They also originally believed that it would be a slower transition of “3 – 4 years to educate people … about the benefits of working closer to home, rather than commuting to London 5 days a week. Covid has sped up these trends and now everyone knows what the benefits are.” 

    Key Learning: Even before the pandemic, the workspace market in cities had been evolving rapidly over the last 5 – 10 years. Rich said they had been watching “corporates increasingly outsourcing operations of offices” especially within larger markets and CBDs. They started to question how they could take many of these ideas and strategies they had learned from the city in order to “upgrade what people are doing and how they work in rural areas.” 

    Key Learning Post Lockdown: Covid shifted the entire idea rapidly. They “don’t need to work on education in the same way.” Rich believes the opportunity is here now but there is also more competition. 

    Key Learning: The main customer groups for the Hatchery are existing rural businesses and entrepreneurs, who until now haven’t had access to high-quality, flexible workspaces (as can be found in most cities nowadays). However, due to the sudden change of WFH, the “would be commuters and home workers are now a greater proportion of the expected customer base.” 

    Key Learning: Health and wellness built into the workspace is critical. Rich says they are committed to using nature in and out of the spaces. Through sustainable building materials and features, a focus on making design and structural decisions for improved wellness, and connecting people to nature, they are looking to provide not just a workspace but a place that is good for mental health and well-being. 

    He sees their model, focused on rural locations and connecting people to nature, as fitting into the broader scope of what the market has to offer. 

    In terms of demand, “corporates are realizing that workspaces and wellness needs to be part of the offer in order to attract and retain talent.” At the same time, individuals are also looking for really flexible workspace options and memberships so that they can choose how, where, and why they want to split their week at certain workspaces. 

    Key Learning and Future: As part of attracting the growing demand, it is important to commit to a mission. Rich believes that individuals and corporates will more commonly make decisions in the future on their workspace provider based on this mission and how that aligns with their own.  

    Rich believes that as part of all of these changes, it is important for the industry to “offer the consumer more choice.” By doing this, a worker or organization “can pick the brands or experience they want for the day.” 

    Looking Ahead 

    Thank you to The Melting Pot and HATCHERY for partaking in my series on key learnings from the flexible workspace industry during 2020 and beyond. 

    Although these organizations are quite different in mission, size, model, and location, it was interesting to see what they have experienced, learned, done similarly and different, along with what they expect from the future during a time of such significant change. 

    As more people and organizations than ever are looking at coworking, flex space, space as a service, and other flexible workspace options, it is important for us to be agile, learn, and adapt to these changes. 

    If you would like to chat about your workspace or organization’s experience this past year and outlook for the future, feel free to contact me directly. 

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