Verity Edwards, THE AUSTRALIAN

Co-working office facilities are opening rapidly throughout central business districts in the nation’s capitals, and despite the hype surrounding the start-up community and its needs, more professionals are turning to communal hubs as an alternative to working from home or crowded offices.

Gravity, which operates co-working hubs in Sydney and Brisbane, will open a third space for up to 200 people in Melbourne next month. Co-founder Jacqui Esdaile says 75 per cent of those who use Gravity are white-collar professionals, in contrast to many other co-working spaces that attract start-ups and graduates.

“They’re professionals that are working for blue-chip companies like Deloitte and Deutsche Bank,” Esdaile says. “They’ve been in the workforce for 10 or 20 years and they’re consulting back. They’re not start-ups. They want a space they can bring people into for meetings, they’re equating it with high-end offices.”

Professionals aged 35 and older — Gravity’s market — want a central office with no overheads, a receptionist, boardroom, meeting spaces and 24-hour access. They do not want to work from home, and co-working suits.

Esdaile says most of the professionals who use Gravity arrive by 8am and leave by 4.30pm, rather than popping in and out.

They share knowledge, collaborate, use kitchen facilities and pay $900 a month — much less than the costs associated with leasing space or taking out a business loan.

Gravity’s users fit with the increasing number of professionals using co-working hubs in the US.

Harvard Business Review study in September found people who used co-working hubs had higher levels of collaboration, there was less competition among workers and people were more focused. Using a shared, independent office also meant study participants had a structured day compared with working from home. Users recorded a higher rating on a scale of how much they thrived, compared with those who worked from home or in general offices.

With co-working become popular, American giant WeWork is looking to expand into Australia next year. The hub network was founded in 2010 and is worth $5 billion.

Hub Australia has offices in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, and other companies are sprouting in office buildings and lofts in every major city.

Servcorp, which has 150 co-working sites in 22 countries, has eight locations in Australia and offers virtual space as well.

But while co-working spaces may be convenient for short-term use, Servcorp chief operating off­icer Marcus Moufarrige says users need to think about their long-term vision and whether these spaces will allow small companies room for growth.

Moufarrige says businesses need to think about the repercussions of joining such a specific “cliche” to co-working — of funky workspaces and bright colours — and whether it will suit them in several years.

“The future of co-working and its success will be highly dependent on the supplier’s ability to be more than just a provider,” Moufarrige says. “They need to be a partner, a consultant, an enabler. They need to enable the growth of their clients and provide their clients with the tools to see success.”

Moufarrige says that includes allowing small companies to use virtual offices interstate or overseas, and ensuring professionals have access to updated information technology, Wi-Fi and quality videoconferencing.

“We make it easy for clients to grow,” he says.

“They won’t have to worry about multiple forms, accounts, etc, as their Servcorp account is valid across all of our locations.”

One of the benefits of using a co-working space, particularly for consultants working on their own, is paying only for what people use.

Unlike hiring a full-time secretary or receptionist where the business owner covers overheads, superannuation, down time and sick leave, Moufarrige says those expenses are generally covered.

“When it comes to the offices, clients will pay for the office space used, unlike traditional lease agreements where businesses are locked into a long-term contract, usually a minimum of two years, and the prices they pay includes the entire floor space such as corridors, bathrooms, kitchen.”

He says Servcorp’s virtual office and co-working programs allow professionals to have a reputable business address without the associated prices.

A place to call home for a sales team on the move

Entrust Datacard regional sales manager Michael Pride is one of a growing number of white-collar workers using co-working hubs and shared office spaces.

Pride, based in Sydney for a business with its headquarters in Canada, travels regularly but appreciates having a base with his small team of four in one of Servcorp’s office spaces.

“We find it’s good to come into the city, it’s good to meet with other members of your team, without having the expense of a full-time office,” Pride says. “We do a lot of travel around Asia, Melbourne and Brisbane, and we can use the offices there too.”

Instead of leasing a large office space for himself and four colleagues regularly on the move, paying overheads, secretaries and other fixed costs, Pride’s company pays for a shared office space.

The Servcorp office allows them to come and go at any time, and provides a secretary, Wi-Fi and other telecommunications, a boardroom, meeting spaces and desks.

All phone calls to the company’s number go through to Servcorp’s lines, and the company’s staff will assist Pride and his colleagues if they need help with minor issues.

Pride can work from home if needed, but when he is in Sydney he prefers to use the co-working space because it gives him contact with other professionals and allows collaboration.

He also can use the Servcorp offices in other countries while travelling, rather than a hotel business cubicle.

“Next week I’m going to spend a day in Bangkok and a couple of days in Singapore and in between meetings I can use their offices as well,” he says.

“They’re fairly similar and they all have a very high standard.”

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