As lockdowns and health safety regulations emptied out office buildings across the world, many businesses have had to consider closing down their expensive but highly underutilized office spaces. The pandemic posed a unique problem: “how are people, and organizations going back to the workplace?” Coworking space The Melting Pot and their partner Foundation Scotland believe they’ve found the solution.
The Pandemic and Opportunity
Claire Carpenter, CEO of The Melting Pot, spoke about opening the first coworking hub in Edinburgh back in October 2007 that specifically catered for social innovators: “It was all about sharing a ‘work based’ resource base, selling time and adding value to that diverse client pool who’ve co-located under one roof.” And everything was fine until Covid came along: “At the end of October 2020, we shut our physical location, after 13 full years trading – it was just too difficult to maintain those premises with the financial pressure we were under. Yet, we could see that there was going to be a massive demand for coworking in the future.”
“We took the opportunity to let go of our lease on our existing premises and went out hunting for a new location. At the time, I understood that Foundation Scotland (the national community foundation whom we’ve worked with on a number of occasions in the past) were still away from their offices and might not be returning. So, I reached out to Giles, the CEO of the Foundation, and asked whether we might be a solution to each other’s problems.”
The solution was perfect for both parties. Foundation Scotland, which has a number of offices across Scotland, owns a beautiful building in the centre of Edinburgh which was being underutilized since shutting down in March last year and going completely digital. They are now leasing this property to The Melting Pot while still benefiting from the working space as a new member of The Melting Pot.
Camille Craig, marketing manager at Foundation Scotland said, “it’s really exciting to still be able to benefit from working in the city centre in our stunning building right next to the station. I think everybody’s now really on board with the idea of being able to share the office space with other people and not just Foundation Scotland. You can now have a coffee break and talk to somebody from another social enterprise, or another charity or organization and really embrace collaborative working. We get to keep our building, so we haven’t lost our assets, we’re keeping the lights on, and we’re enabling it to become, exactly that, a melting pot, a real hub, that we’re also able to use ourselves.”
These new premises also afford The Melting Pot the means to scale up, something they’ve been struggling to do over the years, says Carpenter, because of the high demand and how expensive real estate is in Edinburgh, which is the most expensive city in the UK, outside of the city of London.
Why more businesses and organizations should consider coworking spaces
Not only are there immediate benefits for businesses that own their office space, which is going underutilised, as was the case with Foundation Scotland, but it also provides a much more vibrant and rich work environment for staff. It provides a greater opportunity for businesses to collaborate and get a fresh perspective, which in a traditional work environment can be lacking due to its monoculture nature.
Also, there is a new trend towards a more blended approach because staff members aren’t willing to commit to long daily commutes yet don’t to or can’t work from home, or at least not every day of the week. Coworking spaces are right at the intersection of these needs and afford companies a lot of flexibility. Staff members are able to work in a professional setting, with the necessary facilities and environments, while benefitting from in-person interaction with colleagues and other working professionals that share the space with them albeit on a smaller scale.
Why the need to return to an office environment at all?
Although many are fine with working from home, many people struggle because they either don’t have a dedicated office space, their environment isn’t conducive to productivity, or just don’t have the equipment or infrastructure necessary.
Many of the younger or new staff that need to be onboarded or who usually undergo some form of mentorship, either formally or informally, aren’t getting the same quality of attention that they used to from the in-person experience that an office provides.
Although a full return to the office, as we know it, is very unlikely Claire believes there will still be a need for head office but that it will have to value added experience for staff – that they’re not going all that way, spending so much money and time on transport, just to sit in a cubicle.
What advice do they have for coworking spaces?
Claire says that they noted four primary needs that companies take note of when considering a coworking space to partner with:
- Covid safe practices: “Any employer is only going to want to send their staff somewhere where they can trust.”
- Flexible working: “People want more flexible working. But does that mean evenings does it mean weekends, and it’s not just about times of day and week. It’s also about the types of working environment that the staff can access.”
- Variety of habitats: “Otherwise it’s a monoculture. And we all know that a monoculture is really a call-centre and nobody wants to work in a call-centre. So, it’s got to be a diverse habitat that we’re creating in that ecosystem.”
- Ideal commute: “So how far away is it for staff? How far away are people traveling in order to come into that facility? So, you want to make that a high value activity.”