Even for the most devout homeworker, there can be a call to escape the four walls of home. Meet the company redefining what co-working is and making ‘out of office’ much more of an experience.
Tom Coleman is on a mission to liberate spaces.
When we speak, we are both sitting in our respective home offices, but we talk about how at one time or another, we have both craved to be able to leave and go somewhere else to work.
Working from home these days has almost become synonymous with working from anywhere. Even if you enjoy working from home, there will be moments when you’re ready to leave the confines of your office or the kitchen table, the dirty dishes, and the reminders of the laundry pile.
Co-working spaces have been a popular option for entrepreneurs and freelancers to get work done, see other humans faces, and make the most of the facilities. If it weren’t a dedicated co-working spot, you could often find a homeworker and laptop snuggled into the armchair of the local coffee shop.
But even with your favourite iced caffè mocha in hand, you would eventually need to move and risk losing your coveted spot in the quiet corner near the plug socket. As Tom points out from his experience of coffee-shop working: “You feel obliged to keep buying coffee and water so you end up overloading on caffeine and drink. After two or three hours, it becomes a redundant option. You can’t feasibly drink that much coffee!”
He wanted something different and he set about creating it. After nearly 15 years in the corporate world, he decided to pursue his long-held dream of starting his own business. He had already been close to appearing on Dragon’s Den while at university and missed out on The Apprentice due to dates clashing with his wedding.
He sated his entrepreneurial ambition by launching Spaces To Work.
Having previously worked from home for about nine years, he’d experienced the range from home office working to client’s meeting venues. He found when he got out and worked from somewhere a little different, it would feed his productivity. “I think having a different environment – and if it’s a nice environment to be in – it helps me to destress. I have an instant boost in terms of my ability to get things done and my focus.”
A change in environment can help to change your energy, offer a different perspective, and can spark creativity by seeing different people, different things, having a conversation. It can also relieve the boredom factor that some people find with being permanently based at home.
Spaces To Work is going to be the new marketplace where people can find alternative venues to work from. It isn’t discounting co-working spaces, but it is broadening the parameters of where you might look to find a workspace. “There are lots of very nice co-working spaces that are well designed but we want variety in there,” says Tom. “We don’t want that feeling where you turn up at an office space and think it’s a bit boring, a bit dull, a bit standard. We want people to have an emotive reaction to the space.”
In many ways, he is bringing excitement back to the working day and he believes it is something we need to think about much more carefully. He likens his concept to the way you choose your mattress because you spend so many hours asleep on it. “You spend a third of your life working so from our perspective, you should spend more time thinking about where you work and how you spend your day because it’s how you spend your life. Why not find somewhere you really enjoy being in?
“Some days you are going to wake up and not want to do the report or emails… Whatever the challenge is, it’s made much easier by having an environment where you feel enthused, excited, as if you’re treating yourself perhaps.”
How Covid has affected how we think about work
Pre Covid-19, many of us saw work as being just what you did each day with little thought to where that was.
“The pandemic unpicked some of that,” says Tom. “It is challenged by how well people have adapted to working from home. Now we’re freeing ourselves from the default position of having to be in the office five days a week, where is that going to end? That’s the journey we’re on and we’re interested to see how it pans out.”
It’s an astute move. Last year, the number of UK employees who were planning on working remotely in some form topped 80% and more than half are planning hybrid working going forwards.
Add to the numbers of freelancers and self-employed, there are now millions more who will be looking for workspaces outside of the conventional office.
He is very careful about the venues he is choosing to put on Spaces To Work. They will be adding spaces all the time, starting with locations in the North, East and West of the UK. The basic facilities such as fast wi-fi, sockets, parking, and amenities are a given. But with space, Tom also wants to consider mindfulness and wellbeing.
“For us, there’s a very clear theme amongst all the spaces. They need to be places you really want to work at: high-end design, architecturally unique – variety feeds into all the spaces in different ways… We’re also looking to get spaces that are in interesting places such as next to parks or rivers, or next to marinas, so you have that downtime during your day as well. We feel that’s very important for people from a productivity and mindfulness perspective. We will have a section on each listing which gives a spaces tip such as local amenities they can go to or get involved with in their day.”
The new ‘out of office’
When he talks about “liberating spaces”, it is about making the most of venues which would typically house a lot of dead space during the week: freeing up the hotel restaurants and bars, or the small meeting rooms that aren’t usually officially available.
“It’s liberating you as an individual because you’re freer to express yourself,” says Tom. “That’s an exciting concept… If people associate themselves with classic architecture, they can find themselves a Georgian-style town house hotel. If they associate themselves with a trendy bar, they can go and work in a trendy bar.”
Working from a beautiful country hotel and taking a leisurely walk in the grounds over lunch might appeal and Tom says these spaces will be part of their offerings, along with venues near shopping areas with independent stores. “We feel that’s a very important part of it, that people have that rounded experience of not just working but spending time to enjoy their surroundings while working.”
Benefits for remote workers
“I think when you’re in a remote team, those get-togethers are really important, it’s not like when you’re in an office and a meeting is just another recurring thing. In a remote team when you meet only every month or six weeks, that is a special event. You want it to be different. In addition to the solo working, having those collaboration spaces and meeting rooms is another important part of our offer.”
He recalls team meetings of the past where a nominated person had to choose a venue and fair place for everyone to get to. He now hopes people will have a range of special spaces to choose from that will provide a real experience.
Liberation, freedom, flexibility, they are all words being used in this new post-pandemic work movement. Spaces To Work wants to be part of the solution to having freedom of choice about where you work.
“It’s a very personal choice and specific to your need that day,” Tom says. “Some days you want the functionality, you want a good chair, an ergonomically-sound environment, and to plough on with some work. Other days, you want a different experience.”
As part of keeping things as flexible as possible, they are not asking users to sign up or pay a monthly subscription. “We’ve removed barriers. It’s quite literally find a space, book it, and then go to work.”
Freedom of choice, freedom from commitment, and freedom from worrying about hogging a seat and drinking enough coffee… That sounds like a good way to work.
Tom Coleman is launching Spaces To Work
This interview was first published in The Homeworker Magazine – subscribe for expert insights, tips, and tools for your mindset, wellbeing, home office, and productivity when you work from home