When it comes to finding a home for your business, today’s start-ups are spoilt for choice with hundreds of co-working spaces opening up all across Nairobi and Mombasa
While on one hand, it’s nice to have so many options, it can also be a bit overwhelming and confusing for a new founder looking for new business premises.
How do you know where you and your team will be happy? Will the space be too small, or too big, for your team? Do you really need a slide, a ping pong table and beer fridges?
Before you take the plunge, here are some key pointers to bear in mind to choose the right co-working space:
Private office or open plan?
The original idea of co-working was to have numerous start-ups in a large, buzzing open plan area – but this doesn’t work for everybody.
Lots of teams struggle with the open plan concept and can find it hard to concentrate, difficult to build their own culture, and get the privacy they need. As a result, they end up moving back to a private office pretty quickly.
There is also an issue of co-working providers simply cramming too many people in, with one start-up office manager telling us: “Some of the spaces we looked at were quite cramped and noisy, with lots of people working within fairly small offices. We wanted a dedicated space that was quieter, so we could get our heads down and actually get some work done.”
If its just you, or you and your founders, looking for office space then an open plan co-work space may suit you just fine but, if you’ve got a team, you’ll need to consider their needs and the best ways of working for them.
Style over substance?
Design is one of the first things you’ll notice about a co-working space, and some co-working providers go all out to make their interiors as trendy and stylish as possible.
Before you get too caught up in the fixtures and fittings, think about how the design will support how you actually work in your business.
Freelance web developer, James Ochieng, has found style over substance is a common issue with co-work spaces: “Some of the co-working options I looked at were either too sophisticated so that they looked like a night club, or right at the other end of the scale, so they seemed a bit chaotic. I found that the perfect design for me is having plenty of meeting spaces, and a good mix of serious and quirky elements.”
So, if your business has lots of meetings with third parties such as clients and investors, make sure there is enough formal meeting space. Or if you spend more time on solo work, make sure there are enough quiet areas where your team can focus, make calls and have one-to-one catch ups.
Does it support employee wellbeing?
Another key element is to think about when looking for a co-working office is how you and your staff will feel after a few hours in the office, particularly due to the natural light available.
This was a key decider for Njoki Wairegi, marketing manager at an insurance start-up; “We wanted a space with lots of natural light to keep us alert for the whole day. It’s never good when you don’t know if it’s the morning or the evening outside – something we’ve experienced at other offices!”
Another way of supporting employee wellbeing and keeping staff recharged is to choose a co-working space with plenty of areas where staff can get away from it all if they’re feeling stressed.
For example, some co-working providers have a café onsite, which is a big plus for staff, providing a more relaxed break-out area for informal meetings and some head space away from the office.
Extra features like darts boards, pool tables and punch bags are also great for letting off the tension.
Are the perks worth it?
Having said that, be wary of the sort of offers and perks that are designed to tempt you in at co-working offices – whether that’s free beer, cakes and snacks, or a packed party schedule. It’s important to remember that the novelty of these treats is likely to wear off – for you and your team – so it’s better to focus on what your business really needs.
Freelance developer, Ochieng agrees, telling us: “I found that the perks come at a price, even if they are initially presented as being free. If you have to pay Sh13500 extra a month for free beer, that isn’t something that is really appealing to me. I just want a co-working space where I can work.”
Also, don’t underestimate the small features that can make a big difference, as Hall notes: “For us 24/7 access was really important. Like most start-ups, we want the flexibility to work as much or as little as we like.”
Personal and professional service
Another crucial factor to consider is the management of a co-working space, and whether you will have the personal and professional service you expect.
With lots of new co-working providers opening up, some offices can be very disorganised, as Meritus Moraa, founder of an engineering consultancy has found: “We had a bad experience at one co-working space where they kept moving us from one office to another and they were really unresponsive to our needs. After that, finding somewhere that was professionally run was really important for us.”
In a competitive marketplace, you also have to be careful of co-working providers who just want to get members through the door, as Ochieng has experienced: “Some of the co-working providers I spoke to were very aggressive and impersonal in their approach, whereas I wanted somewhere where that they would look after me, with things like post or dealing with a parcel if it gets delivered to the office.
“The co-working space I chose was the only one that responded to my feedback and concerns, which is ultimately why I chose them.”
Look out for red flags such as IT policies, security and hidden costs
Finally, always read the fine print to ensure you’re not signing up to something unacceptable without realising.
Having tried a few different co-working spaces, Moraa has seen a number of strange contract stipulations from co-working providers: “We’ve seen some crazy agreements, for example clauses to allow the use of our intellectual property and IT policies and allowing the management to read or access our data!”
Meanwhile, Ochieng warns to take note of how much physical security is in place, explaining: “I found some co-working providers a bit lax when it comes to security, for example making a point that you don’t need a key to get in. But that makes me wonder who else is going to be coming and going, without needing a key.”
We’ve also heard stories of providers who will hit you with extra charges for meeting rooms or added services, on top of the monthly cost, so that is another red flag to watch out for.
Co-working has been a revolution for start-ups and freelancers, giving you stylish workspace, a supportive community and the flexibility to grow – all at a reasonable cost.
Just don’t rush into making a decision without looking around, doing your research and asking the right questions first.