Account Director, Oliver Deed reports from the coworking conference in Milan. 

Occasionally when I discuss public relations and public affairs with friends, I get the impression they see our industry as terribly unglamorous. Regularly attending late night planning committees, manning occasionally fractious public exhibitions at weekends and having to travel to the other end of the country for two hour meetings, does not, it seems, register on the radar as particularly glamorous.

Well dear reader, as I write this I am on a plane to Milan, darhhhhhhling, the European capital of fashion. OK, I have, as my colleagues will attest, the fashion sense of an eighty year old man with decaying eyesight. OK, I’m on an EasyJet plane and there is a distinct chance of getting some life threatening vascular problem due to the lack of space. OK, I almost missed the flight due to a cancelled train, meaning I had to run to catch it and dump all my liquids on the way. OK, the peanuts are €3 a pop. But to me that is glamour.

So why Milan, you ask. Well, the great and good of Europe’s coworking sector are converging on Milan, to discuss the long-term trajectory of the flexible space sector on the continent and beyond. And in the last two years, coworking spaces, along with accelerators and incubators, have increasingly featured as elements on development projects and broader public affairs accounts I have worked on.

So a trip to the coworking conference in Milan seemed like an obvious place to accrue some insight as to what is happening. Not just in London, but also in places like Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam and Milan, where coworking spaces are burgeoning.

For what it is worth, I have my own view on why coworking space is developing so rapidly in London, partly developed whilst supporting the London Enterprise Panel’s work on “Open Workspaces”.

Two important factors are combining to enhance the emergence of the flexible space sector. Pressure on office space in London is becoming acute, primarily driven by demand in the residential market and the introduction (and subsequent extension) of permitted development rights, which liberalised the process for converting office space into residential accommodation.  The constraint on space makes flexible space a more attractive proposition for businesses that are squeezed out of the higher end market in London, by sheer virtue of price.

 

A second dynamic is also at play. The market for office space is fundamentally changing due to altering patterns of behaviour in the workplace, which is starting to negate the requirement for permanent large scale, fixed locations for businesses, particularly for start ups, microbusinesses and even large employers.

 

For instance, in the start-up model, an entrepreneur or business owner might choose to work from home for a period of time during the week, and take a desk in a coworking space, in order to interact with fellow travellers on the path to success. You get the benefit of cheap, flexible space, and a similar, if not higher, level of osmosis in terms of ideas and contacts without the hassle of a six month break clause which can kill a nascent business.
As this market becomes more attractive to companies, developers are looking to embrace it, integrate these spaces in their developments, and find a convincing commercial model to make it work. Many of them are well advanced on that journey. I am working on three schemes in the pre-application process doing exactly that, and worked on a scheme in London which recently secured permission for a new coworking hub, which will feature 3D printers, IPTV broadcasting facilities and exceptional broadband connectivity to attract a new community of entrepreneurs to an area that does not have that culture currently.

No doubt it is lovely to go to Milan, a city of terrific culture and beauty. However, this coworking conference has genuine utility if you are working in the development industry, and looking at a hybrid model for your potential development that features both a residential and commercial aspect.

At Snapdragon, we are lucky to have developed a terrific knowledge in this space having worked with a range of excellent clients who have delivered this sort of facility, some of it exuding a beauty that would not be out of place in Milan.  So watch this (coworking) space.
If you’re interested in knowing more about how we can help your development contact Oliver Deed on 020 3176 4161.