A perfect workspace between home and office

Enterprise centres and co-working hubs are gearing up for ‘hybrid working’

Coworkinn’s members are a combination of the self-employed, people working for overseas companies that want a small base here, and start-ups. Photograph: Aidan Oliver

Coworkinn’s members are a combination of the self-employed, people working for overseas companies that want a small base here, and start-ups. Photograph: Aidan Oliver

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Blended learning has been the buzz phrase in educational circles ever since the pandemic shut everything down. Now the world of work has its equivalent: hybrid working. It’s where people no longer work from one place, but from several – their office, their home and another location, such as a local co-working space.

Working from home has taken its toll on people’s sanity and, while they may not want or be able to go back to their offices full-time, they would really like an alternative to the kitchen table for even a few hours a day. Ready and willing to provide it is the network of co-working spaces dotted around the State, while some enterprise hubs with spare capacity are also making working space available.

Co-working spaces come in all shapes and sizes, from a single permanent or hot desk to own-door offices and bigger spaces that can accommodate several people from the same company.

Traditionally, co-working was the preserve of individuals and small businesses. However, well before Covid struck, some larger organisations had cottoned on to its advantages as a way of locating staff closer to important customers or markets and saving employees from long commutes.

Indeed, one company discovered it could have happier, less stressed employees and save itself money if it rented hub space instead of subsidising employees’ travel costs to head office.

From a corporate perspective, hubs are a painless and quick way of adding capacity as they come fully equipped and ready to go and the best of them are as well fitted-out as any contemporary office in town.

Corralling

The pandemic may have seen off the traditional practice of corralling employees in one place, but the model has been under scrutiny for some time. Companies had begun asking themselves if everyone really needed to be in the same city centre location or out-of-town business park, and would a slimmed-down HQ complemented by people in smaller clusters elsewhere not be equally effective? Covid has arguably provided the answer.

The M1 corridor on the east coast is particularly well served for co-working spaces that stretch from Belfast to Dublin, with options along the way in locations such as Newry, Dundalk, Ardee and Drogheda. Some, like The Mill in Drogheda, are also enterprise hubs, so there is the added buzz of being in a start-up environment.

Sarah Daly is executive director at Dundalk-based Creative Spark, a purpose-built, not-for-profit co-working space that’s been home to technology companies and creative industries since 2012. It currently has 12 desks and 20 own-door offices (accommodation for about 70 people), with planning under way for an additional 40 desks.

It has seen a recent spike in enquiries about availability.

“We didn’t close during the lockdown and I think people were happy to be able to come here for the peace and quiet,” Daly says. “I also think people are still nervous about going back into their offices. Our building is spacious and we don’t pack it with people anyway.

“We’ve had the health and safety people in to ensure we have complied fully with all the post-Covid requirements and can provide well socially distanced space. Hopefully the social distancing won’t go on forever, but I think people wanting alternatives to home or office working is here to stay and is now being driven by employees.”

Mike Hannigan set up Coworkinn in the Beacon South Quarter in Dublin’s Sandyford area in 2010, and his was among the first co-working spaces to open up here.

“I worked from home and didn’t like it particularly,” he says. “I became aware of the co-working business model in the US and saw no reason why I couldn’t start something similar.”

Travel restrictions

Enquiries about space at Coworkinn are up since the travel restrictions eased, as it seems some people have had quite enough of working from home.

Coworkinn’s members are a combination of the self-employed, people working for overseas companies that want a small base here, and start-ups. People come and go at different times so it’s rare for the building to be full.

“We didn’t officially open during the pandemic but one person whose work was essential was here. I never subscribed to the idea of dense occupancy so we still have some capacity even with social distancing,” Hannigan says.

With hybrid working here to stay, possibly forever, Karen O’Reilly of recruitment company Employflex says companies need to step up their HR policies accordingly.

“Organisations quickly need to put the right scaffolding around procedures and policies so that everyone can thrive in this new environment,” she says.

“Remote work policy needs to be watertight so that everyone on the team knows exactly what is expected of them. There is no room for ambiguity. Career and development opportunities should be the same for everyone and people who are primarily working remotely should not be ‘punished’ for doing so. A clear career development and training plan should be laid out for everyone without preference.

“We must also remember that some people do not like remote work and might feel forced into this arrangement,” O’Reilly adds. “Managers need to take this into account and to look for the signs that people are struggling or suffering from mental health issues.

“Regular anonymous feedback may be one way to get some enlightening results. [Software company] GitLab, which operates 100 per cent remotely, gets weekly feedback from its teams.”

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