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Co-working: A smart way of doing business in Lagos

Co-working

It is a proven fact that technology has greatly improved the way we do business, particularly in big cities like Lagos. Unlike those days when landlords and property owners held sway, this generation seem to have discovered other smart ways of navigating the burden of paying rents for offices and residential spaces in Lagos, largely through the aid of technology.

First, was the idea of working from home before some smart entrepreneurs came up with the idea of turning their private cars into mobile offices.

While their back seats are usually littered with business related documents, their car boots are loaded with files and in some cases, household goods for sale.

However, the advancement in technology brought about great improvement of the old order. Clearly, innovations in technology have improved operations of small, medium and big companies and helped turn a few small local businesses into global concerns.

Imagine how business was done a few decades ago when there was no e-mail, Internet services, mobile marketing, telecommuting or smartphones and social media! In today’s business world, communication is instantaneous, with huge amounts of information being exchanged through email. So, in the end, the Internet became a powerful tool in the hands of business owners and employees.

But just when it seems the technology generation has found a leeway with social media, the need for physical office location has brought about a new phenomena in doing business. It is called co-working.

Though very popular in the western world, where small businesses have exploited it to cut cost, the last couple of years have witnessed an increase in the number of co-working spaces in Lagos.

Though other cities like Abuja and Port Harcourt are gradually embracing the new trend, Lagos, being the commercial nerve centre of the country, seems to be taking it to the next level.

From the Island to the Mainland, co-working spaces are no longer a rarity and while it might look like a new phenomenon, the practice has always been with us, although not clearly defined.

A typical example is the mechanic workshops and villages, most which have every service one might need concerning motor vehicle maintenance and repairs, with different technicians sharing the spaces and facilities.

Consequently, the days of struggling to rent, build or own traditional offices before starting a business are gradually going out of fashion; entrepreneurs have embraced co-working and it is paying off.

Availability of these spaces in the city has indeed made it possible for most small and medium businesses to run efficiently, even with little resources. Setting up a business today, particularly for the hip-generation, is all about joining a co-working community, a new family of like-minded individuals, who make space available and the networks to get ahead with desks for short-term lets and for offices.

Besides the workspace offered, these facilities also have other basic needs for doing business such as electricity and Internet facilities, which are often inclusive of the payment packages.

In a bid to stand out, some operators have even gone the extra mile by offering other perks such as coffee and drinks, small chops, play and relaxation points, as well as hiring receptionists and security operatives that covers such spaces.

Benefits of co-working spaces in a city like Lagos cannot be over-emphasised. This could explain why most incubation hubs in the country also offer co-working spaces as part of their services. So, unlike those days when a lot of businesses closed shop as a result of high operational cost, co-working allows for shared responsibilities.

One of the notable co-working spaces in Lagos is The Circumference. Owned by Fehintola Akin-Oluwole, the facility opened in May 2016 and currently hosts a good number of entrepreneurs.

Manager of the facility, Ifeoma Obesem, the founder Akin-Oluwole got the idea when she was on leave two years ago and was looking for a conducive place to work on the Mainland. After searching for a while with no luck, she resolved to set up one.

However, Obesem revealed that the market was fast becoming saturated, as a lot of investors were beginning to look in that direction.

“Co-working spaces are springing up in Lagos almost on a daily basis now and most people do not understand the challenges that come with this line of business. Power is the greatest problem we face for now and we have to rely on generators for the greater part of the day and the cost of diesel is draining profits,” she said.

Obesem said the advantage of working with a co-sharing space is that it gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to focus on their business, especially startups, without worrying about overhead costs.

Divided into three sections-workstations, virtual lounge and private offices-customers are offered the flexibility to pick what works for them based on what they can afford, as prices start from N3, 000 daily to N50, 000 monthly.

However, things are slightly different at the SilverArk, another co-sharing space in Yaba, Lagos. According to Amaka Uwadia, “the facility actually did not start out as a co-working space. It only wanted to bring like minds under one roof to share ideas and thoughts.”

After a while, it morphed into a co-working place and now boasts two wings of co-shared spaces, private offices and a training facility. Here, pricing is flexible, starting from as little as N1000 (one thousand Naira) daily for the co-shared spaces to half a million Naira annually for the private offices, she explained.

Just like other co-working spaces, power is a major challenge at SilverArk as well.

“We spend a lot to generate electricity and this is a major challenge for us. However, power has been a little better in this area compared to last year, but it is still very poor on the average and the cost of diesel is really draining financially,” the manager, Akin Oduwole said.

He said the facility provides flexibility of work and play, a space for like-minded individuals to interact, exchange ideas, network and generally strike the right balance.

Leadspace, also in Yaba, which describes itself as a community that spurs people to create and innovate.

Asides from the usual offerings of power and Internet, it also offers legal services, accounting and business analytics to customers, a move Tosin Kilani, the Operations Manager, said was an advantage of sticking with them.

Owned by Olufunmbi Falayi, the facility started when she saw a need to encourage startups. Falayi runs Passion Incubator with Taiwo Ajetunmobi. It supports early startups at pre-seed level.

The duo discovered that when startups come to them with funds from investors or finance houses, 75-80 per cent of it goes to infrastructure and overheads, while the businesses struggle to stay afloat. Having identified this as a major detriment to entrepreneurship, they decided to open a space where startups could share and pay for without worrying about early teething issues like infrastructure.

Kilani informed that the co-sharing space offers co-location, which enables customers use any of their locations in Lagos in so far as they are registered members. However, pricing doesn’t come cheap here, as a dedicated seat of five days goes for N40, 000, while a flexible seat of three days goes for N25, 000 monthly, with a daily plan of N2, 500. Like in other co-working spaces, power remains a major challenge.

One of the customers in one of the dedicated seats, Tayo Fasunon of Quadron Studios, told The Guardian that “Co-working offers a soft landing for us as it takes care of most overheads. I get my work done and keep my business running. I used to have an office, but started having problems with the landlord and had to leave the place urgently.”

Fasunon, who has been using the facility for five months, hinted, “I’m not in a hurry to move. Though I have rented another office, I’m taking my time because this place is comfortable. At the beginning, young businesses need a lot of support to be free from worries about power, security, office space and other needs and this takes care of issues like that,” he said.

On the other hand, 360 Creative Innovation Hub is a little different from the others, as it is a co-shared working space for tailors and fashion designers. Located in Surulere and equipped with every machine need for fashion designing, the owner, Blessing Ebere-Achu, said it presents the perfect advantage to assist upcoming designers.

“Our problem in Nigerian fashion is that most people have the idea that they can do everything on their own, which is not really possible. From getting a shop to designing and sewing, marketing and the like, it is not easy, especially if you are just starting. Co-working in I.T is well known and that is what I’m trying to do with fashion in Nigeria.

“Start up for fashion is very expensive and this discourages a lot of talented people. We have put everything in place to make things easy for upcoming designers so that they can focus on their business and customer base. The hub helps them to do more business and grow faster so it is a win-win for everyone,” she said.

Besides providing workspace, Ebere-Achu is also partnering with Public Relations (PR) companies to promote upcoming designers, who use the hub to expand their scope of operations.

“As a startup, you might not necessarily need a corporate office and if you don’t need one, don’t feel pressured into getting one. We need to change the way we do business in Nigeria by cutting unnecessary costs in the production of goods and services. Businesses grow and can offer competitive prices without extra costs.”

On whether co-working spaces have become the new fad, especially in Lagos, she said, “Most co-sharing spaces start without a clear idea of what they intend to achieve but are joining the bandwagon of ‘I must have my own’. What are you trying to solve with your co-shared space? You need to create a niche for yourself.

“At our hub, we provide machines that many people cannot possibly have when they start the business of fashion. The tailors learn form each other and help one another with best practices and things like that. There are office spaces available to bring clients to and even work out from,” she said.

Adejoke, one of the users, who spoke to The Guardian, admitted that using the place has helped her business tremendously.

“Everything I need is here and I just come with my fabric. I have not been able to raise the money for a standard shop, but I have clients and I don’t want to work from home. I still intend to get a shop of my own, but this is serving my purpose for now,” she said.

Meanwhile, using the hub costs N1, 000 daily and N30, 000 monthly. For Ebere-Achu, the greatest challenge in running the hub remains steady power and real estate.

“We run on generators most times, as the power situation is very poor. Also, the cost of rent is stifling us as the landlord increases the rent at will, forcing us to pass on the extra costs to our customers. We need an investor to share these costs and once we are able to get an investor, our prices would reflect this surely,” she said.

Cranium One, another co-working space in Lagos, which provides cost-effective place to do business outside the home, has been launched in Lagos. Located in Victoria Island, it provides small and medium enterprises (SMEs) with independent activity to grow their businesses.

Its founder, Olaotan Towry-Coker said, “The concept was birthed five to six years ago with the likes of Capital Square and Venia leading the pack. I think the growth is being driven by the growing cafe culture and the increasing number of startups, especially in the technology sector and the repatriation of talents from overseas who are used to working this way.

“We’re happy to provide affordable, yet premium office space to the thousands of entrepreneurs and early-stage businesses in need of professional and welcoming work environment,” he said.

This exquisitely furnished, premium space provides a combination of ergonomic design, thoughtfully crafted spacing, well-planned community management and capacity building.

“Cranium One provides a broad range of interactive learning classes that cover branding, creative thinking, project management and marketing, so individuals can develop skills that give their work and play new energy,” he said.

Here, members get more than just desk space; they also benefit from an engaging environment, shared skills and resources, increased motivation, an expanded network of professional contacts, and sense of community. It also features funky and functional open and closed working spaces, high-end private offices, fixed desks, hot desks, high-speed Wi-Fi, capacity building workshops and seminars amongst many.

“Cranium One creates an environment that fosters innovation and ideation,” Towry-Coker said.

Currently, The Workstation on Victoria Island remains a leader in co-working spaces in Nigeria, as it has taken the concept up another level by not just offering a place to work, but socialise, eat and even exercise.

It has a cafe that serves high-quality meals, run by Simply Green juices, a gym with changing rooms and showers, a yoga room, a play lounge, outdoor seating and various types of ‘desks’, from traditionally fixed desks to private phone booth style reading spaces. It may not have the intimacy or community of Cranium, but there is certainly a wow factor in terms of facilities.

Venture capitalist and co-founder, Fareed Arogundade, who spoke to The Guardian Life Magazine, said, “Our ethos is to provide a platform for people to create their best work, enabling them to live their best life. We created a space so that our members can interact seamlessly at any time and from anywhere in the world. Our web app transcends our physical locations. You can literally book rooms, RSVP to events, talk to other members or print from wherever you are.”

Earlier this year, global Co-working leading platforms, including DeskMag, Co-working Africa, Co-working Insights and Co-worker, in collaborating with Venia Business Hub, recently staged Nigeria’s first Co-working Conference in Lagos.

Although the conference is a global event that happens in major cities all over the world, including London, Dublin, New York, Cape Town, Penang and Melbourne, it was the first time the session was hosted in Nigeria.

Held at the IMAX Filmhouse, Lekki, the event brought together global experts, entrepreneurs, investors, service providers and leading figures in Nigeria’s Co-working industry and explored the drivers of the growth in Co-working spaces in Nigeria, the opportunities and value being created.

Addressing participants, Executive Director and Co-founder of Sahara Group, Tonye Cole, charged Nigerian youths to rise to the challenges from their counterparts in other parts of the continent.

“I’m just coming from Kigali in Rwanda, where they had African youths connect programme and young people came from all over Africa to speak. They spoke about the projects they are working on, what they are thinking and what is happening on the continent. My greatest pain with what I saw there was that, I know that here in Nigeria, we have far more to offer than everyone that I heard from, but we were not represented as I hoped we would be. So, I challenge us not go to sleep and think that the rest of the continent is asleep; they are not,” he said.

Cole, who is also a patron of the Co-working group in Nigeria, observed that, “they are challenging you; they are challenging your space, they are challenging the leadership qualities that you have. They are challenging your innovations, they are challenging you in terms of technology; they are challenging your entrepreneurial skills. And they are moving fast, from government to ICT, to agriculture, to innovations in manufacturing, to all sorts of things. Everybody is awake,” he said.

According to Cole, the continent has suddenly realised that entrepreneurship is the only way that they can leapfrog and using technology.

“All everybody is seeking are the opportunities that will enable them to move forward; the youth are taking it and moving with it. Are you waiting for the government to give you everything? You will wait for a very long time. Are you sitting and complaining that they are not doing these things? You don’t need it; eventually that will happen. But you have to collaborate; you need to sit together and find areas where you can collaborate.”

He added that this is time for young people to think out programmes and ways to impact the society positively.

The Creator of Co-working Conference Nigeria, Kola Oyeneyin, ssaid, “The opportunities in the value-chain of Co-working in Nigeria as a nascent industry is unprecedented. This conference presents the right avenue for players, investors, entrepreneurs and other stakeholders to explore the endless possibilities in the sector.”

It remains to be seen if co-shared spaces could really and completely take over from traditional offices or if they are fly-by-night ventures. However, one thing is clear; they are providing alternatives to doing business and helping startups get a leg up.

Why People Thrive In Co-working Spaces
By Gretchen Spreitzer, Peter Bacevice and Lundon Garret

There seems to be something special about co-working spaces. As researchers, who have, for years, studied how employees thrive, we were surprised to discover that people, who belong to them, report levels of thriving that approach an average of six on a seven-point scale.

This is at least a point higher than the average for employees who do their jobs in regular offices, and something so unheard of that we had to look at the data again.

It checked out. So, we were curious: What makes co-working spaces – defined as membership-based workspaces where diverse groups of freelancers, remote workers, and other independent professionals work together in a shared, communal setting – so effective? And are there lessons for more traditional offices?

To find out, we interviewed several co-working space founders and community managers, and surveyed several hundred workers from dozens of co-working spaces around the U.S. A regression analysis following our survey revealed three substantial predictors of thriving:

People Who Use Co-Working Spaces See Their Work As Meaningful
APART from the type of work they do-freelancers choosing projects they care about, for example-the people we surveyed reported finding meaning in the fact that they could bring their whole selves to work. They are able to do this in a few ways.

First, unlike a traditional office, co-working spaces consist of members, who work for a range of different companies, ventures, and projects. Because there is little direct competition or internal politics, they don’t feel they have to put on a work persona to fit in.

Working amidst people doing different kinds of work can also make one’s own work identity stronger. Our respondents were given the opportunity to frequently describe what they do, which can make what they do seem more interesting and distinctive.

Second, meaning may come from working in a culture where it is the norm to help each other out, and there are many opportunities to do so; the variety of workers in the space means that coworkers have unique skill sets that they can provide to other community members.

Lastly, meaning may also be derived from a more concrete source: The social mission inherent in the Co-working Manifesto, an online document signed by members of more than 1,700 working spaces. It clearly articulates the values that the co-working movement aspires to, including community, collaboration, learning, and sustainability. These values get reinforced at the annual Global Co-working UnConference. So in many cases, it is not simply the case that a person is going to work; they are also part of a social movement.

They Have More Job Control
Co-working spaces are normally accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week. People can decide whether to put in a long day when they have a deadline or want to show progress, or could decide to take a long break in the middle of the day to go to the gym.

They could choose whether they want to work in a quiet space so they could focus, or in a more collaborative space with shared tables where interaction is encouraged. They could even decide to work from home, without repercussion, if they need to meet a repairperson or deal with a family member’s need.

And while coworkers value this autonomy, we also learned that they equally value some form of structure in their professional lives.

Too much autonomy can actually cripple productivity because people lack routines. Coworkers reported that having a community to work in helps them create structures and discipline that motivates them.

Thus, paradoxically, some limited form of structure enables an optimal degree of control for independent workers.

They Feel Part Of A Community
Connections with others are a big reason why people pay to work in a communal space, as opposed to working from home for free or renting a nondescript office.

Each co-working space has its own vibe, and the managers of each space go to great lengths to cultivate a unique experience that meets the needs of their respective members. Grind, for example, is a growing network of co-working spaces in New York and Chicago.

Anthony Marinos, who oversees Grind’s marketing, community management, and member services, shared with us, “When it comes to cultivating our community at Grind, we’re all about the human element.

We consider ourselves as much a hospitality company as we do a workspace provider. Our staff knows all of our members by name and profession, and we’re constantly facilitating introductions between Grindists.”

WeWork, which recorded a valuation of $5 billion last December, emphasizes how it “seeks to create a place you join as an individual ‘me’, but where you become part of a greater ‘we.’”

Importantly, however, socialising is not compulsory or forced. Members could choose when and how to interact with others. They are more likely to enjoy discussions over coffee in the café because they went to the café for that purpose – and when they want to be left alone elsewhere in the building, they are.

And while our research found that some people interact with fellow coworkers much less than others, they still felt a strong sense of identity with the community. We believe this comes from co-workers knowing there is the potential for interactions when they desire or need them.

So, what are the implications for traditional companies? Even though the co-working movement has its origins among freelancers, entrepreneurs, and the tech industry, it’s increasingly relevant for a broader range of people and organisations.

In fact, co-working can become part of your company’s strategy, and it can help your people and your business thrive. An increasing number of companies are incorporating co-working into their business strategies in two ways.

First, they are being used as an alternative place for people to work. Michael Kenny, Managing Partner of San Diego-based Co-Merge, told us, “In the past year and a half, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the use of the space by enterprise employees. We have seen teams come in to use various on-demand meeting rooms.

“We have users from global companies of size ranging from several hundred to several thousand employees who use the space not only to allow their distributed workers to get productive work done, but also to attract employees who demand flexible workplace and work time.”

Grind is also witnessing growth in the number of remote workers who are becoming members. “We have not had to reach out to larger organizations, they actually tend to just come to us,” Anthony Marinos says.

“We have had employees from Visa, journalists from the Chicago Tribune, and even people affiliated with large financial institutions all work out of Grind.”

Spending time away from the office at a co-working space can also spark new ideas. Rebecca Brian Pan, the founder of COVO and former chief operating officer of NextSpace, explained how Ricoh’s innovation team worked out of NextSpace Santa Cruz for several months to observe how people work and where they hit pain points.

Based on member insight and feedback, and their own observations, the Ricoh team explored several new products that could help members in their daily work and chose the most highly rated product to pursue. From this effort, Ricoh later launched this product globally as their Smart Presenter, a paperless meeting solution.

Second, the lessons of co-working spaces can be applied to corporate offices. Just as it is important to encourage flexibility and support your mobile workforce, there is an equally important reality of creating the right kind of work environment inside your own walls. But this does not just mean creating open plan layouts or adding a coffee bar.

In reality, people need to be able to craft their work in ways that give them purpose and meaning. They should be given control and flexibility in their work environment — many companies are increasingly adopting the best planning practice of providing a 1:1 ratio (or close to it) of desk seats to seats in shared settings used for either collaborative work or quiet work.

Companies are also trying to enable more connections, helping people to interact and build community beyond work meetings. Co-working spaces are one place to look for guidance, as they regularly offer networking events, training programs, social events, and even summer camp. Some companies are going even, further, however.

Rich Sheridan and James Goebel, founders of Menlo Innovations in Ann Arbor, Michigan, recently expanded their office space by 7,000 square feet so that so that start-ups and early stage entrepreneurs can work alongside Menlo programmers to spur community and innovation.

In a way, the company is reverse-engineering its office into a co-working space.

Our research, which is ongoing, suggests that the combination of a well-designed work environment and a well-curated work experience are part of the reason people who co-work demonstrate higher levels of thriving than their office-based counterparts.

But what matters the most for high levels of thriving is that people who co-work have substantial autonomy and can be themselves at work.

Our advice to traditional companies who want to learn from co-working spaces is to give people the space and support to be their authentic best selves.

The result will be employees who feel more committed to your organization, and are more likely to bring their best energy and ideas to the office each day.

A version of this article appeared in the September 2015 issue (p.28, 30) of Harvard Business Review.

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Co-workingFareed Arogundade


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