Here Naveen Bhandari, the vision behind Airivo , provides an insight into the secret of choosing the right flexible office space. We caught up with him in his local coffee shop (more on that later) and asked…
What first piqued your interest in the concept of flexible office space?After working for a number of years in the City with the long days and difficult commutes, I came to the realisation, not long after my second daughter was born, that something had to change. My work/life balance was non-existent – I needed to embark on a new project that would allow me a better quality of life, more family time and enable me to create and deliver something tangible.
I came across Boundary House Business Centre and looked at it as a potential base for my new work life – it offered flexible working space and was in a great location, for both my home and transport links to central London and Heathrow. But the more I found out about it, the more it intrigued me – for some reason the site (which technically ticked so many boxes as a base for local start-ups and SME’s) was fledgling with just a 65% occupancy rate. The more I researched it and spoke to current clients and potential customers, I felt confident that with my business background and ‘can do anything’ attitude I could turn its fortunes around.
It became the very project I was looking for! I got involved and within three months Boundary House was at 100% occupancy. The demand for small managed work space was there, but the offering just hadn’t been attractive enough.
What was your strategy?“It was a simple approach really – just to be as client-centric as possible, listening to customers’ needs and quickly accommodating them, without hesitation or delay”. It’s a strategy he confidently repeated not long after when he acquired a second site – Boston House – half a mile down the road. Within just three months that too was full. “If your clients are happily ensconced in a great location and able to seamlessly get on with their work, why would they want to work anywhere else? In fact, over 25% of our original clients are still happily basing their businesses in those sites, 15 years on”.
What would you say is the main pull of taking flexible office space?“For me, it would always be location, location, location. You get to choose where you want to be based. Whether that means taking office space close to home, a site that has parking or having great transport links. And of course good facilities nearby – decent coffee shops, eateries for informal client catch ups or even just some handy shops to pick up a meal on the way home”.
Once you have honed down your location, what next?“It is imperative that the internal space and facilities work for you too and I think that is where our proposition really succeeds.”
“We have spent years listening to the needs of our clients and we have dedicated management teams at each of our sites who are empowered to make decisions on the spot. If a client needs 10 extra desks set up for a meeting tomorrow, we’ll do it. If they need urgent administrative help with a mass mailshot – we’ll get people on it. We have the infrastructure in place to accommodate most requests and for those that are unexpected, our on-site teams won’t hesitate to make instant ‘can do’ decisions and kick start the action.”
What would you say are the three things that you would look for in a serviced office?“Firstly location. For me it is always about location. This is your chance to choose an office space that suits your needs, or those of your own clients. They will thank you for being easily accessible or having direct links to city centres.”
“Secondly, the attitude of the management team on site. At Airivo offices, nothing is ever too much trouble and we really are on your side – we are lucky enough to see our clients’ businesses flourish after seeing all the hard work that goes in. We’ve made it our business to ensure our clients are as supported as they can be (whether that be by offering a professional phone system, meet and greet reception service, meeting room set up or administrative support), so that they can get on with running their business.
“That leads me on to my third point – a highly resilient infrastructure. Our clients have come here to work and everything needs to work seamlessly around them to allow them to do so. If I saw office space advertised that boasted ‘good internet connectivity’ that would simply not be enough. Connectivity inevitably goes down from time to time which is why we have invested in the installation of technically resilient RO2 circuits. That means if one fibre goes down, a separate back up line kicks in. I couldn’t bear the frustration of connectivity going down, so I wouldn’t expect our paying clients to either”.
You have recently expanded with a new site in Birmingham. Are serviced offices becoming more popular outside the capital?“They definitely are. In fact, serviced offices in Birmingham accounted for 25% of the city’s office space last year*. It’s easy to see why. Brexit has cast an uncertain shadow over the future and therefore long leases are a commitment few want to sign up to. But looking at Birmingham in particular; rents are cheaper and so is the cost of living yet there are great transport links to London and HS2 will only improve that. Savvy businesses are re-locating here, or using it as a base for a second site – particularly for teams who don’t need to be front facing in Central London or who are priced out of working and living in the capital. Our Bennett’s Hill office is right opposite New Street Station, at the very heart of Birmingham’s great transport network, and the redevelopment of the whole area has made it a really enticing place to be based”.
…and you have recently expanded into Shoreditch?“Most of our sites are located in West London, for their enviable transport links both into Central London, and for their close proximity to Heathrow and the motorway network. But Shoreditch is a great location for different reasons. It has become a vibrant and fashionable area, buzzing with media, comms and IT businesses and of course is close to the City and a host of different transport links. There is a really great vibe about it, and we already have 100 desks taken by the fashionable furniture brand Swoon.”
So, if you had to choose one of your offices to spend a day in, which would it be?“That’s a tricky one! We have ensured that all Airivo offices offer great facilities and would accommodate any needs businesses may have, so it would have to come back to good old location. Richmond for the green spaces, Chiswick for the High Road of shops, wonderful bars and eateries… But at the end of the day, the best location for me is nearest to home – and that would lead me back to Boundary House. We have created a real community feel there – we know the best restaurants, bars and cafes in Richmond Ealing and Chiswick… In fact, I so wanted to create a wonderful coffee shop round the corner – No 6 coffee – that I have invested in it personally. I love that every time I nip in there for a flat white, I see friendly faces from the office – some who have simply come to know each other through occupying the same office building but who have become friends or forged networking links.
“What I have learnt over the years is that a happy life needs balance. Yes, you need a technologically and administratively supportive work environment so that you can focus on the job in hand, but you will work best in a place you are comfortable in too”.
And what does the future hold for Airivo?“There are many reasons that co-working – or ‘touch down’ - space is so popular at the moment that I only see our sector going from strength to strength. With so much economic uncertainty, our proposition makes a lot of sense – and I think Airivo goes the extra mile on all fronts. Far from being tied into long term leases, with an Airivo office the contracts are short and the documentation is simple. Just tell us what you need and we will do our best to accommodate you. We are looking to be able to offer great office space in Edinburgh and Manchester soon and are even investing in whole sites for long term lease (the first being used by WN Direct – the logistics arm of fashion collective ASOS). Quite simply, we will keep listening to the needs of our customers to help ensure they can have their space, their way.