The death of the office?

Author: Anish Kapoor, Chief Executive Officer

When we started out (what seems like) aeons ago – the concept of not having one physical location where you worked brought strange looks from people.

As a startup – we saved valuable cash by not renting any offices, and having everyone work from home. That cash gets spent on more marketing or more developers – things that added real value to our business. Whereas an office always struck me as an expensive way to get a lot of people to have coffee and tea in un-natural amounts.

This message seemed to be lost on large corporations though – who stuck blindly to the mantra of  ‘I exist. I am a business. Therefore i need a whopping big office.’

The best example of this madness is none other than the Greater Manchester Transport Executive. Yup – this is the local government body whose job it is to STOP us from using our cars and either get public transport…or even better not travel at all unless you have to.

So of course right outside Manchester Piccadilly Station is a huge office of theirs, which to be fair is by a train station. BUT when you walk past in peer in the window (they windows are big  and its difficult not look in – i wasn’t pressed up against them or anything like that) guess what you see?

Rows and rows of desks with PC’s and brand new Cisco IP phones on each desk. People are sat at their desks sending emails, doing powerpoints or spreadsheets. There may be a few people huddled around someones desk, or some people in one of the meeting rooms – but mainly they are all staring at their PC screens.

This really does make my blood boil. Why on earth is the local government wasting our money on plush offices in central Manchester, just so a hundred people can spend an hour each day treking into and out of the city centre to do something they could just as well do at home?

I don’t know how much that office costs them – but i am going to guess at least £100k per annum (when you include maintenance, insurance and other such costs). They are probably on a 10 year lease. So thats a cool £1 million committed to just having a place to stick a load of PC’s.

Finally though - it seems the world is changing. A combination of the recession and high fuel prices have forced companies to act. This is most apparent in the recent results of Regus ( the flexible office space provider. They showed a great set of results – profits up a whopping 25% year on year. They attributed this to companies becoming savvier about their office space needs, reducing their core office space and renting capacity as and when they need it.

We just started using Regus a few weeks ago – and bar a few quircky issues with booking meeting rooms – they have been excellent. In particular we signed up for something called a ‘Gold Card’.

What this means is that whenever i am in a city with a Regus centre, i can just drop in and use their business lounge for free. They have good wifi, its quiet, you can plug in your laptop and you get free tea, coffee and water!

This has turned in really handy if i need to get out of the house – normally because we have hordes of kids milling around. I’ve been able to to just drop into my local office and sit there all day (mostly i’ve been put in an office all to myself) working away.

The great thing is that no-one i’m working with sees anyhing different. I’m online – i can IM them, we use Yuuguu to show each other what we are doing and Skype to speak to each other.

So hats off to Regus – i like their approach, and i like their products. Who knows…perhaps one day i may even see someone from the Greater Manchester Transport Executive sat next to me in my new ‘office’?

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