Companies thrive in shared office space

This article first appeared in the Australian Financial Review, May 4, 2017

Ditch your regular office and head to a co-working space if you want your business to succeed.

Connections are king in today’s free wheeling business world, where a chance encounter can be more fruitful than a formal pitch and opportunities open up for the person on the spot. But small businesses, freelancers, contractors and start-ups too often find themselves on the fringes – of conversations as well as cities.

Many are finding the antidote to isolation is co-working.

Nous House, a new co-working community with a strong professional services focus, has opened spaces in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, and will soon do so in Canberra.  The force behind the network is Nous Group, which was named Best Management Consulting Firm in the 2017, 2015 and 2012 AFR Client Choice Awards. It was also named one of the top five work places in Australia in 2015, and 10th in Asia in 2016, in the BRW Best Places to Work Awards.

The managing director of Nous Group, Tim Orton, says the group is ‘‘the anchor member’’ of the Nous House community and brings to it ‘‘a distinctive and positive culture’’.

The GM of Nous House itself, Anna Chandler, points also to Nous House’s ability to provide small private offices as well as hot-desking, cost-effective short-term rentals in top-quality accommodation, and 24/7 access to all four CBD offices.

Mezo Research moved into Nous House’s Collins Street space in March after graduating from the Pollenizer incubator space. The company specialises in complex system analysis and modelling for decision-making for Clients including Victoria Police.

Mezo founder and chief executive officer Dr Athol Whitten became interested in the possibilities of co-working when he was in Seattle working for the Australian government and the University of Washington. When Mezo graduated from the Pollenizer incubator space, a Nous Group director who had worked on a project with Mezo introduced the new company to Nous House.

‘‘A former colleague had taken a three-year lease on a space in Queen Street, but as a start-up we can’t guarantee we’ll be around in three years,’’ Whitten says.  At Nous House, Mezo pays by the month and doesn’t have a long-term lease commitment. ‘‘That flexibility and affordability is absolutely key to us.  Belonging to Nous House has turned out to be ‘‘more than a real estate option’’, Whitten says.

‘‘Three out of four of us had come out of academia, where you typically end up working in silos.  I have found co-working to be quite a healthy experience. It gets you out of your own head space. If we were in a small office, our Friday drinks would be just us.

‘‘If you are interacting and collaborating with like-minded people, sometimes a business opportunity comes up, sometimes just an opportunity to learn something. The community is important, but even above that the opportunity to work with Nous Group is great.’’

CareerSeekers New Australian Internship Program also found its way into co-working through its connection with Nous Group.  The non-profit social enterprise creates paid internships for refugees and asylum seekers, most of whom were tertiary-qualified professionals in their country of origin.

CareerSeekers established ‘‘warm contact’’ with Nous Group when it placed an intern in the consultancy and moved in after sharing digs with its sibling organisation CareerTrackers, which works with Indigenous students. CareerSeekers’ deputy chief executive officer, Ash Nugent, says: ‘‘It’s not easy for non-profits to be located in the CBD.  ‘‘We’re a team of seven and to do an office fitout would be exorbitantly expensive.’’

CareerSeekers now has a lockable office space with four desks and a whiteboard for team meetings, plus three members sitting in the open space.

‘‘The employers we are partnering with are almost all based in the CBD and we need to be able to head out to meetings, ’’Nugent says. ‘‘This is a professional space, so if we need to host our employment partners, that’s easy to do too. ‘‘We run training programs for our participants and we’ve had some volunteers from Nous Group contribute to those.’’

Ben Barnett, chief executive officer of tech company Loop, agrees that Nous House has the feel of a professional services firm but adds: ‘‘It’s not staid or boring. It’s dynamic and appropriate for a whole range of people, from late career professionals to startups. It’s a no-fuss space.’’

Loop is a real-time feedback platform that developed out of an internal project at Nous Group and was spun off as a separate entity in 2016. Barnett says Nous House makes it possible ‘‘to scale appropriately as Loop grows’’.

‘‘We have an eight-person office in Melbourne, but there are 10 people associated with Loop in various capacities, including one in Sydney and one working half-time in Brisbane,’’ he says. ‘‘We all move through the office at various times, so we have our own hot-desking within our own office. ‘‘It’s good to have plenty of spaces such as meeting rooms available at short notice, with top quality AV and whiteboards.

‘‘It’s a 24/7 space, so we have the ability to come and go from the space as we like.’’