September 27, 2019
September 23, 2019
Connectivity Is Coworking’s Crown Jewel
Connectivity is a vital amenity for the owner of any kind of office or workspace today, but the unique nature of coworking and flexible offices means it is even more important for the operators in this space and the people that own and manage their buildings.
"If the plumbing goes down for half a day in one of our business centres, we might get two or three complaints,” he said. “If the WiFi or mobile signal cuts out for five or 10 minutes, people get up and leave the building. If someone is taking a tour of one of our buildings and they can’t get mobile reception it can be a deal breaker, for some customers there is almost no price at which they will take space.”
“It is all about the user experience, which needs to be absolutely seamless,” Fora Director of Technology and Innovation James Scerri said.
Part of the appeal of the sector is the flexibility it offers, which usually has a dual meaning: Customers want to be able to move in as quickly as possible, and then when using a building, they want to be able to move around it as seamlessly as possible.
“In the coworking environment the emphasis is on agile working, and being able to pick things up and work anywhere,” StrattoOpencell Director Tony Lander said. “People want to use mobile rather than landlines, and mobile coverage gives you the flexibility to work anywhere.”
The same is true of WiFi coverage, and both need to be ubiquitous and fast throughout buildings.
But operators need to have the right kind of business model when it comes to connectivity.
Both Boultwood and Scerri said that, rather than have individual tenants take out internet or mobile data contracts with providers, they as landlords are providing the service, which allows users to move in or out of space quickly and efficiently.
“If you are taking a 10-year lease on an office, it makes sense to take a three-year internet or mobile service contract,” Scerri said. “But if your lease is only for 12 months, then this doesn’t make sense. We take this in house for our residents, managing the service and provider relationship for them. If they move out and we need to recover the bandwidth then that is fine, as you can never have too much bandwidth.”
“It means you can move in to the property and be up and running the same day,” Boultwood added.
Scerri said Fora takes a data-led approach to working out the connectivity infrastructure it needs to provide for its customers. Research undertaken before it opened its first property showed that its customers would need a compounded average of 22% more WiFi capacity each year, and 53% more mobile coverage. Fora put in place the technological infrastructure that would allow its capacity to grow by a factor of 10, so that it would not be caught out by rising needs from customers.
Scerri said Fora tests how good WiFi coverage and mobile reception is when its properties have been fully fitted out, not before, as is often the case, to make certain connectivity is good across the building.
“We introduce a lot of sound masking technology, which is a specifically tuned ambient background sound that targets the same frequency as human speech. Once installed, we perform environmental testing to ensure the effectiveness” Scerri said.
And the data gathering does not stop there. “We receive data from providers on a month-by-month basis to analyse how the services are being utilised and performing, to inform future decisions,” he said. “We believe in operating proactively, we don’t want to wait for residents to inform us of any issues.”
Workspace owns and manages properties offering flexible workspace across the greater London area, and Boultwood said that at some of its business centres there might be 100 companies in occupation, meaning that as many as 1,000 staff might be trying to use the WiFi at any given time.
Boultwood said it allocated space within its buildings to add small cell networks, which boosts mobile signal within a building, so that it could improve coverage as use grows. The same thesis applies to WiFi coverage.
Coworking is a business that is all about service. If you are leasing space on a short-term contract, your tenant can get up and walk out almost at a moment’s notice. Connectivity equals the ability to work in the modern world, and so it is a key part of that service.