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Saturday, 13 August 2011

Melting the iceberg to release the potential of home-based business

First of all just a quick 'stake in the ground', as it were.  Setting up business from home is a good thing to do.  I, like many other business people, have worked at home for years and have no plans to change that.  It's cheaper, it allows you to work more flexibly (that doesn't necessarily mean less!) and it reduces your carbon footprint.  This post is not setting out to prove why we need to encourage people to move out of the home-office - quite the contrary.

Through running Space on Tap for the past year or so it's become obvious that there's a gap in workspace provision for homeworkers that now needs to be filled to make home-working a more viable option when homeworkers aspire to grow their business.

What's worrying is that to a great extent this 'need' hasn't yet been transformed into marketplace 'demand'.  We plan to change that, because with the exponential growth we're experiencing in people setting up business from home, the existing gap in workspace provision is fast becoming an iceberg which has the potential to stifle growth in home-based business (and home-based business is the biggest form of new business start ups in the UK).


Here we start our quest to melt that iceberg.

Gap in existing provision
From our experience, existing space (in the North East of England at least) fits into two categories for homeworkers:  office provision that's ideal if you need an equivalent to your home office outside of the home (ie to work alone); or space that's available for hire for group activities that it wouldn't be practical to do at home, such as meetings or training.    What there's a real lack of is space that complements the home as a workspace - not as an alternative, but in addition to the home office;  space that's affordable, and that adds value by providing more than a desk (otherwise you might as well just stay at home!).

The added value that homeworkers can gain from co-working space can be truly transformational
We've seen  plenty of 'hot-desking' spaces emerge over the years.  They're great for dropping in for short periods when the home office won't do (holidays, mid-appointments, broadband failure).  The focus for hot-desking space is the space - a desk with broadband and access to a meeting room if you need it.  The added value in hot-desking spaces beyond the obvious convenience is limited.

Why Co-working's good for business copyright Space on Tap
Co-working space (collaborative workspace, shared workspace) is different.  Co-working space that works well succeeds because of the collaborations and community it facilitates more than the quality of the furnishings.  Although it has to be said that fast broadband and decent coffee do feature high on the list of essentials, the added value that homeworkers can gain from co-working can be truly transformational.  

New connections, new knowledge and creativity are key factors in accelerating business growth; working in a home-office can isolate businesses from these key growth factors, therefore the introduction of co-working as an ante-dote is fast becoming an imperative.  Co-working can be achieved, to an extent, virtually, but nothing can replace the value of the connections and serendipitous conversations that can start by the coffee machine.

Why latent demand is becoming an iceberg that needs to be melted
A lot has already been written about the features of successful co-working space around the UK and globally from the homeworker's perspective (we'll be aiming to summarise what's been written so far in future posts), and the business case for the development of co-working spaces from a space provider's perspective is also now starting to emerge (again a topic for future posts).

This post, however focuses on why we think that the latent demand for co-working space that exists in today's business marketplace is becoming an iceberg that needs to be melted.  By raising awareness of the potential hazards, we aim to release the potential of home-based business by stimulating the development of co-working space in the North East of England and across the UK.

Top 3 contributors to iceberg formation

  1. Growth through people.  Research suggests that whilst a high proportion of home-based businesses are forecasting growth, the majority are not intending to employ staff to facilitate this growth.  Using sub-contractors and associates is fine to a point, however two key issues need to be investigated further:  a) how can home-based businesses be supported to identify the most appropriate sub-contractors and associates (to extend their networks and their horizons); b) is this decision to not employ staff driven by the desire to remain at home and therefore the obvious barrier associated with employing staff at home, and if so what workspace solutions can be offered to overcome this problem which do not result in the homeworker having to move out of the home office?
  2. Access to support and networks.  The ability to set up a business from home opens up entrepreneurial opportunity to those who may previously have been excluded because of their life or family circumstances, as well as to people who have limited capital resources albeit they have expertise and a great business idea.  When starting up from home, without formal premises, many people do not even class themselves as running a 'proper business', and those that do can still experience barriers to accessing the support they need to grow.  The introduction of business support and networks to home-based business can be challenging, not least because many remain under the radar, without VAT registration or formal business premises. Finding ways to introduce dedicated resources and support for home-based business is critical to avoiding business failure and releasing growth potential.
  3. Rural isolation.  Home-based business start-up is particularly prevalent in rural areas, where business isolation and access to services are already recognised barriers to growth.  What workspace solutions can be provided to rural businesses to avoid them suffering a detriment relative to their urban counterparts through lack of access to new connections, knowledge and stimulants of business creativity?


Space on Tap is undertaking research and providing development support to public and private sector organisations with an interest in supporting the development of home-based business through creative space solutions. Contact Jayne Graham to find out more.


Copyright Space on Tap Ltd September 2011

1 comment:

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