flex work spaces. the 3rd location in the future of work w/ james solomides, coo @nearu
Starbucks became the 3rd location for drinking ☕ and schmoozing. Flex spaces will become the 3rd (and biggest) location for the future of work.
Here's the recap...In today's episode, I chatted with James Solomidies, COO & Co-founder @ NearU. We spoke about how companies should be thinking about how hybrid remote can possibly work. Whether the optimal option is a central HQ or micro-spaces closer to employees. We spoke about how the 3rd location of work fits into the future of work and which of the 3 will dominate. We spoke about the importance of community within the flex spaces. We also discussed whether the flex space itself will begin taking over engagement & collaboration from companies. If your company is looking for its best option post-pandemic or your team isn't keen on a 45+ min commute each way even 2x a week listen in. Your employees want, need, no demand flexibility.
Can flex spaces like NearU become the Starbucks of work?
When Starbucks was looking to take over the cafe world they crafted a simple mission statement. They wanted to become the third location beside the home and office. A place where people came to relax, meet with friends, and drink good coffee. If you've ever been to Manhattan just walk a few blocks and you'll see how successful they were in achieving their mission.
Companies like NearU are looking to do the same for the future of offices. It's clear almost all employees are demanding flexibility where they work. Companies will need to decide on a central office that still requires a long commute each way, even 2x a week, OR provide more flexible and local options to their employees. Something Standard Chartered (the largest bank in England) has embraced. In the near future, it may not be a debate as companies are locked into leases. Though for any company not in a lease or towards its expiration should be seriously considering what their next move is.
Flex spaces provide employees a workspace that's not the home (if not conducive for great work) nor the 45+ minute commute. They offer an opportunity to get out of the house, meet/engage/collaborate with others, and get their best work done. It's a win-win for everyone. However, companies will need to think about how they can build engagement using this model. Where employees may be all over the place and never in the same places together at the same time. If a large local company, this could be a great option like for Standard Chartered. For smaller companies, this may just simply become a perk offered to employees.
Does the flexspace take over employee engagement from companies?
People will look to flexspaces as their outlet for engagement and collaboration with colleagues, friends, and strangers alike. I believe it will become the next big networking opportunity. But in that future who spends the time, effort, and dollars to build community? Let's look at both sides...
The company has historically had the requirement to engage its team. Duh! They owned the space and everyone in that space was part of the same team. Without community-building efforts, employees would simply leave the community. When there's no central HQ that a company owns. When employees show up to various spaces whenever they want should companies still take the lead?
On one hand, yes. If companies still believe in the idea of unity and working together to succeed at a shared mission it's obvious. For the counterargument check out the episode with Brian Casel where we talk about hiring asynchronously and what impact that will have on the idea of 'team.' To create that unity and feeling of working together on a shared mission science says we need community. We can see the power of a shared mission that creates community in things like the ConstitutionDAO. Where a bunch of folks came together to buy a copy of the US Constitution. So if a company wants to build a dream team to win the unicorn trophy studies say they need a community.
But how do companies create that community when they don't have everyone together in the same place and time? So on the other hand, can companies run team building events without the team in a single place? Or do companies run 10s of events at every different location their employees are? Perhaps all community building is done virtually and with company/team IRLs that happen less frequently.
If I manage a flex space I'm asking myself, "What's attracting people to work here?" Free beer or coffee? Beautiful design? Perhaps this is what most co-working companies and spaces have relied on to date. They won't be able to rely on this. They'll need to turn to what for me made WeWork the best option to date. Community. Companies will have to change that original question to, "Who's attracting people to work here?" If it's not the amenities it will be the people working there. That may be entrepreneurs who want to work with like-minded people. To network and collaborate together. The true meaning of "co-working." It could be niche interests that the space caters to. Meaning the spaces themselves will need to get into community building. Creating events, opportunities, and reasons why someone will want to work from their space.
The big question then becomes if an employee feels their community is their local space, what do they feel for their company?
[Scott] Hey, James, how you doing today? Hey, Good, Scott, how are you Doing well, thank you. I appreciate that you joining you're in London today. Is this the home office or is this one of the, NearU Type, offices?
[James] No, This is, this is very much the home office. Yes, this is, this is the small room, the four walls that, that I've spent a lot of time, inside for the last couple of years. Yeah.
[Scott] Oh, nice. As long as you have a door that locks that kind of keeps the kids out, then that's all you can ask.
[James] That's it. I've, I've got the door and the, the temporary lock was a mid lockdown purchase. when I realized that, I did actually try making a, you know, like a, a sign on a hotel door. I try one of those too, to let them know if I was on a call, but, they found it funny to, to come in specifically when I was on call. So I had to go for the, That's a good plan.
[Scott] yeah. So kind of a quick get to know, kind of start a question that we've been starting off all the episodes with this week. unfortunately as we spoke offline, I forgot to prepare one. So I'm going to use one from the last episode. So worst case two episodes kind of talk with the same topic. but probably about three or so weeks ago in Portugal. if you had seen the news, they passed a law, a very kind of supportive of remote work. some of the topics in there were preventing companies from being allowed to message you after your office hours, having to be required to offer you remote work and very much of kind of that friendly guidance towards support of remote work. just want to know your thoughts on that. Is this something you think that we're going to see more countries, more cities roll out shouldn't really be countries that are enforcing this, or really should this become like a cultural thing that companies, I mean, th this really probably should be a company decision saying, okay, you know, we're going to set up five o'clock. We don't send you a message unless you're on a certain team or you're like on-call. but yeah, let me, let me know your thoughts.
[James] That's a good question. I think my, my view on that is it, I agree with you that it should really be a company thing. I don't, I don't know why we need a government or a country to tell us something like that. I think in terms of the kind of out of hours messaging, it's, it's an interesting one because, you know, we're all accustomed to dealing with, in, with colleagues or, or customers or other individuals outside of our network around the world. So we're all, we're all fairly accustomed to dealing with different time zones. So if somebody, when I go to bed, messages, me, and it comes through at 11:00 PM, I don't, I don't feel obliged to respond to them at 11:00 PM and they will understand that. And I think equally, if somebody's on the same time zone emailed me at 11:00 PM, I wouldn't feel obliged to respond to that time. So my, my view is it is one of those, and I, I have thought a fair bit about it actually, because with our own growing team, you know, there were lots of things that come up in the evening and early in the morning. And, and everybody's now a lot more aware that we have other commitments. We have families, we have clubs, hobbies, so we might not always be, be able to respond there. And then, but yeah, I think, you know, everybody, we should, we should be treated as, as adults and we are accountable for doing what we've got to get done. And if something overly urgent comes up at 11:00 PM, it doesn't need a response then Hey, you know, maybe we will respond to that. but yeah, I think it, there's a lot of crossover there with the kind of global time zones. So for me, it, it's not overly different, to that, if, if it needs a response, then it can get a response, but if it's not hugely urgent, then, then I, I don't think it does.
[Scott] Nice. I think it's, I definitely agree with you getting this. There shouldn't be a company or a government saying this, but I do like the idea as it comes stop gap. w hopefully, maybe we'll get into this conversation later, but certainly around the future of remote work, we'll be at heart asynchronous first or by default, which in theory should solve out this problem. but in the interim, I think it's a great idea to try to hopefully maybe get companies and people into that mentality of no, there was so much of that feedback of the loss of work-life balance and people working too much. And again, that was all pandemic related and had nothing to do with remote related, but are hopefully, maybe get people in that mindset of, okay, there's, there's a balance. This is when people work and this is when people don't work. And again, I don't need to have that, that slack or that Facebook, you know, Scott is typing or the little WhatsApping note double-check, blue checks. When, when I saw that you read the message now have that expectation of, okay, James is going to be replying back to me within the next X amount of minutes, versus I have gotten to that point where I send my message through James and I know James is going to take the time to read it, to think about it, to write it, to edit it so on and so forth, again, really around that basic model, that I like the idea of trying to have again, some kind of stop gap of saying, Hey, this is what culture should be like, this is what work-life balance should be. And for those companies who are not already moving in that direction, just kind of give them a little kick, a kick in the pants to a, to start moving that direction. yeah, but kind of know, as we jump in, no, normally the way that we start is, telling us a little bit more about yourself and sharing the, the origin story of NearU.
[James] Yeah, absolutely. so, so me, myself, I'm, living, just outside of London, about an hour outside of London in the UK, with my, with my wife, three kids, and a one year old dog on your old Calahoo, called a buddy who, I can hear right now, my wife's actually getting ready to take for a walk. and he's, he's, he gets very excited when he, when he knows he's offer well.
[Scott] Does he read the in meeting, door sign?
[James] He, he, when he hears the word, he says body slamming and jumping all over place, but he didn't know. He's the only one who, who, he does actually keep me keep me company during the day. It's quite nice to, so we've only had him for the sort of coming up to a year. but during the day when, when, obviously the kids are at school, my wife's out, I bring his, his bed in here and he, yeah, he keeps me company. He's my, my colleague for the day, the, the only other interaction I get in in-person with a lot of people for many hours. but, but yeah, so, so that, that's kind of me, I, for the last 11 years or so, I've been involved in the flexible workspace sector. So I, I joined it to be, to be honest, it's pretty much the kind of only, experience I've had within my professional career. I'm sort of mid, mid thirties now. so I, I previously worked at a company called the instant group. and I started there in 2010 when flexible working was relatively unknown. serviced offices at the time were primarily Regis, and a couple of others, but it was, it was very much considered, a sort of, a dirty word service. If you like in that, if you, if you, if you were using serviced office space, you probably weren't growing, as a business, you weren't serious about being around for a term long time. and actually it's, it's interesting to see how that's evolved and now if you aren't using service, you, you aren't growing quick enough, you aren't attracting the right talent. You aren't being risky enough and sort of entering new markets. So it's, it's totally flipped in terms of, of, of kind of how it's perceived. and, and obviously that the market has grown in terms of the number of providers, the types of space, and it's very much moved on from, a sort of a blue carpet, white walls world, into obviously we work, which is probably the, the most well-known example. and, and in terms of NearU. So, so really the business itself actually, was founded quite fortuitously in, in 2019, with, Dan, my, my business partner. He, he actually set the business up as a, as a platform in a way for students to, find library space a way for students to book library space, and guarantee that off the back of his own experience, you know, he would, he would commute for an hour or so to a library to study. I get there and there'd be no where to study. So partnered with pubs and restaurants, in a way for safer, you know, five pounds a student to, to sort of get a guaranteed desk, a cup of coffee and some wifi that was all that was needed. as I say, timing wise was, was incredible. Then obviously everything happened in early 2020 that did, and, pivoted the business and saw an opportunity there in the sort of co-working hybrid world. he and I got, got in touch and sort of got talking around the potential opportunities there. and obviously given my experience over the last 10, 11 years within that world, and sort of seeing things and the connections, et cetera. and, and obviously what he'd already done in terms of building the basic platform. We, we, sort of got together and, and, NearU was, was founded as it was, it was actually called something different then, and we've, we've since changed the name, for various reasons, but, you know, you know, the, the platform has grown incredibly over the last six to eight months. it's, it's very much moved on now in terms of what it was a year ago, from the coverage, the features that the usability, and, and all the sort of backend stuff that you can't see. and I think it's, it's a fascinating time, you know, the, the time that we're all living through has been widely commented on in, in, in many articles. You know, this is a seismic shift in, in many people's lives and one that we probably won't ever see again. And, you know, I personally feel very fortunate that with young kids, I'm able to now work for the next 30 odd years with this flexibility. You know, I feel sorry for them, for those people who have just done 60 plus years of working nine to five community, get to the same place five days a week, and have now seen all of this happen and, and missed out with, children or doing other things, bits and pieces. you know, I've, I've, I've experienced that for a number of years. And with my eldest team, I've always, I would put them to bed on a, on a Sunday night, and I wouldn't see them awake until the following Friday. you know, I was gone before they were awake and I was home when they were asleep. Whereas now with my, my youngest, my daughter for the last couple of years, I've, I've got a different relationship with her because I've, I've spent so much more time at home. I've had that flexibility and I've, I've sort of been able to watch her grow, like a tower behind me as well about a year ago. I, I sort of picked up that with the, with the extra time. I mean, I was spending three hours a day on a train, which now I've, I've got 15 hours a week back. so there's, again, it's interesting. Lots of people have sort of been quite vocal on, on there's a sense of a pressure to sort of do something with that time. But actually I think it's, it's just nice that everybody's been given that option. Not everybody, you know, people have been given that option to, to, invest it in different ways and in them to how they want to, which is great.
[Scott] It sounds like we have very similar stories of, no, I, I lived in long island. The commuter down to the wall street area was leaving before my oldest was, or now oldest was awake coming back a few minutes before he was going to bed, kind of had, didn't have time at home. Didn't have time, my wife. And as soon as I went home, I take my kids to school every day I picked them up. They can take them activities and the quality of life, has changed significantly. And I could probably even, they could probably do a whole episode on the idea of what to do with that free time, that time that's free. And I know that's one of the things I think I've spoken about in previous episodes, about how to recreate the, commute or people missing the commute and said, okay, if you were commuting 30 minutes on the train habit going for a 30 minute walk, where if you were going to a NearU space and maybe a 30 minute walk, okay. Instead of maybe driving there, you're not walking there and you're still doing that 30 minutes and now, or even when you're coming home, you physically leave the house leaving kind of, you know, the home life. You do, you take that walk, whether you're coming back to your own house or you're going into a NearU space or somewhere, and you're walking into the door, you're now walking into the work environment. So it's taking that time that you have, and kind of no repurposing thing, no learning, or I used to sit and listen to audio book to read books on, on, on the train. Okay, well, now if you're on a 30 minute walkie, listen to audio book, so it's not like you're losing the time, you're just redesigning how you're using it. but maybe for a dive into the first question with, maybe you can just give a little bit more background of exactly what NearU is. cause there's probably a lot of listeners will hear the word flex space, and they're probably thinking of these old school office towers where it's a whole floor of in theory, like a company with hundreds of desks or tens of desks all over the place. And then instead of a whole company being in there, you just kind of book your space at an empty space, but that's obviously not the real where the business is going. and really it's more, I think you've hinted on it on repurposing, no bars and restaurants and spaces that are under utilized during the day. so maybe to give a little bit more sense of exactly what NearU is and what it is.
[James] Yeah, absolutely. I think so. So in, in summary NearU is, it's a mobile app, that enables individuals and businesses to book on demand workspace and meeting rooms from as little as an hour through to a day, a week, a month, however long is needed. But ultimately it's all about giving choice. It gives individuals that choice to choose the right environment for any given day based on how they're feeling, the mood they're in the type of work they've got to get done, external circumstances. and there's lots of use cases. It may also be that an individual is responsible for booking meeting rooms. So rather than having to ring around and sort of find out who has lots of different meeting rooms available, the app enables very quickly somebody to, to find different meeting rooms and book those meeting rooms. And, and if somebody maybe doesn't, or can't make the commute for whatever reason, but they, they perhaps can't want, or don't want to work from home. They can also find spaces near to home that gives them that professional environment whilst also cutting down on the commute, saving the money on the commute at the time, obviously reduction carbon emissions from a sort of businesses perspective. yeah, so that, that in summary is, is really what the platform offers. there is a whole sort of backend platform as well from a, from a business's perspective sort of data management, real time insight in terms of who's booking spaces, where are they going? What are they spending, you know, adding, removing employees. There's, there's a lot of that, administration as well that you would expect. So from a business angle, it's a great way of seeing when given the choice, how are individuals actually using these different spaces? Is there a, is there a trend in terms of where they're going on any given day or the type of spaces they use? and then actually there's a, there's an additional offering, that we have relatively recently rolled out that sort of goes into a little bit more, detail around the sort of advanced analytics data and insight, which for larger scale businesses is then great from a, almost an assessing, perspective of how, how effective is the current portfolio. and, and potentially what should it look like moving forward based on the real data. So that I think is a really interesting area where businesses are looking for more and more data, because this is relatively new. W we're all still figuring this out. Nobody knows where it's going to end up. So yeah, rather than a lot of guesswork, which is what we've seen in the past, some businesses saying, well, we think this is what we should be doing. Therefore we'll do it. It's, it's using the real data and, and helping to inform those businesses to make, make those decisions. and, and also I think a point worth noting is as the platforms evolved and we, we sort of pivoted from that student positioning to, to sort of the corporate world. Yeah, there are certain, there is a certain level of, of, standard, I suppose, criteria. So we've moved away from the sort of the bars and the restaurants and the repurposed coffee shops. So it is very much, you know, proper workspaces, hotels actually, which, which interestingly have started to move into this space there, their membership boundaries, business lobbies, those sort of areas. so the idea behind this is really to give a huge range of spaces, a really diverse range from a business's perspective, it's effectively one supplier. So there are other sorts of, you know, that we worked at the Regis who were offering something similar, but obviously it is a single product. Whereas the benefit here is that we aren't tied to a single product or type of space. so we can work with, with our clients to, to really ensure there's sufficient coverage based on wherever they need us to be.
[Scott] Yeah. I think that, that leads me in probably to my next two questions. You had mentioned both the business aspect and the employee aspect and also the, the availability. we work as great. I remember it the first time I went to a, we work office. Again, I I've mentored probably over a thousand startups I've come across so many in the time is very rare that I come across a business on like, holy crap, are they really onto something? And I remember the first time when I went to a wee workspace, I had one of those moments. I was like, damn, they really figured out something, some something here. but that said, we work is a tier one city business, right? The value proposition is in New York, London, something like that. It's not a tier two city tier three city, a more small town type. And that's where, especially as people move on, that's where most of the business where people will live, it's outside, maybe the certain urban areas. And that's where there's a lot of opportunity where again, these larger companies are going into. So having that opportunity where you can support your team, that doesn't necessarily live in London, doesn't necessarily live in New York and still give them access to all the space they need. but kind of going in and I'm going to cut, cut into two sides first in the business. And second on the employee from the companies that you're working with and the people that you're speaking with on the business side that are obviously very focused on this hybrid, remote, companies, more interested in having or caught, or their employees that are coming into an office. And again, what there's three, two, or whatever that looks like, into a central headquarters to one specific location, or are they starting to look into what standard chartered in the UK is doing, you know, renting out, Regis offices all much more closer to the office. So is it the idea of like the central headquarters is really dead? and if it's not, are there certain, maybe types of companies that would really benefit from this hub and spoke model versus the, okay, gotta get everybody into this one central headquarters again, whether it's three times a week, two times a week, what have you, okay.
[James] Yeah, absolutely. so there's a few, few points of the question. I think, firstly, just to come back on that we work on point again, I echo your, your opinion. I, I think we work as a fantastic product. I, I personally really liked the space, but it's a very Marmite product. And it's really interesting because previously when you had Regis and you had a few others, there wasn't as much of a dividing opinion because it was very much lots of handful of providers offering different flavors of a similar type of space we work came in and sort of turned everything on its head and said, look, we're gonna, you know, ping pong tables, foosball tables, tens of thousands of square feet of communal space, free beer, you know, w we kind of know what they're offering. And, and that was very different at the time. obviously it's now involved and there were lots of other sort of offering similar labels. He reigned in the free beer. And, and again, that was an evolution for it for themselves. I, I mean, I remember, I remember it was, it was, it was free unlimited beer, I believe 24 hours a day when they first launched him. and then quite quickly they started saying, okay, maybe not, not before 10:00 AM. but, but I think in terms of that product, like you say, they, they are very much a tier one, maybe some tier two cities, but the UK, for example, you know, we work 50 locations roughly give or take, and about 45 of those are in central London. So, you know, we've, we've got one in, I think like the Edinburgh Manchester, but as you say for business, who is centrally London based, great, it works if all of your staff are commuting in, but then it does also raise the question. If your, all of your staff are commuting into a central point. Yeah. Easy it easier just to get them all together. Are there, you know, is there huge value then in having them dispersed across a number of centers when they're all physically within a couple of miles of each other, versus actually if you have a company that's dispersed across the country, the value, then all of a sudden diminishes in terms of having that as a single product. Now IWG Regis is, is similar, but obviously on a much bigger scale three and a half, roughly 300,000 locations. but again, it comes down to that question of, is that a diverse product, if you're offering that to stand a chance, obviously the example you used, there was the sort of the flagship announcement that IVG announced in terms of their, their first large client. but, but, but actually again, IWG have fixed locations. Now they are in far more, diverse locations, sort of secondary tertiary cities. So, so the likelihood is there will be one that's relatively close to some of those employees, but still across work workforce of, I think, I think the figure from memory was 85,000 employees perhaps signed up to this initially. you know, there will be a, a sizable number of employees who still have to commute distance to the nearest IWG center. So yeah, whilst it is, it is perhaps a better offering for a staff base of that size. It, perhaps it doesn't still accommodate all of those employees that maybe need those, those alternative workspaces, you know, are we saying that even if it's two or 3%, that's still hundreds of people that maybe don't have another option, they just have to work from home. And from those, those individuals working from home, again, we know off the back of many studies over the last couple of years, that lots of people, firstly, don't want to work from home, but all of those that don't want to work, there are plenty that can't physically can't work from home. They, they may not share, they, you know, they're working on the end of their, their bed or their parents' bed, or they've gotten out of kids or they're, you know, whatever it might be. so I think there's, there's all of those considerations too, to kind of build into that in terms of, of sort of a question around, you know, a central HQ. I think there's still value in having a central HQ to some degree, but again, it totally depends on the business. If it's, if it's a business that just doesn't need that centralized HQ and optimized, I can't think of any sort of specific industries, but if it's got to come down to that individual business as to whether or not there is value in having that, if, if it's maybe a call center and those calls can't be had from home for various reasons, if it's a bank call center, for example, discussing sensitive information, then clearly there's value in having a centralized area with all of those people who can have those conversations. And again, there's various industries that are regulated and require, set securities and obviously information to be held, in accordance with regulations. But I think on the, on the flip side of that, if there isn't a need, then you have to question what is the benefit? And, and it seems at the moment that the default response to that is, well, we want people to come together for cultural purposes, you know, the business culture. And, and I've seen some interesting comments on that recently around, you know, if, if you think you need an office for, for culture, then actually you've got a problem with leadership and you've, you know, you've got a problem with other areas of the business because just by having an office, that's not how you build a culture within a business. So yeah, it's, it's an area that's evolving and I think it's becoming business leaders are becoming more aware or employees are becoming more aware that actually there's a, there's a shift that's needed in the mindset from these leaders, these decision makers and whether that's retraining leaders, because you know that there is blame now being put more and more on the leaders and the decision makers, but actually when we take a step back and think about it, you know, these people have had to evolve just as everybody else has over the last couple of years, they've been thrown into this situation just as we all have. So, that's where I think there'll be a lot of, a lot of change and I guess improvement where, where we see these, these individuals maybe being retrained, and we see businesses putting a lot of time and effort and resource into saying, okay, well this, this situation, whatever we want to call it is not going away. It will probably continue to evolve. So the last thing we want to do is try and go back to how we were, where, and equally, what we don't want to do is say, right, well, this is how it looks today. So in two years, it will also look like this. We need to, we need to embrace that mindset of continually learning and adapting. And I've, I've heard some, some presentations by a number of business leaders. Who've, who've who are embracing that. And it's great to hear, and it's great to see where they understand that things are continually changing. So what it looks like today in six months, it, it will be different. There will be new software products, you know, training courses, new thought leadership in terms of how things should look. So in terms of the, sort of the centralized HQ or the totally remote, it's definitely not a one size fits all. And that's where as long as, as long as, as a business and as decision maker, you know, leadership group within that business, you are open to considering alternatives. I think that's where, that's where the mindset shift needs to come from. And it may be that actually once you've considered all of these, you end up back back where you were, because that was the right fit. but I think it's, it's, it's very short-sighted if, if anybody sort of blinkers and says, no, what we're doing works, therefore we're not going to, we're not going to evolve. We're not, not going to change. I think is, yeah. Is, is the key kind of take away there? I think in, in, I'm just trying to think in terms of the other, sort of bits of pieces of, of that, of, of the question, but kind of, it was actually something I heard, a while ago, just a very simple point around the terminology. So if a company does then decide to embrace this new way of working and have the sort of working from anywhere, simple things like calling it a central office or a, or remote still implies that there is a primary and a secondary place to be working from. So it's, it's just changing the way we talk about those things. And, and, and everywhere is remote. We have the option to work from an office that is here or your home, or a number of third spaces in the middle. And it's either linear or circular rather than hierarchical.
[Scott] I think the idea is one after this pandemic ends, we kill off the word or tag remote work and replace the word remote life. I've also liked the word to kill off hybrid hybrid, remote robe, all those things. It's, it's either work from anywhere. Yeah. Which again, then connotates, you can decide where you'd like to work again, whatever, wherever that may be or office-based or partial offers, but making a much more clear again, it's you have the flexibility to decide where you want to work when you want to work, or there's some type of requirement. but I do like what you said before then there really, this comes down to, I think, management and leadership. the idea of the office being where culture happens. I've had this debate many times, especially in social media, has nothing to do with culture, your ping pong table, your craft beers and things like that. Again were great for your 20 somethings. No, we do have professionals who you're that their whole social being was work. It was at six o'clock. It was either going home to an empty apartment or playing ping pong and having a beer with the people you work with. That's great for that subset of people, but for the people who are married, who have kids, they tend to leave the city, they move out to the suburbs, then they tend to have a commute and they want to get the hell out of the office as soon as possible to get home, to spend time with their family and things like that. So that ping pong table that chefs and all those things that you have in the office, which are really built to keep people in the office, they weren't really incentives or you're the reasons to come into the office. These were reasons that once you're here to keep you here and not to go home. Yeah. obviously I have nothing to do with, with culture. And I really liked the second point of now it's really upskilling managers. this is obviously why this podcast was created, to share 10 years of experience building and leading remote companies and remote teams and saying here, here's what I've done. Here's what worked, here's what hasn't worked because there isn't so much out there and you can't blame the people who've been failing at this the past two years, because obviously they've been chosen and they had no other options. They didn't have access to training or upscaling. and I think that's known the next 18 to 24 months. It's probably the most important thing is to give them the access and create this content around how to do these things remotely. but not to kind of delve on this topic too long. I would never wanna kind of pivot to the second side of the employees. So it seems against companies are much more essentially thinking of the central headquarters because of the culture piece, which is again, I think both of us agreed and a good amount of the cases nonsense, but from the employee side itself, it seems there's much more desire for that flexibility, again, of all the research that's out there. But from what you're seeing of people who are using NearU, maybe on the individual employee side, what are they more interested in a specific location? Like that's kind of like their desk, you know, every day they come to the same specific place, where's it more, okay. No, this morning it's raining. So I want to go to the local, whatever. No, I need, I need energy. So I want to go to Nick, the hotel lobby, cause there's no nice kind of music in background and things like this. And at the end of the day, I want to go work from like the nice, no shady coffee spot with jazz music. Like what are, what are people like the individual employees? What are they looking for more?
[James] It's interesting as you maybe smile though. I don't know if I did, did smile on my head. I smile when you mentioned the weather, if it's raining and that, that was something that I, I sort of put a bit of thought into, and actually there are so many different factors that impact where somebody wants to work. I mean, we, we know when we wake up in the morning, how different the morning can be, if you think, well, what do I want for breakfast? What am I going to wear today? Is, is it cold? Do I want to go out? You know, there were so many different decisions and choices we make in the first hour of being awake. and, and it might be that the night before we thought, well, this is where I'm going to work from tomorrow. You wake up and it's raining and you think actually, I, I don't want to work from there because it's raining. So, you know, it's, it's a, it's a generational thing. Perhaps it's become more and more common that, you know, the sort of the on demand thinking. I mean the whole shift where we've seen with Uber and Airbnb, and it's very much, if I, if I want something that I book it there and then I don't want to have to plan. I mean, Netflix is, you know, again, it's not having to plan or wait a week to be able to do something it's, it's waking up and thinking about what we did set almost instant gratification and that's, that's evolved. And, and sort of we've found that now within the workplace environment, because we've been given that choice and we are starting to be able to really think on, on the spot, what is the right environment now for me to do this type of work and, and, and somebody might change three or four times a day in terms of where they do things. So they might do the first couple of hours while, while the rain stops from home, you know, have the first cup of coffee and they think, right, I'm now going to, you know, drive for 10 minutes to the local space because they've got some great music and it'll get me through the next couple of hours and then, okay, well now I need to change your scenery again, because I've got a couple of calls this afternoon that I need to work on some way different. so it's, it's really just, again, comes down to that choice. It's it's, every individual is different and every individual has different moods within different days, and they have different types of work that they need to get done. So regardless of sort of who these people are and what they've got to get done, it's all about just that choice. And, and that choice has come from being empowered by employers, who, who now see these individuals, as you know, they, they are trustworthy accountable. They're employed to get a task done, not employed to come in and sit at a desk for a certain number of hours and then go home and then come back and do the same thing five days a week. so it's, it's very much that shift now to, you know, we, we know better than anybody as individuals, the right type of space for us to do our work. And, and people have been empowered to get up at 5:00 AM if they want and do three hours of work and then take three hours to do something else. if that's the way their body works and that's the way that they find that they're most productive. so there are still plenty of individuals who, who like the routine and the rhythm of going to the same place five days a week, and sitting at the same desk. but, but fundamentally they have the choice now to be able to do that just as the people that find that very, very unproductive now have the choice not to do that. So again, it's a real mix. I think that the, again, there are plenty of surveys that have been done and the stats always vary, but I think it's typically between sort of 75 to 85% of individuals want some form of hybrid working some sort of flexibility whereby they have the choice and they're empowered to choose the environment they work from, on, on any given day.
[Scott] So do you see the three types of locations that are going to be available? Do you see any of them being a dominant one within the next few years?
[James] I think again, there are so many variables and it's so dependent on individuals, but, but given the, given the statistics around the, the high portion of, of employees who, who want that flexibility, I think the office itself, so sort of, as we said, the centralized office, if you like the headquarters, I think we'll continue to see that maybe being utilized two, maybe three days a week. I think equally that the sort of the home working will, will just depend on an individual's circumstance if they have somewhere that's that set up to work from then, and they, and they are comfortable working from there two or three days a week. Great. But there are hundreds of thousands of people who do not have that environment who need a third space who need a third type of environment. So whether that is just walking five minutes, 10 minutes to local cost or a Starbucks, but as we know, there were lots of challenges there, or whether it is finding an on demand solution like NearU and, and thinking, okay, well, you know, this is the type of work I've got to get done. This is the right type of environment. Let me book it for a couple of hours, let me book it for a day. it, it just totally depends. And there's, I don't think we have the data yet to really understand which of those three types of environment, if you like, we'll come out on top. but, but I, I expect there will be trends in terms of demographics, ages, backgrounds, locations, type of businesses, that, that start to evolve. And we start to see those. And that's what will be really, really key for, for businesses. Again, is that data, because if you understand where I suppose on the other, so if you don't understand how your staff are using space, that the impact could be huge, huge. If, if you aren't, if you aren't offering the right type of environment versus a competitor who is firstly from a productivity and an output perspective, there will obviously be differences, but also as we've seen in many businesses, if you aren't offering something that one of your competitors is that is an attractive perk, from, from an employee attraction and retention perspective, then that's where you'll see staff going. you know, we, we saw years ago sort of Google Facebook, you know, with, with the slides and the sleep pods and the pancake partners and, you know, everything they possibly could to entice employees from one to another. And now that shift is, has obviously evolved from not just being in the office, but what else are we now? You know, all of those perks only attracted people to the office. We've now got to make sure we're offering those perks for, for individuals who aren't in the office as well. so whether it is something like, you know, access to, an amount of spend, you know, we're seeing these home office setups depends, you know, a couple of hundred quid tends to sort of fit your office out, or whether it's, you know, recurring spend, if you're using a platform like the YouTube to sort of work from somewhere locally, it's, it's that acknowledgement from employee employers that we need to up our game slightly. Now we can't just sort of rest on our laurels and sort of say, well, this is what we've always done. It's kind of work, therefore, it's fine. So, you know, now what else can we do to really make sure that we stay ahead of our competition? and, and we are offering all of these different spaces to our staff, see how they use them. And from that we can help look at, or we can then look at what does our future portfolio look like? Is it effective? Great if it is, if they're using the spaces, but if, if we see from the data that actually somebody is using a shared venue, you know, a mile down the road from one of our offices, that there perhaps is an issue there, what, you know, we, we can look into that in a, in a bit more detail than Interesting.
[Scott] I definitely agree that perks and benefits certainly need to be redesigned as we move forward. No, the kickoff episode this season was specifically on that topic of benefits and perks for the new future of work is removing. they're run like the hybrid model. You kind of mentioned this maybe two or three days in the office, you know, Facebook and apple and all those were looking to go in that direction until they kind of had a mutiny on our hands. but it seemed like the idea of this three, two model was okay. We as a company can now force that collaboration force, that interaction force, that engagement, that was three days a week when everyone is forced to be in the office. So it kind of makes it easier for us because we don't need to do remote culture. We just need to do our office culture and like the, let the other two days kind of, no, we don't really care about, but obviously that was never feasible. It's generally not going to be feasible that you're ever going to get everyone back in the office. So with that in mind, and certainly this work from home or this work from a third location, become more of the dominant, maybe combined, force it in the future. How can companies ensure that they're able to engage and build that collaboration within their team when they don't see each other? Again, if you're not able to force everyone into the office on the same day to now take care of those opportunities, and people are spread out a different space NearU spaces where people were working home or whatever it is, how can companies still do that and make sure that they're doing those collaboration or engagement when people aren't there together in person?
[James] I think it's an area that's, that's evolving, and similar to, obviously spontaneousli. I think there's a lot of, there's a lot of software that we're seeing pop up that is purely focused on trying to solve that problem. And I keep doing this, but, but you know, that, that is a problem that two years ago we didn't have. I mean, I, I remember doing, sort of one day a week from home for, for a number of years, which was very much the, the anomaly, and many of these calls I would always be dialing in on a certain day. And I would be the only one on the call. And there'd be occasions where you get forgotten on the call. I think that that area, in terms of the video software, you know, we'll, we'll, we'll pivot and what will really change the remote work and the kind of collaboration. I mean, we've, we've seen, I think Facebook recently, announced their sort of their virtual, virtual reality on order the sort of augmenting, you know, in-person where you, where you have your sort of avatars. and, and I think there will be more and more, I've spoken to another, a couple of companies who offer something similar. and I think it's an area that again, in two years will look very different to how it is now, because we just don't, we just don't know where the real kind of challenges will, will continue to play out because we are relatively early on in this whole process. NearU, for example, has, has a new feature that we recently rolled out called who's NearU. And, and the idea behind that is purely to, to encourage that interperson collaboration without forcing people back to a kind of head office. So the idea behind that is, is you can see where your colleagues and your wider network and connections are working from on any given day. So rather than just calling them up, if, if, if you are local to them, or if you are traveling into somewhere and they happen to be there as well, you can, you can have that dialogue and you can say, Hey, look, let's, let's kind of catch up in person because there is value. There is unquestionable value in being together in person with, with people. and that's why, you know, the office is never going to die because it's, I think it's, it's still a crucial part of the toolkit to allow people to sort of work together, but forced collaboration, you know, everybody gets together on a certain day. The question is around how much value is there. I think there's, there's, there's value in getting together with, your teammates. You know, if there are people that are, that are in a certain team and that they're doing a similar type of work as you, then there is value in getting around a whiteboard and throwing some ideas around. and, and just having those conversations, but equally the sort of the water cooler moments, if you like were more probably among colleagues who run different departments, that's where there's a totally, separate, challenges. Well, if you're in a business of even a few hundred people, you probably won't ever cross paths now with people that don't work on a similar in terms of similar lines of what you're doing. So how to businesses encourage that, how, how do they, you know, really sort of, I suppose, foster it and enable it, how do they enable that cross collaboration? And, and I think that's where it's spontaneously is, is obviously a great platform because it's totally random. You, you need to have that element of speaking to people outside of your circle of colleagues, because without that, you just sort of maybe find yourself in a bit of an echo chamber. You know, there's no diversity of thought, which is, which is quite, I suppose, attracting from, from innovation. so, so I, you know, I definitely think in terms of, the collaboration on certain days, there is value to an element of the force, but I suppose the pre-arranged collaboration, yeah, but again, it shouldn't just be okay, well, on a Wednesday, everybody will come to this location and you will all have something to talk about because that's how it's going to work. It's really got to be a lot more thought into specific individuals coming to a specific location that works for whoever is chosen on a given day. If you've got a team of people in one side of the country and the team people on the other side of the country and they're collaborating separately, there's, there's no point bringing everybody into a centralized location. When if, if something could be done more locally would be just as valuable. So it, again, it's an area that is still evolving and we just still don't quite know the best way of doing it. but I still think it will play a key part. Definitely.
[Scott] Yeah. I appreciate the points around spontaneousli It really came from kind of a pain point that I had as an extrovert that as being a remote work for 10 years, missing those, micro-interactions missing those conversations, getting up every hour to go have a schmooze with somebody at the desk for five, 10 minutes, going to Starbucks for a coffee and no, to the point of the, kind of the outside your core team. It was interesting when, and when envision had an IRL that night on this about three years ago, now that I went to in, in the states, every one of the meals was like a sociology experiment. Everyone in the team set silo together, right? Your iOS teams have your iOS team, your apex sales teams that would your APAC sales team. And me either being an extrovert or because I was the first person there and everyone there came after me. I'd never met 90% of the people on a day-to-day basis. I never had any interaction with 90% of those people. Every one of those meals, I've specifically sat at a different table to meet new people. And my team gave me a hard time, like, oh, why don't you come sit with us? I'm like, listen, I talked to you every day. I know you like these people. I don't know them, and I'll never get to know them outside of this environment. So I think I definitely agree that there's such an importance to be able to break out of that kind of core team and be able to meet other people and have those conversations and get those insights. And I think even within, within the team, I saw it was interesting. We had many conversations around it that the immediate team that I was part of was not as kind of tight knit as the team that was based in Australia. And really the difference was the teams in Australia. I think most of the people I think were in Melbourne, that they got together and worked together in person like once a month and they went to dinner or whatever they did. So they had that in-person interaction on a, at least a monthly basis. So they're in slack, they're telling jokes, having lots of fun and you could see like that camaraderie. And then the EMEA team, like when we took over that, like just wasn't there because we never, we never had the opportunity to meet. We never had the tablet, the opportunity to have those kind of moments. And for me, it was kind of trying to force, create those intentionally, create those opportunities to have those conversations with my colleagues on a regular basis. So I think even within your own core team, in a remote environment, you don't necessarily speak to them on a, on a one on one level. Maybe if you're doing like a daily standup and that you kind of do your whole work thing, but on not like, Hey, what's going on? Like I heard, how did your kid do the, they win the game last week? Did you, how was your trip here? those moments aren't possible. So, yes, I certainly agreed that it's now those tools are being created to mimic those experiences. and the work stuff has always been there. No, for, for 10 years, we've been using tools like base camp and Trello and Asana and all those other ones, even when we may have been sitting right next to each other in an office we're using those virtual tools to work. And then when you remove the office, will, the tools were already there that we were already used to, and we just kept moving. That's why I think productivity was so great during the pandemic, but nobody ever thought about redesigning or recreating those conversations, those moments in a remote environment, even kind of hacking together the tools that were there. And I think that's has been the big impact by no you're seeing this culture is in the office and all the other kind of nonsense that's out there. but I think maybe to the last question that I have, I want to bring a point that you mentioned with the latest feature that you've rolled out. And I think this is to me, probably the most crucial and critical feature that you can roll out into NearU. And similar similar products is that pay eyes and individual. Again, maybe I'm not coming to a space where I'm having no 15, 20 type of colleagues that are there, but I want to go to those spaces and interest in those spaces in part, because of the people who were there, for the opportunity for networking and getting to meet new people and collaboration and things like that. so I'd love to hear a little bit more maybe about that actual feature. and maybe what you're thinking about in the future to really help the individuals who are not, again, going to maybe a space where there's a whole bunch of their colleagues, how can an individual going alone, we'll call it, or maybe with one other person build those relationships, build their networks, build their community within the spaces that you offer.
[James] Yeah, absolutely. So in terms of the feature itself, we've launched kind of version one a couple of weeks ago, and there's obviously a roadmap of know version two and beyond them, there's, there's things that we know we can improve. but essentially the concept is for both employees within larger organizations who have colleagues that are all utilizing the platform, but, but equally, as you said, individuals who are looking to build their network. So there's the ability to filter between a colleague tab and a network tab. So network, maybe friends, family, or, or other connections that you have met whilst working from these different spaces and anybody, you, you can invite anybody, who is also on the platform to join that list. And you can have see toggle on privacy for various reasons, obvious reasons. but, but the ability there within that feature, is that you can, you can look forward and plan who's working from where, whether they are people you specifically do, or maybe don't want to work with for whatever reason. and, and you then have that option to, to message them in app. And you can have a sort of a chat with them about, Hey, look, you know, you're, you're working here, let's, let's get together and collaborate. And again, it's that hyper-local collaboration element. It's not forced, but you're doing it because it's productive. So you're choosing to do that specifically because maybe the location works or the day works. The person is really relevant to who you need to speak to. or maybe it's just somebody that makes you laugh and you think, do you know what I need to get out and be with that person for whatever reason, because we used to chat about sports or hobbies, whatever, and we haven't done it for a while. So yeah, again, it comes down to that individual level of where is the value and whether that value is specifically productivity related for your output, or is that from a wellbeing perspective that there's only that individual knows why? So there, the feature currently works on a, on a calendar basis and you can say it gives you the visibility as to where individuals are on a specific day. the times again, if the times correlate to when you might be there, you can maybe get a couple of your colleagues together and all book into the same space, and you know, future plans around sort of, you know, map views, those sorts of things. So you can see, where people are, geographically, you know, there's, there's kind of features around and if you're meeting certain people and somebody is running late, there's, there's all of that sort of, you know, the, the possibilities, a huge, so we, you know, I think it's a really exciting feature and, and it's, it's definitely an area that varies value on, on both a small scale for somebody to always build their own network, you know, almost a social network within that, but also on a larger scale with employee, sorry, large scale employers, to, to sort of have that very simple interface that helps you interact and know where your colleagues are going to be when actually everybody is dispersed and that might be across a town or a city or a country or, or globally. you know, if you're traveling, you might feel a little bit out, you know, you don't know where you're going, maybe after a couple of years and not having to do this. So when you go somewhere new to know that you've got a colleague also working from the same space or somebody you've met in the past, that's working from the same area. It's just that sort of level of comfort, that can be bought by, by having something similar to that.
[Scott] I love it. I didn't get, hopefully this brings out the real concept of co-working is I remember the first time I went into these spaces, I was always amazed. Like I had this concept of my brain, that it was just a whole bunch of people sitting all in kind of an open space and like you're collaborating and you work for different company. I'm having this issue with like onboarding and I can't figure out, I'm just, Hey, I grabbed like you people here in the kitchen, I throw something on the whiteboard. And like, I just get collaboration feedback. But when I would go into all these spaces, we work or mindspace or whatever they may be. And it's like, all these glass boxes, all the doors are shut. Like just nobody talking. There's nobody. I'm like, sorry, what's the point of working from here outside of maybe saving money in office, but like you're, you're missing the whole collaboration piece. Like I thought that's what the value was. so be interesting to build in that real opportunity to get, give people that heads up, Hey, these people are going to be in here. These are the types of people. So maybe you want to have these conversations, like you said. And I think even on the company side, there's a lot of value there to know, Hey, if 20, 30% of my people are going to be in the central London within this specific space time here on this day, Hey, maybe this is a great opportunity to do a team fund event. If I know there going to be a lot of people here, let's take advantage of everyone being here on this time and then do one of those maybe in person or whatever may type, events that they're doing. yeah, very cool. I think that's a real big opportunities that is that community piece and how you give opportunity to networking. Cause people are so desperate to get that networking, build their network. Who's going to be there. And I think that's a lot of value of, Hey, if I know, you know, James is going to be at the space, Hey, I want to work there because I know James and I get along. Well, we could talk if we can go to a lunch and it's provides that extra value of, okay. Yes, I can work from the house where I don't want to work from the house, but the fact that I know who's there, it gives me more of that incentive to maybe go here or they are just the, to use the service. That's awesome. Thank you. so we're going to go into the kind of rapid fire type question. So it's to be five questions, first idea that comes to your head. Go for it. You ready?
[Scott] Yep. All right. Question number one, who's one remote leader that you look up to and why?
[James] Wow. A remote leader. I think the, I think generally PWC, there was a, there was a quote recently, Tim Ryan, U S U S chairman, who, who essentially echoes my views. I think, you know, they, they, you know, somebody in power within a large scale organization who who've is quite vocal on, on, embracing this new flexibility and, empowering businesses to sort of make that change.
[Scott] Interesting. So that may cover it question number two, but just in case it's slightly different answer. what's your go-to source for tips, tricks, ideas, and how to do remote the right way.
[James] there, there were a couple of a couple of thought leaders, I suppose, on who I consider thought leaders, from, I suppose get you thinking about the food, but, but in terms of sort of, you're making me question, okay, is this the right way of doing it? I hadn't thought about doing that. on, on LinkedIn, they're quite vocal on LinkedIn, Caleb, Kayla Parker, who runs a bold podcast. you know, he's quite vocal in terms of it's very much the office and home and other options and, and, another guy, I think he's in Canada, Dave Ken's at sea CBRN, On the show last year. Oh, okay. yeah, I mean, I've never actually spoken to the guy, but you know, it seems, seems a great guy from, from what I, what I read. I mean, again, he's, he's quite vocal in terms of, you know, not, not being too concerned about what people think, but deliberately kind of being maybe provocative in what he's saying. but I, you know, I, I think there's a lot of truth and, it's always quite interesting to read what he's saying, but also the comments and how it's received and how people can consider that.
[Scott] Yep. question number three, a office-based company approaches, you PR approaches NearU saying, Hey, they want to move towards being a remote company and they ask for your advice. What's the first thing that they should change to do remote Rook the right way.
[James] I think they should understand what their employees want is the first thing. because if their employees are all happy and listened to it, yeah. Because if their employees are happy coming into a central office five days a week, then, then it's potentially a waste of time. and equally, if their employees all say, well, five days a week, we want to be anywhere in the world, then it's a totally different conversation. and then the likelihood is that will be a portion that say, Hey, five days a week in the office works for me. And five days a week from home works for some of the others, but the vast majority will probably want a bit of both. I think that's, that's really the first thing that needs to be done before any other conversation is, is had. So, you know, understand from the source exactly. What, what, what problem or challenge you're trying to solve. Yeah.
[Scott] Awesome. question number four. What's one thing that people typically get wrong about remote work?
[James] I think the biggest frustration from my side when talking about the new UI platform, for example, is people say, oh no, we're good. We offer Harvard working and people could work from home if they want. and what has very rarely been considered is that portion of staff who can't work from home and you're offering a rotational basis and saying, well, look, everybody can come in two, three days a week. The others you work from home, this is great. You know, dust the hands we've done it hybrid working sorted, but you've then got a large portion of staff who are struggling daily working from somewhere that is not productive, that potentially is unsafe from a health and safety perspective. and, and your employer is not really considering you as, as an individual that they're saying, well, look, we've, we've kind of done the vast majority. 95% of people are sorted that 5% across a large organization is a lot of people who every day are being paid to work from somewhere that's, that's not the right environment. So yeah, I think that's, that's kind of the biggest, biggest thing. I think people are getting wrong is hybrid work. Doesn't just mean office or home. There's a lot more to be considered.
[Scott] Love it.
The last question kind of related is the idea of being forced to go in and back into the office really over indebted with, I think, I suppose in a word, yes, I think it is, because employees are voting with their feet and if there is a company that fundamentally will not budge from that position, they will, they will unquestionably lose staff. so again, over time, I think as that evolves businesses who are drawing a line and saying, this is our position, you come back or you, you don't have a job we'll perhaps have to evolve that when they do start to lose the top talent.
Yeah. Completely agree. so last but not least, where can people find, get ahold of you find more about, what you're doing?
[James] Yeah, absolutely. So, you check out a website near, NearU with any AR then the letter u.io. email meJames@new.io. you can download the app. It's free to download on iOS and Android. check out the coverage and check out to the process, the, the user interface, how it works. and, and really key point to kind of reiterate is it's totally pay as you go. So anybody can use this, you can sign up, start making bookings. There's no sort of paywalls memberships subscriptions. you know, I suppose in summary, if you have to kind of think about it, like a, almost like an Uber model, you know, it's there for the times you need it. and as, as you see the needs, Awesome.
I think the lesson would be, we didn't talk about it. I think it's important to that. where are the spaces available? Is it just London, just the UK or So it's totally global.
So currently there are about 700, and we're, we're increasing that daily. We we've got a team of people that's dedicated to growing that. and, and fundamentally we aren't tied to where, where, you know, where, where we have locations. So if there is a gap or if there are spaces or areas, sorry, that you need a space, that businesses need spaces, we can be led by those clients. and, and quickly onboard spaces for them as, as is needed. So totally global, no limitations And Mason games.
[Scott] Thank you so much for joining today. Appreciate the conversation. And, and, till next time everybody have a great day.