Shared spaces set to gain popularity in Kenya post pandemic

BY VICTOR ADAR

You are a business kingpin getting ready to go and sign some contracts. Out of nowhere the first case of coronavirus disease is reported in your country. Government enforces cessation of movement and people are unable to cross borders, working or studying from home becomes the order of the day.

What Covid-19 has taught organizations is that they don’t need to spend so much on office rent and that what is going to matter is quality of space, design and location. Here, the facilities are shared from the kitchen to conference rooms, internet to electricity and a central reception area.

Over the years, flexible office spaces were synonymous with freelancers and international companies but today even mainstream businesses are embracing it. You simply need to sign up for a membership of, say, one month, or even a year. One of the advantages is that you avoid the large deposits associated with traditional offices that require nearly three times the amount (deposit and rent for two months), and lease terms, which are quite often unfavourable. This tells a lot about the shift in the business ecosystem.

Valerie Mumia who is the chief executive officer and head of public relations at Uncharted PR Ltd says that before the virus hit she used to pay rent to use a physical office. But since her nature of work does not allow her to go there everyday she decided to move out in a bid to free up some cash as the impact of the virus continued to ravage businesses. She is not a desk or armchair person as she is always in the field either closing or doing a spirited search for new business partners.

“It helps with efficiencies and is cost effective,” says Ms Mumia. “That’s the future. The year 2020 was very difficult. Tenants had to renegotiate with their landlords, some employers sent workers home… You can see a lot of cost cut. People are not going to be in traditional offices.

I am always out there looking for clients. Why should I pay rent? That’s a cost you can save especially now that money is hard to come by

Common misperceptions about shared spaces is that they are expensive and not for small timers. But that is simply not the case. Apart from the convenience, Ms Mumia says shared spaces are affordable and you get everything that you need.

“You can use the boardroom, the waiting area, there’s a kitchen… all for free. There are also booths that can accommodate one or two people. You save because if you are alone Sh1, 500 will sort you out for a day. I am always out there looking for clients. Why should I pay rent? That’s a cost you can save especially now that money is hard to come by,” says Mumia.
Ms Mumia is not alone. Hellen Wanjiru’s experience is similar to hers. For the first few months after the first case of the virus was reported in March, the questions on Ms Wanjuru’s lips were; for how long will the pandemic last? How about setting up an office at home, and do away with paying rent? Some of the people who gave her an idea of shared workspaces are her business partners and friends.

“I didn’t even know how much it would cost but I was surprised the cost is not much. If you really want to concentrate I would suggest you work from a place like this. Working from home is not easy especially if you have children. I come here on a need basis. So I find this a better option,” she says.

There have been numerous reports about the extent at which companies have suffered during this Coronavirus pandemic. And traditional offices suffered the most. If, for example, more than Sh30, 000 of a company’s revenue goes to service charge, Sh1.2 million to pay around 10 employees, and another Sh500, 000 as rent for six months, it is not easy to ensure that things run smoothly amidst a pandemic. It is the new working dynamic now popular as the new normal that will pay off in the long run.

Moving forward, it seems that the shared spaces market is big so much that there are tens of players vying for a piece of the pie. Nairobi Garage is a popular one with the cost ranging from sh2, 000 per day, or about Sh28,000 a month. Other top flexible work space providers include Nexus Co-work, Ihub innovative technology hub, The Mint Hub, Workstyle Africa, The Twig Cowork, The Foundry Africa, and The Hive, just to mention a few.

“This is a business and we see it growing across the world. The pandemic has definitely slowed down business but we are optimistic. I have seen companies that had 50 employees take space of 10 people. That would probably lower their overheads. Once this pandemic goes down or disappears, sharing of office space is going to be a big disruption,” Federico Von Bary, co-founder of Workstyle told Nairobi Business during an interview at The Address buidling, Muthangari drive, 7th floor.

Covid-19 affected businesses so much that a company or individual still able to meet all financial needs is on the right path – The pandemic has taken a lot out of companies so much that such arrangements are open for everyone who can afford.

Looking at trends over the last 11 months, it appears that more and more companies and individuals are now embracing flexible workspaces to reduce overheads. It is also evident that some of the once quite financially stable companies are now forced to adjust their expenses until they are eventually able to operate normally.

But it should not have taken a pandemic for individuals and companies to realise that shared spaces is the way to go. Well, it seems the model is liked by many if numbers by Workstyle Africa are anything to go by. The company can accommodate a maximum of 300. An individual member pays around Sh45, 000 a month.

“A lot is happening and it shows that hybrid working is the future. We will see a big uptake in this business model,” says Bary.

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