Mat Hunter, Plus X

How has the easing of lockdown restrictions this summer impacted on demand for office space? 

We launched our Brighton hub in June last year and we actually kept it open. The position we took was in alignment with government guidance, and we asked our members directly what was best for their business. We found that working in a Covid-secure workspace was better for most people. Now we’re close to 70 per cent full on the main office floors. We don’t all have space in our homes where we can work, so workspaces are important. 

Tell us about the benefits of working at Plus X. 

We call them innovation hubs. For establishing businesses to grow you need flexible office space but also the best support programmes and specialist facilities. We’ve got a podcast studio for example, and access to laser cutters and VR sets. Our main innovation support programme, BRITE, is a collaboration with the University of Brighton. It’s that wrap-around support that’s important – seeking support for growing your business should be normal. People come into the space and are very energised by the knowledge-sharing. 

What are the advantages for freelancers (and workers who were previously commuting but can now work remotely) to be based in a co-working space, rather than at home?  

At its most basic it’s a sense of community and not being alone. There are also greater opportunities for collaboration. Beyond that it’s the additional support offered – we have a programme where people can reach academics and access research, for example. Co-working spaces allow you to concentrate as well as collaborate. 

The whole point of flexi-spaces is that businesses can take a small studio, and then move to a bigger space as they take on more staff, and then go back to a small studio if required. It allows businesses to experiment and see what works well – the flexible contract is key. 

What are the benefits of having thriving co-working spaces for other businesses in towns and cities/local economies and the wider community? 

We care very much about helping businesses to innovate and grow. We started our hubs in regional towns and cities as we recognise the importance of creating high quality jobs outside central London. Many people who normally commute to London are thinking about whether they need to do that again, or whether they should work closer to home. It’s important to retain talent in towns and cities and create these high-quality jobs, and it’s good for the hospitality sector too, which is so important – especially in coastal communities. 

What facilities/support do workers require? What’s important to them?  

Our building is operated to a standard called WELL 2.0. You’re not just getting a flexible office space, you’re getting good light and air quality, access to outdoor space, nutritious food, as well as yoga on Mondays and Fridays. It’s a community as well as facilities. Bigger businesses sometimes struggle with a lack of new ideas or retaining staff as they’re not in an exciting space – spaces such as ours are for bigger business too. 

How important is digital infrastructure/connectivity and roll-out of gigabit fibre? 

This building has the same connectivity as the Shard in London, it is Wiredscore Platinum rated. There are two broadband pipes coming into the building and a wireless back-up. It’s incredibly important, especially as we’re all doing so much more video conferencing now. We have fully kitted out board rooms and phone booths – it’s all about offering different types of space. 

What are the benefits of working on the Sussex coast? What opportunities would encourage employees and their employers to work across the coastal area/businesses looking to expand or relocate? 

There’s no doubt the coastal area is just a beautiful place to live and for many people, that’s what they want. It doesn’t matter where you live, so long as you can access the infrastructure to build a world-class business, like Ricardo or Brandwatch. What’s exciting now is business leaders are saying, I don’t have to go to London or Paris. We’re beginning to see reports of more commercial activity in places like Cambridge and Brighton and the wider commuter belt – possibly these are mid-term effects of the pandemic, but time will tell. 

What type of businesses are attracted to co-working on the coastal strip? 

For us it’s very varied. Brighton is quite well known for digital culture, but we see a very wide range of businesses here, which is something to celebrate. 

Many existing small businesses and micro entrepreneurs are currently using collaborative workspace. To support their future growth, what space, support and expertise could these growing micro businesses need in the future? 

The Scaleup Institute makes clear it is access to customers and understanding how to market oneself, and then there’s access to talent – the skilled people to join your team. Forging these connections is important and it’s also about access to finance – banks lending money or venture capital. Access to finance for businesses outside London is poor, so we need to see new government action on this.  

How will changing work practices alter the way we use our office space in coastal West Sussex?  

While people will often choose to work from home, that’s only where they actually have a space at home where they can focus. People can underestimate the power of physical space and finding new connections. You can have a lot more stamina in real life meetings compared to video meetings and this is important when resolving complex problems or opportunities. We will see more of these patterns of people working from home and from a flexi-space. 

How can office spaces be used more creatively in the future to benefit businesses and the wider community? 

I think it’s about understanding the different needs of work. Really what the flexi-space offers is the carefully designed infrastructure, with video conferencing rooms and all the different types of space businesses need, but also the flexible business model. It’s space as a service – you’re no longer buying it as a product, but as a service. It also means things like cleaning and IT are all taken care of and it’s one less thing for businesses to worry about.