Welcome to the neighbourhood coffice

By Amy Lewin

Updated May 16, 2020 at 11:17 AM

Reading time: 2 minutes

It’s 10am on a Monday morning, and Leela Sule is already down the pub. She doesn’t, however, have a pint in front of her; instead she’s got a Macbook. The local pub might not seem like the most obvious place to crack out a client proposal or write a pitch deck, but for the rising number of freelancers and founders like Leela, it’s starting to prove to be a very productive workplace.

The Islington Townhouse in north London is one of 50 spaces that hot-desking company AndCo offers its members around the city. For a membership fee of just £20 per month (yes really), members can book ‘hot-desks’ at some of the city’s nicest restaurants, chicest bars, and coolest hotel lobbies, during their quieter hours. All are fitted with AndCo’s speedy wifi; some have meeting rooms; many are dog-friendly. It’s win-win: AndCo partner venues generate extra revenue and reach a new audience of potential customers, while AndCo members avoid the high fees and inflexibility of traditional co-working spaces.

Leela loves the variety so much that she’s currently on tour. “I try out a new venue every week with my co-working friend and podcast co-host Bernadette,” she says. “We like to do little space reviews at the beginning of episodes so make a point of visiting new locations.” WeWork may be conquering high rises around the world—it’s now the largest renter of office space in London—but its beers on tap, shiny wooden floors and industrial decor isn’t for everyone. A recently published research by Kalido suggests that by 2020, half of the U.K’s workforce will be working freelance, so there’s plenty of room in the market for alternatives like AndCo to spring up.

AndCo10

Questions are being raised over the benefits of the typical co-working space’s model. One of the biggest draws of shared office environments for lonely freelancers and befuddled founders is the community aspect; the opportunity to bump into like-minded people at the coffee machine, or make useful business connections at events. But it’s rare to meet a co-working space member whose expectations have been met; the ‘community feel’ tends to vanish as spaces grow, begin renting more private offices and members become more disparate.

There’s also the problem of price and convenience. Co-working spaces don’t come cheap— the average desk in central London costs around £450 per month—and they rarely offer part-time packages. Most aren’t located near where their members live, which makes them especially unsuited for those working irregular hours or parents looking to cut back on their commute time and travel expense.

Enter the rise of the neighbourhood ‘coffice’ (coffee + office = coffice). AndCo is steadily expanding into London’s suburbs, with spaces in Croydon, Hackney and Brixton, and new spaces signing up on an almost weekly basis (the company launched in March 2018 and already has 50 venues to choose from). Members save on commute times and costs, and local businesses benefit.

AndCo plans to launch discounts for nearby services, from gyms to hairdressers, to further boost local business and, hopefully, foster the sense of community that city-central spaces lack. Rather than try to combine everything workers might need under the same roof, AndCo wants to join the dots between the unique services that already exist in each neighbourhood.

The ability for their members to be able to connect is really important to AndCo: both offline and online. They’ve already hosted several successful co-working meet-ups, with more planned in the new year. Recently launched is AndCo’s online forum, Threads, where freelancers are encouraged to ask questions and share advice on everything from wrangling with Facebook’s algorithms to the best banks for small businesses (no membership is needed to join in the conversation).

Decades after remote working became a possibility, it’s finally starting to fulfil its promise: a better work-life balance, more flexible hours and more flexible workspace. There’s now an alternative to the lonely desk at home, the patchy coffee shop wifi or the expensive co-working desk. AndCo is here.

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