A boardroom of one's own
Home workers may curse their cramped, cupboard-sized offices, but they find it hard to justify the cost of leasing an office. Cheryl Markosky is converted
Wednesday 25 February 2004
Like many people who work from home, I've often wondered whether my work rate would soar if I rented a serviced office. So I swapped my Notting Hill cubby-hole for one week in the more salubrious environs of London's Brook Street. Here, in an Argyll Business Centre - one of five, primarily in Mayfair - I move into my very pleasant temporary home: thick new carpets, white walls and a lift, with period features such as a fireplace and gorgeous sash window, plus modern paintings, shower rooms and "teapoints" (a snazzy word for kitchens).
Argyll, encouraged by the success of the likes of Regis, which has brought the concept of bright, serviced offices to the masses, is doing the same at the top end. Spokesman Neil Hinwood says that serviced offices may have been around for years, but they have been revitalised of late. Argyll is nothing if not flexible, providing full-time offices for clients (around 80 per cent of their business), "virtual" offices where you can use the address and telephone numbers (not bad value at £225 a month) and or meeting rooms to rent when you need them.
"There is a certain psychology," Hinwood says, "when, rather than go to your prospective clients, they come here." Unlike Regis, there is no branding, "so you could masquerade that the whole building is yours." A growing category of user are those who want a London base once a week or so, which appeals to those outside the capital as well as foreigners, particularly business clients from the States and the Middle East.
It is unlikely that anyone will believe that I now operate from my own building of 35 offices and two sumptuous meeting rooms, but I do impress Susan Blakemore, John D Wood's press officer, with a working lunch of gourmet salads, white wine, fresh fruit and brownies in the conference room. Hinwood says that many women prefer to meet in neutral surroundings, rather than in a bar or hotel lobby.
Emboldened by the attentions from the staff (my phone is answered, messages taken and post dispensed), I begin to get the hang of how the other half does business, with elevenses in the boardroom with the press team from Knight Frank.
According to Hinwood, one of the reasons that people rent serviced offices is loneliness. Working from home can be solitary, but I'm not so convinced by the social pluses of the office, as the discreet aura of what feels like an upmarket hotel doesn't lend itself to chit-chat around the watercooler. My neighbour Amber, dispatched from her LA headquarters to set up a London office, hadn't yet benefited from one of the wine tastings or race evenings held for "residents". Across the stairs, an asset manager from Massachusetts liked the fact that he started up his business here without worrying about buying furniture, finding a cleaner and all those other time-wasting details you forget to factor in. He warns that you do need to keep an eye on "extras", as you can clock up a hefty bill if you are not careful.
Did my week in the upper echelons of business-dom make me a more productive human being? Having staff to take messages was a real boon, as it left me free to get on with work. What I'll really miss, though, is the space and kudos, those classy blue bottles of Ty Nant water and the Kit-Kats at the "teapoint". Maybe my home kitchen needs re-branding.
Charges for Argyll's 176 serviced offices across five centres are £1,000 plus VAT per workstation per month, or from £180 to £240 per square foot. For 'access' without a permanent office, you pay a £225 monthly fee, plus extras. Call 020-7665 5580
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