(Reuters.com) - Telecommuters no longer have to share the kitchen table at home or a busy cafe. Business lounges and rent-a-day work spaces are springing up in unusual places to take advantage of the growing mobile-worker population.
“It’s about taking offices to where people are, where they live,” says Steve Purdy, managing director of the UK arm of office space supplier Regus. His company is opening 15 on-platform railway business lounges in the Netherlands, 60 to 100 in France, and more in Switzerland and Germany.
Regus RGU.L is looking to do the same in shopping malls in the U.S and Shell service stations globally. The firm’s first motorway-flanking office opened in January in France on the A10 Autoroute’s Limours-Janvry service station.
In Britain, The Office Group has signed a deal to open five drop-in offices at railway stations, starting with London Paddington in September. Regus is also working closely with a number of UK rail companies, including Network Rail, and expects to make an announcement this year.
The first two Dutch Regus railway outlets came online last month at Amersfoort, near Utrecht and Den Bosch; Arnhem opened on June 4 and Amsterdam is scheduled for July 2.
“This is a new thing. Change is difficult for people, but the interest has been unbelievable,” said managing director of Regus Netherlands Eduard Schaepman.
He added that the success of the 40-person facility at Amersfoort is largely thanks to a transport hub through which 65,000 people pass every day.
Entrepreneur and Regus Amersfoort regular Finn Bouterse says that he searches out working environments where he can meet like-minded people and share ideas.
“I’ve made travelling time my own time. It feels like the days are longer than normal - no traffic jams.”
Bouterse also avoids working from home. “Your child asks you something and you can’t say no because he’s five,” he says.
Different work spaces in the Amersfoort office have been designed to suit different temperaments; social ‘think box’ seating suits those in an extroverted mood who wish to chat over their iPads, while busy executives prefer the seclusion of closed meeting rooms. Regus has replaced the traditional reception with a kitchen area in some of its lounges.
A monthly subscription of 35 pounds a month gets you access to any Regus business lounge on transport networks as well as any of the company’s 1,200 global business centres. Access to the lounges can also be purchased from 10 euros per day.
Mobile workers, based from home, between home and office, or permanently out in the field, are expected to number 1.3 billion by 2015 - or 37.2 percent of the total workforce - up from 919.4 million in 2008, according to the International Data Corporation.
In London, The Office Group is experimenting with informal co-working spaces to exploit this trend. The first of these, “The Club”, opened late last year in the basement of the company’s City offices, a stone’s throw from the Bank of England.
In a sleek but snug space that seats 45, club director Stewart Whiting points out areas of social seating, library style alcoves (for “visual privacy”), sealed-off meeting rooms and sound-proof phone booths.
Whiting says co-working spaces are popular because, “they balance privacy, the energy we get from others and the buzz we need to work productively”.
The Club is pricier than a Regus lounge, with an eight-pounds-an-hour or 45-pound day rate. For 195 pounds a month, three-day-a-week access can be purchased; full access is 445 pounds a month.
James Maskell, managing director of online wine exchange Vinetrade, started his business here. The facility, he says, gave him the ability to get out of the house at minimal cost, while having a dedicated place to go increased his productivity.
The Club attracts executives from a wide range of disciplines and specialities. This can enable serendipitous meetings over the water-cooler.
Danny Masting, managing director of social media consultancy FBK Europe Limited, says he finds the space to be a sharing environment where people reach out to each other and support one another.
“Clients come in and get excited and are jealous. So it says a great deal about yourself to be in the space,” he adds.
Regus’ Steve Purdy, who now oversees 155 business lounges in the UK - the latest is on the 37th floor of monolithic One Canada Square in Canary Wharf - argues that it’s the ability to drop in for even just 20 minutes and have quiet time, space, work on a laptop or make a private phone call that businesspeople appreciate.
“Technology is driving this, particularly with the advent of the tablet. It’s about flexible work (and) employers empowering their people to decide when and where they work best.”
Editing by Linda Noakes and Mark Kolmar