In this interview with Christa Jouck, General Director at Officenter, we discuss the current state of coworking and what is in store for the near future. Don’t have time to read through the interview or have a preference for hearing people talk? You can also listen to this interview via Spotify!
What is the name of your coworking space?
We’re not only a co-working space, but a network of business centers. In total, we have 14 business centers slash co-working spaces.
That’s quite a lot of spaces.
Yes, we are the second biggest player in the Belgian market. And we grew to that position in about ten years.
That’s amazing. And so, as the second largest player in the market, do you have an idea, a ballpark figure maybe of how many members your space has?
We have more than 894 businesses that are customers in our centers. And that amounts to approximately 1500 people who are using our rooms, spaces, and offices.
That’s a sizable group. Is there a more prevalent group among the type of companies that work at Officecenter?
You know, everybody can be an Officecenter customer. So we have big corporates, we have small business owners, we have lawyers, I.T. companies, and even sports organizations. Everybody can be a customer. The biggest client has around 65 chairs, and the smallest has only one chair, which they use once a week.
So there is a lot of variety in the type of members.
Yes. That makes it very interesting because the synergy that is happening through the different customers is very valuable indeed.
That might very well be a strength of yours. Which brings me to the following question: what makes Officecenter unique? What are your strengths?
That would have to be our network. We have 14 locations that all our members can make use of. So, for example, when you’re a customer in Hasselt, you can also use the spaces in Zaventem or elsewhere. You can use all our locations within the same formula. That makes traveling very convenient. And the second important thing is our service.
We never say no to our customers. Our customers are always right. And we do everything for our customers right away. With that, we make a large difference, I think. In the end, happy customers are the ones that stick around.
You could say that. Happy customers are loyal customers. Compared to pre-pandemic times, do you notice a change in your membership base, the type of memberships, the companies, the number of people, maybe?
Yes, our membership base is growing. It was growing before the pandemic, but now it’s picked up speed. Especially larger corporates are a growing segment. They did their homework and concluded, “we need flexibility because we don’t know what we’ll need in the near future.”
A risk large business owners have is having to operate in office spaces that are largely unoccupied. And in a business center, you simply don’t have that risk. You can have ten coworkers that all show up at the same time, and none show up the next day. At a center like ours, that’s never a problem. That’s something corporates also know now.
And that’s something that you offer, the flexibility, the ability to accommodate different needs.
That, and being able to work closer to home. Our members don’t have to commute very far in order to work in a professional working space. So that’s also very important. We want to make work as easy as possible for our members. During the pandemic, we installed professional zoom rooms and things like that.
All right. Now, the next question you might have answered already in part. But have you changed your offering at all in the last few years during the pandemic? And if so, how?
No. We evolved, of course. We swapped out older tech for newer, more functional tech. And like I said, we’ve installed Zoom rooms and other such things. But we have always offered fixed offices, flexible offices, and co-working. When we started ten years ago, co-working didn’t even exist as it does today. Now, it accounts for around 25% of my turnover. So it’s a growing segment, and it’s still growing very fast.
What changes are you see happening in the flexible workspace market right now?
I think the biggest change happening right now is how corporates perceive coworking spaces. More and more, you see them looking towards flexible spaces as a solution for their work setting needs. They can have one fixed office in one of our spaces and have several other locations they use in a more conventional coworking sense. That’s a great change for us.
So before, it wasn’t so much the large corporates that typically used coworking spaces, but rather smaller businesses?
Yes. But then we’re talking about the very, very big companies. We have all sorts of member companies now.
Remote working has changed how we perceive the function of the office, as is evident from what you said about larger corporates. What does this mean for coworking spaces?
I think it’s very possible that in the near future, employers will allow their employees to choose where to work. That could be at home or perhaps in a Starbucks or in a coworking center. I think that will be a significant transformation. Employees will get a “workplace budget” that they’ll be able to spend in a way that makes sense for their jobs.
That would be an interesting change indeed. It’s always hard to know for certain what the future holds. What is something you wish had known about today’s flexible office market six months ago?
I do my best to know everything concerning my business. So I also look outside of Belgium. When you compare Belgium to, for example, London, we’re easily ten years behind in regard to coworking. That’s why I try to attend as many coworking conferences as I can. All around the world. That way, I stay on top of what is happening in other places and can at least have an idea of what might come to pass in Belgium.
That brings us to our last question and one I think we can segway into really well. You mentioned that you go to conferences across the world to see the future of coworking and what things might be like in Belgium in a few years. Do you have any insights into that now?
I was a bit disappointed after my last visit to London. This was about three months ago, and very little had changed after the Pandemic. This might also, in part, be due to Brexit, of course. But very few new things were happening in London. So London wasn’t the place to be to learn anything new, even though it always had been for the past ten years.
So they might be slowly losing their position as the big innovators of coworking?
Yes, I think so. I was in Warsaw to attend a conference before the Pandemic hit, and I was really impressed by the things they were doing. Warsaw isn’t a notably ‘sexy’ city, so it’s not like they had an edge there. Yet their office buildings and coworking centers were very impressive.
Was there anything in particular that stood out to you?
Oh, a lot of things, but that was three years ago. So I implemented everything I learned.
Is there anything else you would like to share about the state of coworking that you haven’t had that opportunity to do yet?
Perhaps one thing, and that is that there’s no competition in coworking. There is enough demand to go around, so we should all see each other as colleagues in a shared field rather than as competitors. I think that’s very important. I try to collaborate with colleagues on the other side of Belgium. My customers can use their meeting rooms twice a month, and their customers can come to us. I think that’s a nice way to work together.
I think those warm words are a great way to conclude our interview. Thank you so much, Christa.
Are you interested in learning more about Officecenter and what they do? Then make sure to visit their website at www.officenter.eu.