Mike Gardener, CEO at The Office Providers tells us about flexible office and workspace search engines.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded The Office Providers.
Mike Gardener: I am a chartered commercial real estate surveyor specializing in the office space agency sector.
I founded The Office Providers during the last recession (2009) when I saw a growing trend of businesses of all sizes seeking flexibility in their business space strategies.
The Office Providers is a free-to-use flexible workspace brokerage that helps businesses search for and acquire flex space in the forms of serviced offices, managed office spaces, co-working space solutions, and other forms of flexible leased office space for rent.
We are based in the UK and operate in all locations globally, working with office providers in all territories.
The company is globally regulated by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).
How does The Office Providers innovate?
Mike Gardener: As we are a brokerage, we do not control the end product – that is managed by office providers and operators.
In terms of innovation strategy, we act as ‘market readers’ and act as a conduit between providers/operators and occupiers.
We provide a two-way communication channel between the various providers/operators and end-users and continuously improve this process.
Flexible office space companies were amongst the first within the commercial property sector to adapt their products in reaction to the changing requirements of occupiers.
Aside from making visible adaptations to workplaces such as employing new cleaning protocols, adapting occupier densities for social distancing, installing partitioning in shared offices, and many others, these companies also created new workspace products such as office space timeshares and day office rental products, as well as many others.
They also immediately trained business center staff in managing Covid-secure workspaces in line with the latest governmental guidelines.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Mike Gardener: The recession and lockdowns definitely had significant effects on the office space market as a whole.
There was a major slump in the activity, which, of course, affects business finances.
We are confident about the future of the market, though. The Great Recession was an accelerant in the move away from traditional leasehold office models towards more flexible shorter-term office arrangements, and we see Covid-19 as a further catalyst.
Firstly, because it acted as another reminder of the unpredictability of future economic conditions, and shorter-term commitments act as a form of insurance against the unforeseen.
Secondly, as more companies announce that they will more fully utilize flexible working in their operational models and move towards hybrid working, or workplace, models, we predict that flexible workspaces will provide safe testing environments for these new models and will be adopted as part of these models, longer-term.
Thirdly, the fact that, with them, the cleaning and other health and safety elements of facilities and property management can be outsourced to an office provider or operator will see flexible workspaces become increasingly attractive to occupiers.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Mike Gardener: We were founded during the last recession, so we carried the lessons learned from that period forward and have always remained lean. Therefore, thankfully, we did not have to make any of those difficult choices.
We know that, for many companies, those choices were unavoidable, and we sympathize with those and the individuals that were affected by those choices.
One of the things that we did during the first UK lockdown was to develop links with a not-for-profit social enterprise called My Pickle, which acts as a signposting service highlighting the help provided by various UK support services.
They developed Covid-19 digital handouts aimed at helping those affected by Covid-19 and experiencing the associated effects of employment uncertainty.
We helped to promote their service through our various channels.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Mike Gardener: CRM is something that is constantly evolving for us, and we try to adopt a ‘continuous improvement’ approach to that and all other elements of the business, whatever the market conditions are.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Mike Gardener: We did not avail of those.
Your final thoughts?
Mike Gardener: It is important to celebrate the small wins during adverse conditions.
When external conditions are oppressive, and KPIs such as profit are not reading well, searching out and celebrating the small wins helps to create positivity.
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