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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Nasa-approved greenery sees office working fit for the 21st century

Our Space in Dubai is a co-working and business centre office mix - with a difference

Richard Anderton,CCO, and Carlota Frere, head of events, at Our Space. Antonie Robertson/The National
Richard Anderton,CCO, and Carlota Frere, head of events, at Our Space. Antonie Robertson/The National

Ask most office warriors to define their dream workplace and you’re likely to get some fanciful responses.

If, however, that list includes at-desk massages, somewhere to “scream and shout” away frustration and Nasa-approved plants then Our Space could be their office utopia.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 19 APRIL 2018. The Interior of Our Space ME, a revolutionary new co-working freelance work space launching in Dubai and due to go global. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: David Dunn. Section: Business.
Our Space features Nasa-approved plants. Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: David Dunn. Section: Business.

Opened in May, the 22,500 square foot Dubai facility is a co-working space and business centre office mix - with a difference. What traditionalists might view as eccentricities, it offers as near necessities for progressive office dwellers.

“We wanted to look at common issues with business centres around the world,” Our Space regional chief commercial officer Richard Anderton tells The National.

“Current corporate models … everyone is bound by four walls and it’s not a very attractive space to work. Most business centres, especially around the Middle East, are mundane, don’t have much soul.

“So people will rent office/co-working space and not even use it; most business centres, although occupancy is maybe 80/90 per cent, actual hands on deck will be 15 to 20 per cent.

“People are not feeling the need and desire to actually come to the space.

“It doesn’t engage people to have active ‘collisions’, to meet like-minded people so they can branch out and collaborate. They aren’t effective environments to collaborate in.”

With co-working and freelance culture growing rapidly, alongside demand for temporary offices, Our Space chief executive and chairman Kevan Halliwell envisioned centres with much more than day-hire hot desks.

“We designed ours so there’s an effective flow between office space and co-working and around the heartbeat of our business centres; the cafe or restaurant,” says Mr Anderton.

“Our core pillars are connecting humans with nature and technology.”

His Dubai centre, inside the Lamborghini building on Sheikh Zayed Road, followed a smaller “pilot” in Marbella, Spain.

The Dubai facility has three meeting rooms and 39 mixed-size offices with 225 desks. Another 24 desks are dedicated to certain members, across two other offices and in the open-plan co-working area. A further 139 co-working "anyspace" desks are available on a first come basis, rented by day or used by members according to their monthly package.

Our Space is very green, not least in an arrangement with the UK's appliance maker Dyson to test the latest "natural" lighting systems, air purifiers and hand dryers. Even plants are Nasa-approved for oxygen producing and carbon dioxide absorption effectiveness.

“Our design is biophilic, so it’s about bringing the outdoors, indoors," says Mr Anderton.

“The study behind that says if you work in an oxygenated space you’re up to 40 per cent more productive. We wanted to introduce the maximum amount of wellness we can.”

That includes a “Zen room” soundwave therapy bed delivering deep penetrating waves that “rejuvenate your body”, a video games room, and “tantrum rooms … if you want to release you anxieties”.

There, interactive games get you to focus, much like machines used by athletes who touch flashing lights as rapidly as possible.

“It’s about re-setting the mind,” says Mr Anderton, who previously played badminton for South Africa and worked in health club management and for Belgium-based serviced office giant Regus.

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Other Our Space services include a hair salon, gym access, spa and yoga, massages and childcare. Networking events, talks, presentations and occasional gigs are planned – and there’s a dedicated ladies zone, says operations and events manager Carlota Frere.

Our Space is targeting a mix of freelancers and start-ups, plus established firms seeking space for its representatives in the local market.

“You know how difficult it is to focus at home - there’s always distractions; the fridge is more interesting,” says Ms Frere, from Portugal.

“Cafes as well; you see nice places but you sometimes have children or someone talking very loudly.

“It’s nice to have a location where you have a more professional appearance for your business instead of meeting at [somewhere like] Tim Horton’s. Having a location where you know you will be productive and people around you can maybe collaborate with you in different ways … our target is to grow with members, to give the tools to develop.

“Companies, when they have a lot of people travelling, don’t need so many desks and can have this rotation in their office space. That’s attracting a lot of interest.”

Dubai's Our Space opened with close to its 70 per cent occupancy target.

Hence, other UAE locations are being considered. The northern English city of Leeds launches next, with Miami, Manchester, Hong Kong, Singapore, Manila and Kuala Lumpur within the CEO’s “dream” to open 500 centres; 50 organically in three years and 450 via acquisitions, including hotel lobby collaborations.

Naturally, Our Space is not alone in adapting to the shared-space trend.

Tryp by Wyndham Dubai, Barsha Heights, is one hotel already offering such a service.

It’s co-working environment, Nest, has gained traction among the freelance and start-up community. It opened late last year, lauded as one of the first fully integrated co-working spaces within an internationally branded hotel.

Nest focuses on “fostering a community around entrepreneurs, freelancers and the creative working classes, providing the space to hatch ideas and the room they need to soar".

Similarly, Letswork, a new community of affordable co-working spaces across Dubai launched by Hamza Khan and Omar Al Mheiri in February, partners with Rove hotels to convert unused parts of each venue into co-working spaces during off-peak hours, equipping lobby, lounge and even some restaurant areas with the USB and plug points required.

Others firms operating in the UAE include WitWork launched in May, and based on a Dh350 per month membership scheme that offers professionals access to “dormant” spaces across Dubai.

And these examples are but a ­handful of the many co-working solutions and providers cropping up all over the UAE.

Mr Anderton, meanwhile, is planning a membership programme to give travelling members access to planned Our Space branches worldwide.

For now, a global members' portal allows co-workers to reach out to others when seeking required skills; useful as “probably 50 to 60 per cent of our market is small to medium-sized businesses”.

Adds Mr Anderton: “Co-working spaces are pretty competitive, produce a healthy spirit.

“When you’re among all these co-workers you’re energised to do better. You’re not on your own … every day you want to be better than the next.”

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