Perspective

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The Coalface is an exciting new flexible workspace for businesses, entrepreneurs, freelancers and start-ups. Offering private offices and dedicated desks, as well as various membership solutions and meeting rooms, The Coalface aims to take care of all the hassle behind running an office – so that members can work, concentrate, and focus on what matters most. We talk with COO, Jonathan Hausmann.

In simple terms, what is The Coalface?

The Coalface is an architecturally refurbished workspace in Finsbury Park, North London. We offer private offices from between 3-20 desks, but the space is designed to be flexible and accommodating to members’ changing needs, so each office can be made larger or smaller as businesses expand or downsize. We also offer fixed desks and drop-in desks in a large shared space, as well as private meeting rooms, breakout areas and outside space to work or relax in.

The Coalface name honours the industrial heritage of the location; Finsbury Park was an important hub for the coal industry – indeed, Wells Terrace itself housed a coal depot dating back to the 1800s.

What is the gap in the market that The Coalface is filling?

Probably the main differentiator with The Coalface is our location and affordability – we are the first coworking space to open in Finsbury Park and it’s such a fantastic place to be based. Most of the coworking facilities currently on offer are based centrally, and their prices reflect this. We offer our members a really high-quality space that is genuinely affordable, so it’s ideal for entrepreneurs and start-ups who are increasingly being priced out of Central London, and are fed up with working out of a coffee shop.

For most businesses it is no longer critical to be based in Central London and so there is a clear market for a more affordable space outside of the City. Finsbury Park is close to the creative hubs of Hackney and Shoreditch and is ideal for people who need to travel in and out of the City for meetings; its transport links mean you can be there in less than 10 minutes.

The site is also great for people travelling into London from commuter routes that come into Finsbury Park station – such as Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire. People now don’t need to continue their journeys into central London and pay a premium for the privilege of working there.

In contrast to many coworking facilities, where economically affordable desks are in shared, open plan spaces, The Coalface offers predominately private offices that are genuinely affordable. Without compromising on quality, amenities or space, entrepreneurs, SMEs and start-ups can secure a private office from just £267 + VAT per desk per month.

Finsbury Park is a really exciting place to be for small businesses – there is so much happening here at the moment and the area has such a diverse business and cultural community. We can already see how the area is benefitting from the arrival of a business hub like The Coalface – it provides a place where people can work alongside each other, and support and inspire each other. We have attracted a whole variety of businesses – technology entrepreneurs, creative artists and designers, charities…as well as some of the more traditional businesses, in finance and consulting. The mix works really well, there’s a real energy here. And with so much redevelopment in the area, we expect the Finsbury Park business community to continue to grow.

What is your role at Coalface?

I am the Chief Operating Officer at The Coalface. Perhaps what is unique about this role is that I was involved from the very outset; I joined when the space was still a building site. This allowed me to have a say in its design – everything from its layout to furniture selection, and even down to details like the choice of coffee machine. It gives me a real sense of ownership in the role; rather than joining an established business and trying to make my mark, I’ve been able to shape it from the start.

Because The Coalface is a new venture, my remit is pretty broad. Notably, I am responsible for everything involved in securing and retaining members – I manage relationships with brokers, undertake viewings and market the space; I facilitated the design and creation of the website and also manage the day-to-day relationships with our members. Again, there are many advantages to being so hands on; I feel like I am really connected with everyone, rather than running it from afar. It allows me to gauge how it’s going, if people are happy and what needs to change.

What are the biggest challenges you and your team face?

Being outside of central London is what makes The Coalface so special; offering such a high-spec space at a genuinely affordable price is our USP and we’ve immediately seen people taking advantage of that. However, some potential clients still believe that they need to be in central London. We aren’t going to work for everyone, but we feel that there are many people working centrally and paying a premium to do so, when there is increasingly no need to. Finsbury Park has such incredible transport links – you can be in the City in 10 minutes. I think it may take some time for some businesses to trust that they don’t need to be based in the thick of it.

What skill or expertise have you been able to utilise from your last role and used well in this one – and how is your current role different to your last?

My previous role was at a coworking space in central London. It was already an established business when I joined and so I’ve been able to bring a lot of experience over from that role – knowing what worked well there and what didn’t has helped me shape The Coalface in some ways. But, of course, this is a very different offering and perhaps one of the biggest differences is that we are at the heart of a community here. Finsbury Park has a thriving community – in central London it’s different. You are more isolated. Here, a major focus has been on making links to our neighbours, looking at discounts from local businesses that we can offer our members – and we’ve been so warmly received. We also want to do whatever we can to support our local community and have recently offered one of our neighbours, the incredible Park Theatre, a free office space. We had noticed that the team were operating out of a pretty small office and decided that we could perhaps help out. Park Theatre needs to fundraise over £250,000 a year just to stay open, and receives no public subsidy, so we are more than happy to do what we can to support them; they are such a valuable part of the Finsbury Park community.

Name one thing that will have disappeared from the workplace in the next decade.

I think we are seeing a gradual decline in the traditional working day/week. Fewer and fewer people are working 9-5, Monday-Friday – hours that used to be conventional for most office jobs. Flexibility is increasingly important to people; even big businesses are gradually embracing flexible working and I expect this trend to continue. We are seeing more companies allowing people to work from home and they are relaxing the traditional fixed hours that people are expected to be in the office. We all have such complicated lives and it is very hard to juggle a job with various other commitments, so anything that allows people to do this more comfortably makes sense, I think. And anyone who has ever had to endure London rush hour will agree that anything that helps ease the pressure on transport at these times can only be a good thing! Flexible working doesn’t seem to impact productivity, we can get a lot done – often a lot more done – working this way. There is increasing talk of the virtues of a four-day week too, so it will be interesting to see if that starts to become more popular.

Are client becoming more knowledgeable and therefore more challenging?

As coworking spaces have become more common, there is definitely an increased sophistication amongst clients when they are looking for somewhere to work. And I think this is a positive thing – with more choice out there, people can really choose the space that is right for them, rather than just having to pick from the limited options on offer. Our clients know what they want; they know what works for them, and so there is definitely more pressure to get your product right. We knew when we designed The Coalface that we had to identify a gap in the market rather than offer something that already exists. And the response we’ve had since we launched suggests that we’ve got it right. Good quality, affordable coworking spaces are required in places outside of central London – there is so much talent around Finsbury Park that was begging for a professional place to work.

Personally, I think it’s great if our members are challenging – we relish the feedback, as it helps us refine what’s on offer here. We are always open to new ideas and want our members to define their experience here. For example, we’ve recently partnered with an incredible organisation called Creative Debuts, which works to champion upcoming artists and so have some great art on display in the office. It’s all for sale, but we also provide our members with opportunities to win some of the art, and they can also have a say on what is displayed – so they really have a chance to shape the environment in which they work.

What is the one thing that you would change when working with architects and designers?

We were lucky to have a great team behind us during the design and development of The Coalface but, inevitably, any project of this scale is challenging. When you have five or six different voices, all with a different idea or perspective, it is important to know when to stand your ground and when to step back. Collaboration and communication are critical. I knew what I wanted from the space and there were some elements that I wasn’t willing to compromise on – but ultimately, I’m not an architect and I felt it was important to listen to the experts and respect and trust their perspectives.

Can you share with us a lesson learned and hopefully never repeated?

One of the biggest stresses we had when developing the site was getting Internet installed – which is pretty critical for a business space! We’d been assured it would be straightforward and perhaps naively, took this at face value. Our location, next to a main bus depot, meant that digging the road to lay the cable was not at all easy, and there was a point when we weren’t sure if we’d have Internet access ready in time. But I learnt that there is a solution for everything, if you are willing to pursue all avenues, and we were eventually able to resolve it with no impact on our incoming members. I would prefer not to go through that again though!

Who is the most inspirational person you have worked with?

The Marketing Director I worked for in a previous role at TicketMaster was incredibly formative in shaping me as a manager. He had a good balance between carrot and stick – and I really think you need both approaches to get the best out of people. Too often you encounter managers who favour one or the other; but I learned through him that praise when it’s due, and a stern talking to from time-to-time can be a very productive mix.

Triathlon, football, squash, skiing or sailing?

Football. Both playing and supporting. I’m a big Arsenal supporter – which is handy, considering their stadium is just a stone’s throw from The Coalface. That’s not why I took the job, of course…