Following the growing acceptance of co-working arrangement in Nigeria’s business environment, Vice Chairman of Regus, pioneer workspace and co-working solution firm, Mr. Ayo Akinmade, says businesses in Nigeria have prospects but need an enabling environment to thrive. He also provides insight into how the co-working arrangement enhances productivity.
By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Editor, Sunday Vanguard
DON’T you think the harsh economic realities in the country may constitute a challenge to this relatively new kind of office ownership in Nigeria?
With every economic slowdown, there is hardly any part of the society that doesn’t feel the impact of the slowdown. Activities are generally slower. We expect it to go much slower. Generally, when there is an economic slowdown is when we tend to see more activities. This is because, those people that did not consider a serviced office before, when the economy slows down and funds are scarce, will have a rethink. But in cases where one has signed a five-year lease, and he has paid the lease; except he finds someone to sublease to, he will have to keep it.
There is nothing about the business environment that is peculiar to us. The economic climate affects everyone. If the business environment gets harsher, it will affect our customers. And if it affects our customers, it will affect us.
If the business environment is favourable, our customers will have more money and do more business with us. What we pray for is for the government to create an enabling environment for businesses to thrive, and for young people to have startups. We aim to create an enabling environment where businesses will grow. Regus is more conservative in outlook. International Workspace Group, IWG, is the company that owns all the companies of which Regus is just one. We have another brand called Spaces, which we will be introducing into Nigeria in the second quarter of next year. We have open spaces and many different brands that are all over the world but in Nigeria, we have been pushing Regus. Next year, we intend to push more of the space brands.
Your company, Regus provides co-working space for the business community. Can we know the kind of reception you have been receiving since debuting in Nigeria?
I am an accountant. I studied economics. I lived and worked in the UK and US. We do office business. Our job is to provide professional offices for companies. Regus has been in existence in Nigeria since 2008 but it has been existing globally for more than 35 years.
We provide ready to use offices just the same way an individual could book a room in a hotel and check out after usage. We are in Abuja, Port Harcourt, and Lagos. The brand, Regus, is an enabler. We are an interface that enables people with business ideas to be able to function in a professional space in a co-working environment where they have like-minded people doing what they are doing. We enable people to do their work in a professional and safe environment. Beyond doing it in one location, we are also a network. We are not a local network. We are an international network. Taking an office space from us gives you access to the shared spaces in Dubai, Hong Kong, and Japan among others. We are a natural habitat to incubate people and give them succour in a professional environment. We are a global network. Signing up with us simply means you have become a member of a global club, and you have access across the world. The concept of co-working just means putting people in the same space. The label is over-used. It is just about different people doing different things in one space.
Your services are relatively new in the country, how are you marketing the Regus brand?
People find us if they do online searches. If you search and demand an office space, we would provide it. Most of the time, we advertise our services on Facebook and Instagram. We also talk to the press about what our business is. Around the world, people know the brand and what the brand stands for. A lot of people also come from abroad and require an office immediately and we provide what they need. In that way, we can get customers. It is just about providing readily available office space for people to work and conduct their businesses. We have in Nigeria, about 300 customers across all our locations. All of these customers are invoiced from one location in Philistines. Somebody sends them a statement every month from Manila. Somebody sends them a reminder, if they have not paid, and tells them we are going to lock up the office. All these are possible because of technology.
When you go on Facebook or LinkedIn, if you are to type in office space, our search results will come out. That is technology. If you click the website, within the next two days, you will start getting images following you. Any time you go online, it will be popping up. That is the technology that we have. If you go on and click on our website, it will ask you, ‘where do you want an office?’ We have a building in Barcelona that houses 3,000 people. It is a call center. The people take information, call the person to ask whether he is in Lagos or Japan, and also what type of space he wants.
As people talk, they have a map of the city on their computer. There is a dot indicating all the locations on the map, and with this, they are showing clients the locations and asking them if they have preferences. When they are done and they key all the information in, the technology that we have behind will take all that information and determine the person that should get the email.
What are the advantages derivable from co-working that are not available in the conventional offices?
Collaboration is constant. It is to make sure that in the same space, people can be interacting and share ideas, It is a setting where the person sitting next to you is from a different company; the one sitting opposite is from a different company; the person sitting by your left is your colleague but in the accounts department. Sometimes, because you are together, the guy opposite you may be talking about what they need to do or what their company does. If you have not been in the same space, you might not have the opportunity to collaborate and then form a partnership. That’s the whole idea. Most of the time, the basic concept is to have less formal offices. Once people are in a formal office and the door is shut, you can’t collaborate with them. So, in co-working, we have less of those offices. In fact, they only have meeting rooms where they discuss confidential issues in an hour and come back.
What is your comparative edge over competing organisations that offer similar services?
This is an international organisation that has been in existence for almost 40 years. It is in 123 countries. We run the business like a world-wide brand. Any customer that signs with us, on any location, will have free access to any of our locations around the world. You get a membership number whenever you join. In fact, before you talk to our receptionist, your laptop should already be connected to the Wi-Fi automatically. Regus is only one of about seven brands we have in our group. Another distinct advantage is that as you go around the world, we give you a Regus app. So long as you have your location services turned on, it will immediately tell you where all the locations of Regus are.
In terms of edge, there is nobody else that has the number of locations we have around the world, even in Nigeria. We have the largest number of locations. We have been doing this longer than anybody else and we have superior systems, networks, furniture quality, attentiveness to detail, professionalism, and any kind of thing within that system.
In terms of efficiency and productivity, can you give a breakdown of how Regus promotes them?
We are in over 130 countries. In those countries, we have over 5,000 offices in 5,000 locations. It is about the square meters that those 5,000 offices cover. The nearest company to us called WeWork has 582 locations worldwide now but they are in fewer countries. A couple of years ago, we opened 260 new locations. Regus pioneered co-working space, having started over three decades ago and we have not stopped. Everybody else is just coming behind. It is one of the advantages of being first in specialised businesses. Being an early mover has its advantages but one should continue because, if the person doesn’t push on, others will come and overtake him.