Just over six months ago, Worthing and Adur Chamber of Commerce moved into a new purpose-built office at The Sphere on the Northbrook College Broadwater campus. There are office and hot desks available to rent in what has become a thriving business hub. PBM asked chamber CEO Tina Tilley, Operations Manager Tracie Davey and Executive Committee Member Dave Bone about the new initiative…
You previously had quite small offices at Liverpool Gardens in Worthing. Now you have a modern office with space for meetings and spaces for hot desking. It must have completely transformed your working life.
Tina: Yes, and and what is nice is that we’ve got an open door policy, so we are interacting with people a lot, which as a chamber is very important. People can come in and ask for advice and we can point them in the right direction. It is a pilot, and the idea is that we can do something much bigger.
Can you describe the facilities on offer at the Sphere?
Tina: What we have at the moment is a mixture of self-contained office space for one, two or three people. We can accommodate people who have got two people in a business or two different people from different businesses working side-by-side in one small, dedicated office.
We also have got a hot desking area, which includes the use of a private locker and a filing cabinet (if you commit to at least three days a week). It is a kind of semi-permanent arrangement, so you can leave things behind, and it gives you a little bit more of a presence. Hot desking can be just for the day or even a few hours; we charge £12 for a day rate.
The dedicated offices are £200 a month for a desk, which has Wi-Fi and everything included. You can plug your VOIP phones in, or people come in with their mobiles, and Dave Bone from Barebones Communications can help them set up.
We have had lots of people who come in with laptops, sit there for a few hours, have some free tea and coffee and have a chat when they get bored and need a break. We’ve got break-out areas with acoustic sofas, which are really nice, so you can sit and have more private mobile conversations if you want to come out of the mixed space area.
What are acoustic sofas?
Tina: One of the problems with hot desking in a small area is that, if you have someone with a telesales campaign going on, it’s not exactly nice to sit next to. The acoustic sofas keep the noise in, so a phone call has less impact on others.
Most of the mobile phone signals around here are good, we are putting a booster in to make sure they are very effective as there are a couple of spaces that aren’t quite as good as we’d like it to be. The idea is come in, sit down and start work – keep it simple. There’s a month’s notice on the offices.
With a maximum of three desks in an office, presumably the target market is a small or start-up company?
Tina: It is, and the idea is that we are on hand to offer help and advice. We want them to come in, flourish and get to the point where they need to move on. It’s not very nice to talk about them exiting when they start, but really that is what we are aiming for. We are aiming for them to grow.
We have spoken to all the local commercial agents, and they are going to come and do some talks about what they should be looking for before signing up for a lease on a premises.
Is there anything similar to this in the Worthing area?
Tracie: There is some hot desking / co-working space in the centre of town, but there is a big step up to the next level of office space. The next step from us would be a place such as BasePoint or Columbia House. There isn’t anything with the same sort of mix that we have, particularly with the technology we have invested in.
The connectivity was supplied by Barebones Communications, who are chamber members. What did this involve?
Dave Bone: Barebones was brought in to look at the technology side of the Sphere, so we brought everything in from the connectivity, the broadband and the phone lines. We looked at the network connectivity, so people can actually hardwire their equipment straight into the network, and we provide a full and secure Wi-Fi system as well. A digital display has been installed for advertising and promotions to broadcast everything that is happening, and the latest news. There are Skype conferencing facilities, with a dedicated meeting room with a 42-inch display unit.
It’s a level up from a normal-standard serviced office. Not only do we have the facilities, but we also have the people on site to help out, set up and run through anything they need to do.
We can offer cloud facilities for the likes of Office 365. We can open source software to customers as well – so we are offering a plethora of tools now to people within the market for starting a business, building a business and then growing a business.
Are there many other chambers doing this? Are you one of the pioneers?
Tracie: I think we must be one of the pioneers. I would highly recommend serviced offices to take chambers of commerce into the hearts of their projects; it generates a really nice buzzy atmosphere.
It’s a win-win situation. It’s very much peer to peer, which we’ve stood by as a chamber for a long time. The more you work together, the more you get out of it.
Why is the space called the Sphere?
Tracie: The Sphere is all about everything being in a circular movement. What you do, what you give, what you take - it all comes back around in a circle. There is a business theory called the Sphere which explains how you grow by just doing things in circles all the time. The logo is actually the power-up button off my computer. So you power up at the Sphere.
I believe this is just Phase One?
Tina: Phase Two is still on the drawing board, but there is an area on the Northbrook College site that we might be able to look at developing and they are quite keen. It would be an extension of this, so we would still be able to interact with the Sphere. I guess it would be Sphere Two, or maybe Stratosphere!
With space filling up so fast, it might not be too far away…
Tina: I think so. Another advantage is that we just secured 12 dedicated parking spaces which are free to use. And we haven’t mentioned the use of the student cafe, where you can get a five-item breakfast for £2.95. But be careful, we don’t want people becoming too spherical at the Sphere!