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New energy from Battersea

'Big Welcome' statue at the entrance of "Le Bureau" - Photo: Carsten Foertsch

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The Battersea district of London is industrial and rather unpeopled compared to the northern bank of the Thames, yet step through the doors of Battersea Studios and your perception is altered. Inside you’ll find Le Bureau, one of the city’s busiest and most inviting shared workspaces, stylishly decorated and buzzing with energy.

What sets Le Bureau apart from other coworking spaces is its highly professional atmosphere. It feels like a gathering of purposefully-minded entrepreneurs rather than a freelancer hang-out space. There’s a lived-in feel to the place, less temporary than some locations, with many members occupying permanent desks for a month where they can put up photos and personal belongings. That’s despite the non-commital nature of the contracts – users pay by the month, and are only obliged to give a one-week departure notice.

Flexibility plus comfort

The reason for this flexibility is probably the location’s popularity – it is currently at capacity, and anytime a user leaves there are plenty more waiting to take their space: “It’s a very warm environment, with colours and flowers,” said Anisa Malhas, Le Bureau’s member services manager. “People think it’s a normal office, but it is a lot funkier here.”

The design is certainly part of the appeal. At the entrance, visitors are greeted by a sitting Buddha statue surrounded by bowls of flowers. It’s not meant to be a religious statement, but rather an invitation to be calm and collected. Inside the office proper, stylish lamps, bulbous chairs, dark wood desks and flower vases are a relief from the Ikea sterility of some shared workspaces.

The finer details make Le Bureau an enjoyable place to work. There are staff on hand during office hours to assist with problems. There is free tea and coffee, fair-use printer and photocopy services, low-cost telephone calls, several comfortable meeting rooms, a common kitchen, and even a DVD library for out-of-hours relaxing.

Open for all

It is an open office, with no selection criteria. Desks are arranged in small groups, which allow work in interaction as well as in separation. Its members are drawn from all professions but also from all age groups. Many of them live in the South London area and travel to the location by bicycle or train.

Le Bureau was launched three years ago, following a detailed planning phase in which every small detail was considered. It quickly doubled in size. Due to the economic crisis, Le Bureau reduced its prices. “But because we have flexible contracts, a lot of people who worked in big offices came here,” she said. Now are further expansions in the pipeline. There are talks of opening up to seven similar offices across the U.K. in the coming years, and there’s even interest in exporting the concept to Los Angeles.

The pricing plan encourages small business expansion, offering discounts on the rental of a second desk: “A lot of people start with one or two desks and add an extra desk as the grow. So the majority of our customers are one or two people. But we also have a company with nine employees,” Malhas said.

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By Carsten Foertsch and Joel Alas

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