If you’re an observer of Nigeria’s startup and emerging business scene, you’re probably already aware of the co-working frenzy that’s gripping Lagos.
Every year, a dozen or so co-working spaces spring up across the city, bringing with them the promise of a modern, affordable and efficient way to work. Away with the shackles of the old tenant offices, with landlords breathing down your neck as the year’s end approaches; enter the future, where rent costs are shared and less expensive, business empowering facilities are available, and the potential for growth seems endless.
But the rise of the coworking phenomenon in Nigeria isn’t just a Lagos thing. It’s spreading into other cities in the country, at an astounding rate. The Venia Group, which runs the Venia Hub in Lagos, has a report on this trend. Six years ago, there were no co-working spaces in Abuja. Today, it’s home to at least ten.
While Lagos leads the way with an impressive 50 shared work-spaces, cities such as Port Harcourt, Ibadan and Uyo also host multiple co-working facilities. A few more have opened in Kano, Kaduna, Warri, Ilorin and Jos. On the whole, the number of such facilities in Nigeria is inching tantalizingly close to a hundred.
Why co-working is the in-thing
Traditional offices, constructed by property owners and leased to businesses, have existed in these parts for at least a century. Companies run their affairs from within them, and pay occupancy fees to landlords. These office blocks are still the preferred sort of work location for companies large and small in Nigeria.
However, rents are becoming more expensive, forced higher by increasing demand for property. Larger companies have managed to pay the rents or build their own offices. However, most SMEs and startups don’t have the money to foot the skyrocketing bills.
Co-working spaces have emerged to help these smaller enterprises out. They’re offering startups and small businesses working spaces at a fraction of the cost payable at the old property blocks, plus several other business boosting benefits. Usually, entrepreneurs can get anything from a portion of a deskspace that’s shared with other entrepreneurs, to a personal office, depending on what they can afford. The shared spaces have the feel of a community, and facilitate collaboration amongst entrepreneurs.
It’s no coincidence that co-working spaces have cropped up in the same breadth of time that startups and the gig economy have arisen in Nigeria.
Young people are increasingly striking out on the entrepreneurial path, choosing to found and run their own ventures instead of joining established companies; they are driven by an idealistic spirit and the desire for a more flexible work routine, but don’t have the funds to rent a sizeable office. For them, co-working spaces are a good alternative.
What co-working spaces bring to the table
The communal ambiance of shared work-spaces certainly motivates entrepreneurs and lets them into a ready network of like minded business people. But this isn’t the only draw factor for co-working spaces.
Inadequate infrastructure is a big challenge for businesses in Nigeria. Power and reliable communication channels are in short supply, and businesses have to pay huge amounts annually to get them. At co-working spaces, however, they’re made available as part of the package. Constant power and high speed internet connectivity are staples for these centres, as are on-site round-the-clock security.
The specific benefits for entrepreneurs may vary with work-spaces. For example, V8 Valley, located in the Lekki area of Lagos, offers (in addition to internet and power) a dedicated front desk, meeting rooms, a conference and training room, presentation equipment, a printing station, free parking, CCTV-aided security, and a kitchen.
Abuja’s Ventures Park has many of these, plus an online members network that enables entrepreneurs find the skills they want and promote their services. There are also specialized hubs.
360Creative Hub styles itself as a ‘co-sewing’ space for fashion entrepeneurs and provides facilities that cater for designing and tailoring needs.
Cre8 opens its doors to fintech startups.
Some coworking spaces are actually startup incubators or innovation hubs, where new (typically tech-driven) ventures with great potential are assisted in developing into viable businesses. These centers give startup founders access to expert mentoring, networks and finance to help them scale.
The future of co-working
In time, coworking spaces will be a firm part of Nigeria’s business system. All the signs are pointing in this direction. Our cities will be more populated and short of regular office blocks, and the rent for available ones will forbid most businesses from looking in their direction.
More work will be done remotely (away from offices), as companies move to optimize costs. The tech-revolution is making more tasks executable via digital mediums, thus shrinking the size of physical space required to get work done. Co-working spaces will fit into these situations as the ideal solution. They’ll be sought after, and there’ll be more of them around.
Should you use a co-working space?
As we’ve shown, there’s a lot to gain from running a business from a co-working space. It’s especially suitable for self-employed entrepreneurs, startup founders and teams of less than ten, remote workers and freelancers. If you’re building your business on relatively small budget and need the benefits of a proper office, a section of a co-working desk might be good for you. However, if you can afford your own office space or run a business that really requires this, you may be better off having a block to yourself.
Regardless of personal considerations and realities, the prospects for the budding co-working space industry look bright. We’re at the edge of a future for small businesses that’s more communal and shared. This should excite us all.