Many of us spend our workdays in an office, but what really is an office? Gone are the days when offices were uninspiring places packed with cubicles. Modern offices are light-filled spaces that make it easy for people to collaborate and focus. But as technology makes remote working easier, people increasingly work on projects for different employers and companies seek more flexible workplace solutions, offices continue to evolve.
The latest iteration is coworking, in which freelancers, entrepreneurs and even employees of large companies share offices, just as cars and homes are shared. Drawing people in are well-designed spaces with big common areas equipped with comfy couches and good coffee. There's also the appeal of being part of a community that offers structure, support and maybe even companionship.
One of the coworking leaders is Business Link, which has 16 coworking locations – some with saunas and climbing walls – across Poland and the Czech Republic. It's the largest coworking network in that region, with plans to add another eight locations in Central and Eastern Europe by 2020.
Centerpiece of a startup ecosystem
Founded seven years ago, Business Link offers its 2,000 members the ability to rent a desk or glass-walled private office for as short as three months. It is the centerpiece of a startup ecosystem that also includes business incubators, acceleration programs and funding. In 2017, Skanska became a joint venture partner of Business Link, and the majority of future locations will be in our office developments.
Through Business Link, CEO and Co-Founder Dariusz Żuk has gained an expert view on how people work best, and how offices can be launching grounds for people to realize their dreams and ambitions. Dariusz – who received an award from Poland's prior president for his work promoting entrepreneurship – shares perspectives below on working and workplaces, now and in the future.
How do people work best?
"I've found that the best driver of creativity is always other people. That is because you are doing business with people and for people. Being surrounded by many minds, each with a different perspective, provides opportunities for discussions. And that leads to new perspectives and new ideas. It is not only about the design of a space, but also the people in that space. We link them together."
"But, people also should have their own territory, their own space dedicated for themselves and their company. Sometimes that needs to be a quiet space."
What is fueling Business Link's growth?
"The main fuel is the growing market of startups. More people are starting businesses. Secondly, it is the expansion of the sharing economy, with more people renting things rather than buying them outright."
"And thirdly, it is globalization, which leads to some new companies growing very quickly. With this very fast development curve, companies cannot sign contracts for five years because they do not know what their needs will be in, say, three months. Business Link provides them with the flexibility they need with office space. We take care of the workplace essentials so they can focus on what is most important to them."
What about coffee?
"Coffee is very important, both for the caffeine and as a way to bring people together. We prepare 80,000 cups of coffee every month."
What led you and your partners to start Business Link?
“Fourteen years ago we founded Academic Business Incubators, which are centers to help entrepreneurs start new businesses. Now there are 56 of them located at universities all over Poland. We saw that these incubators were very important for startups, and we also saw a need for a next step for them, something to come after the incubators. Places with more space, more opportunities to get advice and so on.”
“In 2011 we started the first Business Link in Warsaw. Our idea was not to create an office but to establish a place for people to realize their dreams by forming businesses, and then growing them.”
“This was something new on the market. The first Business Link was 1,600 square meters (about 17,000 square feet), which was a big space for us at this time. Bringing this concept to life was very hard to do because many people said it was crazy to create a place for startups in a class A office building. They said that every startup in Silicon Valley started in a garage, that we should create some garages to copy Silicon Valley’s energy. They said Business Link would not work. Now it is clearly normal that startups are in well-designed office spaces.”
Who are your typical customers?
“At the beginning, our focus was startups. Now our customers are around 40 percent startups, 25 percent small- and medium-size businesses and 35 percent large corporations. It’s important to have large companies in our offices. I believe the corporations of the future will outsource much more, and that many of those tasks will go to startups. Business Link can help make the necessary connections. This way both startups and corporations can win together.”
What’s an organization that Business Link helped grow?
“We are proud of all our 2,000 inhabitants, and we try to help them all. A few years ago we organized a program for the best of our inhabitants called Ready to Go. It involved a few weeks in an acceleration program in either the US, China or Israel. We chose around 40 companies to participate, including Brand24. Today, Brand24, which provides social media monitoring services, is one of the best known companies on the Polish stock exchange.”
How does it feel to help these companies?
"Very nice – one of the best things I can imagine. Even just a small amount of the right type of help can be very important to entrepreneurs."
"On the other hand, entrepreneurs succeed mainly because of their determination. They have to have that determination inside of them."
How do you expect the workplaces of 10 years will be most different from those today?
"I see two main changes. People will change the places where they work much more than now. They will move about more. So they will need flexible spaces, not only in one city but in other cities."
"Secondly, and more important, I see the future workplaces being part of larger, integrated communities. These will include flexible apartments, places to have great food prepared, schools and areas for fitness and entertainment. There will be cars for sharing in the garage. We're preparing the first of these "tech cities" in Warsaw. Younger people don't want to have so many obligations at the beginning of their careers, so that's the type of environment we want to provide them and others."
How can companies best contribute to society?
"The main aim of companies should be to solve people's problems. It should not be only about earning money. When you solve problems, people will pay you for that product or service. They understand that you're helping them, and they'll pay for that. Companies sometimes forget that order, and that can stifle innovation. At Business Link, we're thinking about how we can support the faster development of technology to contribute to society."
What advice do you have for people thinking of starting their own company?
"Never give up. There will always be hard times, and sometimes you will have tears in your eyes. But it is always about determination, determination and determination. If you have the vision, if you have the dream, you should do it. And don't be afraid to get started."