Meet the Hubsters: How hotdesking is escaping the cities

Back in November, inflation in the UK hit its highest level in two years, prompting IPSE (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed) to release public statements of concern. “There has been downward pressure on freelancers’ average day rates in the past quarter,” said their economics adviser, Lorence Nye, “with more than half of freelancers also expecting Brexit to harm their business in the next 12months.”

Among their significant concerns was the inevitable hike in travel costs. “Freelancers travel further for work than any other group,” Nye pointed out, and when you consider the already astronomical ticket prices that people fork out in exchange for crowded trains, slipshod service and unending strikes, you can see why the freelance community is keen to take action.

See also… 

Out in the commuter belt, it seems that the self-employed, freelance and home-working communities have already started to take matters into their own hands. Heading southwest from Waterloo, we alight at Whitchurch Station where we meet Mike Stead, a local entrepreneur who had begun to notice growing frustration among the throngs he occasionally shared a train with.

In late November, following a week in which major train disruptions stranded local commuters three times in a row, he decided enough was enough. And he wasn’t the only one, either. Posting a message on the town’s Facebook page, he found that many similarly disgruntled business-folk had come to the same conclusion: the town could support a local business hub, and all it needed was for someone to get it off the ground.

A youthful chap in his early 40s, Mike is no stranger to hotdesking. “I could go to a local town and sit in a cafe and work there,” he says, “but I’d just be floating from cafe to cafe. If you need to do serious work with real concentration, that just doesn’t work.”

And so the decision to bring the hotdesking to Whitchurch – a rural town that won BT’s Race To Infinity broadband competition in 2010 – was made. In the first quarter of 2017, taking inspiration from similar cooperative movements popping up across the country, Mike and a growing band of similarly-minded, self-employed locals will launch The Whitchurch Hub, providing a 24/7 full-time and hotdesking space, complete with board room, video conferencing, a breakout area and “damn good coffee”.

Hoping to take over a three-storey building on the town square, the hub will be run as a non-profit organisation that will encourage and support local businesses in what is a wonderfully situated, burgeoning community.

In truth, Mike’s needs extended beyond relief from commuting, and the more people he spoke to, the more reasons he uncovered. “I have this full-time, working-from-home role, but working from home doesn’t work when you’ve got children and a role that might require your involvement at all hours of the night,” he explains.

“People make garden sheds and caravans into offices, but it gets to a point that, unless your children and your spouse are particularly understanding, it just doesn’t work. You need quiet to if you’re having very important calls and, with the best will in the world, it’s going to lead to conflict.

Having struggled with that for two years, we realised it just wasn’t sustainable longterm. So if I had the option of somewhere close that didn’t require me to buy another car and was cost-effective, then that I knew I’d used it.”

“For many of the other entrepreneurs, there’s also a social aspect,” he continues. “I got an email from a chap this morning who has run his consultancy 100% from home, and he basically misses people. I can certainly relate to that. It’s a combination of time, money and cabin fever.

The other big reason has to do with networking. If you’re a local artisan, freelance marketer, builder or planner, then you will naturally become more exposed to other local people. It just broadens your business circle.”

The Whitchurch Hub appears to confirm something we reported on in the summer: a trend towards flexible working becoming the norm. “Everyone is downsizing their offices,” agrees Mike. “There’s a push from big industries that want people to stop coming into offices.

Offices cost money and there’s risk involved in people not turning up on time, especially with all of these train strikes.” As people look to steadying the ship as we sail into potentially tricky financial waters, it certainly makes sense to cut costs while relying on your local community for advice and moral support. And if you can cut an hour from commuting and spend it in bed instead – well, #winning was invented for moments like that.

MAF Banner Ad