Oli Barry, a highly accomplished filmmaker with accolades including the British Academy Award and Grierson, has expanded his career into the coworking industry. Co-founding Village Workspaces in Los Angeles in 2013, the exclusive coworking space in West LA is a hotbed for inspiring work, with members designing cars and producing award-winning shows and movies, and raising millions of dollars. Passionate about community, entrepreneurship, consulting, and knowledge sharing, Oli is dedicated to helping others succeed.
In a recent interview, he shared insights into his journey with Village Workspaces, the past and future of coworking in LA, and the destiny of WeWork, providing valuable insights for fellow coworking business owners.
After winning an Academy Award in London, I had the freedom to pick and choose wonderful documentaries to work on. So I decided to move to LA and ended up working in reality television. Whilst producing, I noticed that LA was not built for chance encounters like London was: getting jobs and meeting people often involved long drives and unproductive meetings. But then I realized that coworking could provide a space where people can come together from all disciplines and industries and build a community around successful businesses. That's where it all clicked for me!
Village Workspaces is the second oldest coworking space in Los Angeles. It began in a small Santa Monica space with just one window, but despite its size, it provided an innovative collaborative environment for companies like Pinterest, CD Projekt Red, and a startup that sold for $50 million.
After seeing this success, we created a bigger space with a focus on design and well-being, filling it in just three months. Thanks to our previous landlord's mentorship and partnership, we were able to stick to our vision and achieve incredible success per square foot, with businesses founded here generating significant revenue, TV shows developed, and awards won.
Village Workspaces stands out for its genuine care for members, demonstrated by its immediate action during the pandemic to cancel leases and freeze rent.
The philosophy is that members' success is the space's success, making it unique.
Additionally, it's considered one of the most beautiful coworking spaces in Los Angeles.
To create a boutique experience for members, it's important to focus on personal touches and provide superior customer service. This can include small gestures like leaving a favorite tea, offering ice cream, or encouraging cards.
It's also crucial to get to know each member and understand their business goals. Being there for customers during difficult times and offering support and assistance can have long-term benefits. By executing these practices consistently, a memorable boutique experience can be created.
In the past 12 years, the coworking industry has undergone significant changes, evolving from open areas for startups to becoming an option for all types of businesses. WeWork's unique take on coworking brought both benefits and challenges, including increased competition and investor attention. However, the implosion of WeWork highlighted the sustainable business practices of smaller players like Village Workspaces, which offer personalized experiences for short-term plans. The pandemic has also changed the way people view office work, with more flexibility and remote options. As leases run out, companies are increasingly turning to coworking spaces for their flexibility and personalized experiences, making coworking spaces recession-proof.
The transition back to office work in Los Angeles is proving to be a challenge as many companies continue to adapt to remote and hybrid work arrangements.
While it may be convenient for bosses to work from home, employees are struggling to adjust to the changes. The overreliance on virtual communication platforms such as Zoom has led to a breakdown of office culture and a sense of community that is vital to the workplace.
Our approach is to embrace this new way of working, provide more flexibility and also understand and embrace the comforts of working from home.
One idea we have adopted is a strategy of targeting residential buildings. For instance, if there's an apartment complex where many people are currently working from home, we approach the landlord and offer our facility as an amenity. The landlord can then purchase a membership package that provides access to our coworking space for the residents at staggered times.
Good reviews and word of mouth has always been essential. However, it's important to have a multi-channel approach using social media and Facebook ads to attract new customers. Hosting events can showcase unique features and benefits, attracting potential customers.
At Village Workspace, we go beyond the standard amenities of coffee, tea, and snacks by offering complimentary beer and wine on tap, as well as a podcasting studio for members.
However, we believe that our hospitality service is our most unique and significant feature. Providing an unmatched level of care and attention to our members' needs is what sets us apart from other coworking spaces. Even with all the extra perks, it is our dedication to exceptional customer service that we take the most pride in.
Rather than providing structured programs, our focus is on creating opportunities for our members to connect and collaborate with each other. We believe that these chance encounters are essential for fostering innovation and creativity.
Additionally, we host intimate member-only events throughout the month, such as morning crepe-making sessions, that are designed to add a personal touch to our members' experiences. We also organize monthly evening meet-ups and panel discussions on topics that we feel will benefit our members and the local business community.
WeWork has had a tumultuous journey with overvaluation, overexpansion, debt, pandemic, and a low share value. While it has been tough competition for us, it also inspired the vision of coworking. Despite its struggles, I hope to see them turn the corner without having to cut too many corners. Landlords often express skepticism about WeWork, but it's all of us; we all have a role to play in strengthening the coworking industry together.
At the LA event, a major concern was the challenge of bringing people back to work post-pandemic, with companies wanting their staff back in the office but employees expressing worries about their happiness. There was also discussion about repurposing office buildings for other uses and the rising cost of residential property.
I joined industry leaders to share thoughts on the current state and future prospects of the industry in LA, with some key takeaways including the shift towards a hybrid work model, the repurposing of office buildings, and increased focus on employee well-being.
Oli Barry's passion for creating a unique and inspiring workspace is evident in the success of Village Workspaces. Oli’s commitment to providing an environment that encourages creativity and collaboration has been a driving force behind the company's growth.
To learn more about Oli Barry and Village Workspaces, ask a question, or get his expert consultation, visit his LinkedIn profile at https://www.linkedin.com/in/olibarry.
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