61. The changing landscape of co-working and the Future of Work | Gabriela Hersham, founder of Huckletree


Gabriela Hersham | Founder of Huckletree


This is the final week where our conversation centers around coworking, and our guest has been credited as an original pioneer of coworking in the UK, having founded coworking business Huckletree in 2014, Gabriela Hersham. Huckletree is now one of the UK’s most exciting coworking brands, bringing together the UK and Ireland’s most innovative startups, entrepreneurs and businesses. 
And finally, in episode 61 we dream… of what the future office space might look like.


Gabriela Hersham web


A champion of women in business, Gabriela has been actively campaigning for greater diversity and representation within the innovation ecosystem, and passionately supports female entrepreneurs both in Huckletree’s community and beyond.



[00:00:00] - Gabriela Hersham
As much as we want our tech to be seamless and will keep up with the status quo. Like, we don't necessarily see ourselves as needing to be the most tech advanced workspaces. For us, it really is about supporting the businesses and of course, tech plays into that but there's so much more.

[00:00:22] - Doug Foulkes
Hello and welcome to episode 61 of Chaos and Rocket Fuel, the Future of Work Podcast. In this podcast, we look at every aspect of work in the future. When I say we, that's myself, Doug Foulkes and Claire Haidar, the CEO of Pattyrn and WNDYR. Claire, this is the third part of our conversation with Gaby. She's the CEO and co-founder of Huckletree. They're a co-working company. What are we talking about in this last section?

[00:00:52] - Claire Haidar
This is my favorite part of the whole conversation. Doug, we're dreaming about the future office. I won't give too much away, but a lot of AR, VR, office bubbles, the Metaverse. It was a fun conversation.

[00:01:07] - Doug Foulkes
It was a fun conversation so let's head on over and see what Gabby has to say.

[00:01:13] - Claire Haidar
Gaby, I think I'm most excited about this part of the conversation that we're going to have because I think both you and I are dreamers and we have big ideas about what the future office can be. Put on your nerd hat and tell us what is the wild dreams of yours when it comes to the future office?

[00:01:34] - Gabriela Hersham
Where do I start? I think there's a lot that you can do with wellness and with technology that can really come into play. In wellness, what am I thinking? I know it's something that a lot of the developers are thinking about now, but buildings that are coming online now, they really need to have a wellbeing offering. If it's yoga Studios, if it's Peloton Suites in house, we have them in all of our spaces and rolling those out into bigger developments that are coming online.

[00:02:03] - Gabriela Hersham
If it's massage and therapy and beauty stations within. I think that goes without saying, and it's really the base case of what needs to be going into bigger buildings. And the same with F and B, so good cafes, good restaurants, curated independent, but a really strong offering of good food and coffee, I think is really crucial. I'm talking about the big buildings where they have space for these lots of things going on, like a hub of activity within these buildings. I love these ideas.

[00:02:37] - Gabriela Hersham
Then I think that the buildings and the offices there needs to be like a really engaging events and social program. Like I was saying that we do within our hubs. I think that buildings need to have that and we're definitely being approached by a lot of landlords and developers saying, hey, Huckletree, we don't just want you to take a floor.

[00:02:52] - Gabriela Hersham
We also want you to come and put on programs for the whole building and bring all the members together so we could start thinking about 100 Club just for the different tenants of the different businesses within a building or social events and activities. Halloween, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, whatever it might be like, activating that for the building. Each building really becomes its own mini-community. I think that's really important.

[00:03:15] - Gabriela Hersham
What else? Technologies. Obviously, I'm not even going to go into it because it goes without saying, but all of the meeting rooms need to be just fully functional. You need to be able to Zoom in, Zoom out, and bring in team members from all around the world. It needs to be easy because I always find it complicated. It's never like a simple share your screen and bring colleagues in. I always find it complex, and that needs to be done seamlessly.

[00:03:42] - Gabriela Hersham
Then like whiteboard rooms. Why isn't that a thing where we can go into rooms and squiggle our thoughts and do mind maps? If you're building a new website, you should be able to go in and design it all out throughout your mind onto a whiteboard and then press a button and it scans it and it sends the whole thing to your email. This is the stuff that I want to be more mainstream. Then I think libraries and classrooms and learning spaces and places where we can really come together and maybe take like an hour outside of our working day. Zoom into a workshop or a learning opportunity or a course or a program or something but space dedicated for that. I don't know. There's lots of stuff. What do you have in your mind?

[00:04:24] - Claire Haidar
I think I'll start with the tech piece, and I really want to dig into this one with you because you made such a good point there. It has to be easy. In my mind, I feel that the future office is essentially going to be a space. It's almost like a bubble that we're going to be able to create around ourselves. You know what I mean? Where you can, like with VR and AR and that type of thing, basically create a bubble around yourself, bring your little SWAT team that you need to work with in that hour or those next few hours into that bubble with you and work there.

[00:04:55] - Claire Haidar
That bubble should be able to form anywhere around you at any given point in time, and then you can disperse the bubble and go about your day again. A question back at you is, how are you guys at Huckletree making that tech easy right now? Because what I've just described, that like, bubble reality doesn't exist yet. The tech isn't there yet. It's getting there, and there's some really exciting companies playing in that space, but it's not there yet. What are you guys doing to make it as easy as possible right now?

[00:05:26] - Gabriela Hersham
We haven't nailed this at all but we are getting better and finding out the pieces of tech that work for us. We have Zoom rooms in our meeting rooms, TV screens that are set up for Zoom that you can just dial into a meeting straight into whether you're in the room or not. I think those are quite easy and seamless. But you're right, there is so much more that can be done that I'm really excited to see and don't yet know what that looks like. I think you are much more in the know of that than I am. It sounds like, but it sounds really cool.

[00:05:59] - Doug Foulkes
My little technical question is more potential competitors. Obviously, everyone's talking about the Metaverse at the moment. You spoke about having a bubble there. I read today that Bill Gates says that just about every meeting will take place in the Metaverse within three years. Obviously, that's something that you would need to bring in. You can't see it as a competitor. Is that tech too new at the moment?

[00:06:26] - Gabriela Hersham
No. I think there's always a benefit in pioneering something and doing it fast and having it, as we always call it, a swimming pool, even if people don't necessarily use it the whole time. It's just great to know that it's there because it's really cool. But I think this kind of stuff, and you can imagine that over the years, there have been lots of conversations where we've thought, do we do this? Will people really use it? It's an investment.

[00:06:47] - Gabriela Hersham
We've always heard on the side of let's wait and see. Our thing is, as much as we want our tech to be seamless and will keep up with the status quo, we don't necessarily see ourselves as needing to be the most tech advanced workspaces for us. It really is about supporting the businesses and of course, tech plays into that. But there's so much more that does that as well. So I think it's really cool.

[00:07:08] - Gabriela Hersham
Yesterday I saw an Instagram post on what would meetings look like when they take place in the Metaverse actually. Heaven, I mean, I'm down, but I think that we're probably a bit of a time away for us at Huckletree to be building that into our meeting rooms. We're just trying to get to the top of the Zoom rooms right now and figure that all out. But I'm excited to be there in a few years time. That's cool that Bill Gates thinks that. I hope he's right.

[00:07:33] - Claire Haidar
The other thing that I often think about as well is and I think the pandemic has really solidified this in our beings as humans is that, we can't keep sitting the way we are. We weren't feeling the pain in our bodies before the pandemic because there was still enough movement, like just barely enough in the actual physical spaces that we were occupying. Yes, I'm sitting too much, but it's okay. I'm still moving enough to justify it. Whereas the pandemic has really showed us that we're not moving enough, and it's actually making us sick.

[00:08:09] - Claire Haidar
I think for me, with that reality that we're facing and that we're going to have to solve, I think one of the things that I often think about is cars and other forms of transport as forms of offices. Like you spoke about, I justify the commute because the experience that I have that I get to at the other side of the commute makes it worthwhile. Why don't we make the commute worthwhile? Why isn't the commute part of the experience?

[00:08:41] - Claire Haidar
I think that's something that often plays in my mind as well is Interestingly enough, there's a coffee shop just up the road from our house that is our family favorite coffee shop. One day we were sitting there with my little girl, and we just literally started doing an innovation, a design thinking exercise with her. She didn't realize that we were doing it, but that's essentially what my husband and I were doing with her.

[00:09:05] - Claire Haidar
She designed an Uber, but it was a coffee shop. She said, you know how we always catch Ubers? I'd like that. I'd like that to be my office, and I'd like the inside to feel like a coffee shop. I don't want it to feel like an Uber. I think that's also something that which you beg on Gabby. It's like instead of work just being an experience that we go to, how do we make all of life an experience where work can be done?

[00:09:34] - Claire Haidar
I think that's part of what makes the Metaverse powerful. As you say, we're still definitely a few years off from that, but I think Bill Gates is aggressive in saying, I think the very early adopters will be there in three years, but I don't think it will be at mass adoption point yet. How do we merge experience across more than just the separate thing, the silos of our lives.

[00:09:57] - Gabriela Hersham
But also let it not take over our lives completely, because I also feel like there's a whole movement towards, like you say, better well being. Within that becomes greater balance and just not making ourselves sick to get our jobs done and to succeed in life. I think there's a part of me that is so drawn in by the Metaverse and literally wants to be there. Then there's another part that just is, I actually think that we need to take a step back and just be present, be in the real world, go to work, make meaningful connections, enjoy, feel like we're doing something that actually gives back to the world, but it doesn't have to take over our lives. I'm not quite sure which route to go down.

[00:10:42] - Doug Foulkes
Just moving away from the Metaverse for a second. The elements of the future of work are very much around. You spoken about having more flexible work, so work fits around you rather than you fitting into work. Obviously, the collaborative aspects you've spoken about at length with what you're doing with the 100 club, et cetera. Then there's also the whole movement, people going to work less like a four day week being piloted around the world. What's your take on that where people are trying to do almost less work or do their work more specifically around them? How does co-working fit in with that?

[00:11:19] - Gabriela Hersham
In a very funny way, the less people work, the better it is for co-working. That's what we've seen with this hybrid thing, because all of a sudden a company of 300 people that previously we couldn't fit into any of our hubs, all of a sudden we can do that really easily because they're not all in every day. I apply the same logic to the four day working week, and it's just fewer people in on any given day and more potential to attract bigger businesses and have more members sharing the space. It's fine.

[00:11:49] - Gabriela Hersham
I think, speaking more philosophically, what do I think about it? Funnily enough, this is something that my six year old son designed because a few weeks ago he turned around to me and said, mom, why can't I only go into school four days a week and have a three day weekend? I would love to have a three day weekend and a four day working week. You do sometimes feel that the weekend goes by so fast and all of a sudden it's Monday and you're back in the grind. Did you have enough time with your family and do you get time to life admin and doctor's appointments and see your loved ones and see your grandparents?

[00:12:29] - Gabriela Hersham
I love working hard, don't get me wrong and I love the concept of putting something out there in the world that has meaning. But also am not so into the we have to work like dogs all of our lives and we won't be compensated enough if we don't. I think that there has to be a balance. I like the concept of the three day working week. I don't think it's a bad thing, and I think it leaves us time to pursue other interests and hobbies that could then take more meaningful space in our lives.

[00:12:55] - Doug Foulkes
I actually started probably September last year, only working four days. It was mainly because I work for myself and at my advanced stage in my career, I just thought, bugger it. Why should I work five days? I can certainly do productively what I can do in five days, in four days and say a three day weekend, which is great.

[00:13:19] - Gabriela Hersham
I think that's amazing. We apply the same logic at Huckletree. For our employees, when they come back from parental leave, if they're primary caregivers, we give them a four day working week on full pay until their baby turns one. In my instance, I would take like four months, leave at a time. But then I would come back for another, eight months and have a four day working week.

[00:13:40] - Gabriela Hersham
I loved it. It's just such meaningful time with your newborn. Otherwise, you cannot leave the baby at home. You rush back to work, and you really hardly see them other than the weekends. That's really tough as a new parent, emotionally really tough. I totally agree with you, Doug. Everyone that we have ever offered that to, and I did it myself. You know when you're trying to be efficient, that you are much more efficient. That's the bottom line.

[00:14:05] - Claire Haidar
Gabby, there's a whole huge global pilot that we're part of as a company that we're starting a four day working week. Yeah, we're kicking it off now in February. It starts in February, and then there's going to be a pilot stage, and then we're going to move on into a full fledged. I'm so excited. I saw this during the pandemic because we actually made a decision to give our team an extra week off in January and an extra week off in June just as a gift.

[00:14:35] - Claire Haidar
It was literally just I, as a founder, was like, I need to just sit and catch up on insurance and paperwork and admin. I was like, if I'm feeling this way, like every other person in the company must be feeling this way. That is where I went to chasing my co-founder and I said to her, let's just give this to the team and let them just do life and not have to have that eats away into the weekend, as you say. I'm genuinely excited. I think as a whole, we will be more productive.

[00:15:06] - Gabriela Hersham
That's amazing. And you have like, a rotor system so that it is optimized.

[00:15:14] - Claire Haidar
Exactly. Your customer coverage is there. You're not in any way, I mean, productivity is not dropping. Everything like that stays as it is, but people just have better work life balance as a result. Gabby, thank you so much for coming on today. I just really enjoyed this conversation. Yeah, just thank you for showing up and just being your wholesome true self it's very obvious that you're passionate about what you do and you love what you do, even though it's been a seriously challenging set of months that you've just put behind you.

[00:15:51] - Gabriela Hersham
Yeah, thank you. I do love it and I feel very, very privileged. I think just over the last 10 years, the people that I've met have made it worthwhile and the people that have become my friends and that I've worked with that I may never have met otherwise. I love it and yeah, thank you for inviting me on here. It was a great chat.

[00:16:08] - Doug Foulkes
Yes. Thank you, Gabby. Thanks for your time.

[00:16:11] - Gabriela Hersham
Thank you, Doug.

[00:16:12] - Doug Foulkes
That brings us to the end of episode 61 and our deep dive into the co-working space with Gabriella Hersham. If you found this podcast of value, please share it with your friends and colleagues. Catch us on Spotify, Google, and Apple podcasts or on WNDYR website, WNDYR.com. From Claire and myself, bye for now.

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