Workfromhub – a new way of remote working with Neal Byers.
We had the pleasure of being joined by Neal Byers, founder and leader of Workfromhub.
- Neal Byers
- 17 mins
Tom: Hello and welcome to Episode 15 of the Make Things Better podcast. Today, I have Neal Byers on the show. He is the owner of Workfromhub and we're going to be talking a little bit about Workfromhub and how it all came about.
So welcome on, Neal. How are you doing today?
Neal: I'm really good. Thank you. I had a good week. It's Friday, the sun is shining. The wind isn't blowing. So yeah, I'm all good thank you.
Tom: Yeah, it's good. And it is nice to actually have a bit of warmth because I think today was the first time I've been outside and I know this sounds crazy, but I actually walked outside with just my top on. Usually I wear about seven layers. So yeah, it's it's all good. And so I wanted to ask you, first of all, how did Workfromhub actually come about?
Like, how did that start?
Neal: I guess, it's been in my mind for a long time. So a lot of my background is in transport planning and helping people understand what cities will look like in the future.
And almost the starting point of transport planning is reducing the need to travel. So stop people needing to move around so that you can free up space for everybody else who needs it. And that means not having to build as much infrastructure.
So that was always part of my profession and what I did. And then as I moved to being independent there was this opportunity to actually deliver something myself and step in to deliver a service. It's something I've always wanted to do is have my own product, my own service and Covid hit and everybody all of a sudden was working from home.
And what what I had noticed was that remote working had happened in offices already. People were already communicating through Skype and things like that, as it was at the time, and that was changing all the time.
All of a sudden, everybody's working at home and all the technologies went forward and massively so quickly. Zoom, Teams, everybody all of a sudden knew how to log on. They didn't know how to mute themselves, but everybody knew how to log on.
I just saw this opportunity to say 'Wait a second. Working from home kind of works, but it doesn't work all the time.' And my experience of cafes and co-working spaces is that they are amazing places to work from, but not when you just need to get your head down and get something down.
So it just seemed to me like there was this thing that was missing from the world about somewhere where you could go and just be really focused and that combined my expertize and my wanting to create something myself. It was the opportunity to create Workfromhub and deliver something in the real world where I can say 'that's my idea.'.
Tom: Yeah. So I think one thing that's really nice about the hub is that you don't have as much background noise and as many like distractions as well, because I've worked in a lot of cafes. I find it hard to work just in my bedroom the whole time, like I just live in a studio and it's like quite difficult to concentrate just in the same four walls that you like sleep in.
But in a Workfromhub you don't have all the distractions like you could do in a cafe, as you say, especially if you're going to go in like a meeting or something, as people are often doing now because they're working remotely.
So do you think this would have came about if it wasn't for the pandemic?
Neal: I think it was happening. I think it's just the scale and the pace of it has changed massively. So I think people, particularly people who have big offices, have already been looking to downsize the space that they need.
And hot desking was becoming more and more of a thing where you'd have 0.8 of a desk per person or something like that. So everybody knew that you wouldn't be in the office all the time.
And actually having more of a work life balance and wellbeing has become much more important, even before the pandemic hit. Wellbeing became much more of an important issue for employers and employees. To get the best people you need to provide the best facilities and flexibility was always been important, and now it's just gone through the roof in terms of how important it is.
I think it would have been there, but actually just the scale of change that's just been accelerated by Covid has meant that it's even more important and even more useful than it probably would have been without Covid.
But those kind of foundations were already there. It just happened much more quickly.
Tom: Yeah. And where are the hubs at the moment and actually, I prbably should have asked this earlier, but do you want to tell us what is Workfromhub first of all?
Neal: Yeah, sure. So it's basically a bookable space near to where you live that you can you can go. You can work there all day, half a day and basically just a space that's away from your home and away from your office.
You can go in and just focus and get some work done. We basically want to make remote working a happier and more fun way of working and also somewhere where you can be more productive.
So it's a space that's about 2.2 Metres squared, about, well pretty precisely.
But it's just really comfortable. So I think one of the things that we saw when we looked at different solutions is that there's lots of almost like phone booth style things out there, what we wanted i somewhere where you can stand up, you can stretch your legs, you can walk around a little bit. Pace around if you really need to, have a space that you're in control of and it's just calm.
Like the vision I have in my head is that you've got chaos going on in your world and it's just a chaotic picture. You step through the door and the door shuts, and then all of a sudden - everything's calm. It's quiet and relaxed, and you can just get on with what you want to do.
And that's what we're trying to create with Workfromhub, where you can just take all the chaos out of your day. Come and work in our space for as long as you need it and just to have a good day and then get back to all the chaos and whatever it is you need to do.
Tom: Yeah. So I tried out a hub a couple of weeks ago and I've got to admit the kind of thing that came to my mind was a little bit like I'd been transported away into like a spaceship. That's the kind of feel I had when I went in and it was quite nice.
Is something very unique and quite different. And do you want to tell us a little bit about the kind of transport side of it all and how that kind of comes in to the locations that you're placing these hubs, if that makes sense?
Neal: Yeah. So one of the things that was really important to us is that we attract people out of their bedrooms and kitchen tables and things like that, but into neighborhoods and communities and facilities that haven't been used. And a key part of that was around attracting people back to public transport by locating the hubs near public transport facilities like train stations and suburban interchanges and park and rides and things like that. So massive spaces, big car parks that are just empty because nobody's using them anymore.
And what we wanted to do is just totally reimagine what happens with those spaces, but make sure we locate what we do, near other things that people would want to use.
So public transport interchanges, cafes, shops, leisure centers, those kind of opportunities where you want to do some work, but you also need to do something else. So trying to find those locations that are near to where people live, and near to other facilities so that you're outside of your home space, out of that kind of environment but still back into where you live, but not in your home.
And it's finding those places that have that kind of availability for you. So you can do more than one thing in one place, but you've got somewhere to go to, to be productive.
And it's finding that balance that's really important for us.
Tom: Yeah. And I think that is quite important to kind of get people out into the local communities because you could, you know, go and work in a hub and then you'd have to have your lunch.
If you were out all day then you could maybe go somewhere local and grab a bite to eat or whatever and you're still outside the house, but you're away from the office, which is going to be needed now for a lot of people.
So it's really important stuff.
So obviously we've had the pandemic (Still have) and you'd probably be thinking about this idea for a little while. But was there any moment where you were like 'OK, I'm definitely going to do this?'
Neal: Yeah, I think it was probably in the new year. So at the end of 2019, start of 2020. Starting a new year, thinking, 'What am I going to make of this year?' I think that was probably it.
So an idea kicks around your head and it's just like, right, this year I'm going to do something I've not done before. So the year before. So the year before I set up independently and then the next year I set up Workfromhub.
So it was that almost attacking the new year with something new kind of moment and bringing it to life. And it was just an idea kicking around my head. Then it was probably a PowerPoint presentation, just trying to get ideas down and say, 'What is this thing?'.
And then it wasn't until probably around this summer that we actually had a real hub in the real world. And that was amazing when the real thing landed when that thing that used to be in here (Points to head), then it was on a PowerPoint presentation and now it's a real thing - that was amazing.
Tom: Yeah. Have you faced any challenges throughout the pandemic in terms of setting the business up?
Neal: I guess not really or not, obviously, because the nature of the business being remote is part of what we do.
So it kind of lends itself and we're used to working remotely using the kind of technology ad facilities. I guess not being able to get the team together on a regular basis was a bit limiting. So we created the team from scratch. So it started with just me.
And now we've got two graduates working in the business and it took probably about four or five months for me to be able to meet graduates face to face. It worked and it was okay, but actually having a bit of time in real life like we are now, it made a massive difference. So that was probably the trickiest thing.
And also working with Hive, we didn't really meet you guys until quite a long time into the pandemic. So it works remotely because a lot of the stuff we were doing was kind of tech and app based, so a lot of that is done online and that's the way to work.
But actually, sometimes just being able to scribble on a board and get ideas down quickly works a lot better in person.
Tom: Yeah, absolutely. So what's your long term vision for Workfromhub?
Neal: Oh it's going to be everywhere.
So the story I tell myself is that it's going to be the new BT phone box. So it won't necessarily be on every street corner, but you'll know that it's everywhere, you'll recognize it and you'll be able to get it anywhere.
And it will always be the kind of brand that people recognize in creating these spaces. So, yeah, that's that's where it's going to be.
Tom: So do you think you'll grow outside of the UK over the next few years?
Is that the plan?
Neal: I think the thing that we recognize is that the problem that we're solving is not a UK problem it's a people problem. Everybody who works in an office that can work remotely will be experiencing exactly the same challenges no matter where you live.
There'll be different challenges in different places. So one of the things that we want to do is connect with our communities and neighborhoods. And every time we move to a new, even within the UK, that community that neighborhood will be different.
It will have different opportunities and challenges. So we can't just go into every single place and say, this is what we do, this is how we do it and do it the same every single time. Some things will always need to be the same so people can recognize it, but it's understanding what that place needs as much as what we do and making sure we fit those things together.
So particularly as we go into other countries, that will create some interesting challenges that we probably haven't even thought of yet.
Tom: Yes. Yeah, that's really exciting to hear. And I think it is something that's definitely really scalable.
I can imagine this being around the world because it fills a need that a lot of people are going to have, and that need is only going to increase as more and more companies do choose to go completely remote, right?
Neal: Yeah, I mean, I read a report the other day and it said 10% of jobs were fully remote, which is crazy. I mean, we're moving back into being able to work in offices and getting back to kind of more like full occupancy where people can do that, but people are not choosing to do that and employers are responding to it as well.
Yeah, it's a time where we kind of know that everything's changed and we don't quite know how it's going to settle down. And that's an opportunity for us to just shape what that looks like by providing a different solution to people, almost creating that behavior rather than just waiting for it to settle down and working with it.
Tom: Yeah, absolutely. And is there any plans for your next hubs? Obviously, we have one at Sheffield Interchange at the moment.
Neal: Yeah, so we're just in discussions to getting three additional locations in South Yorkshire and we're pretty close to getting that done, and they'll be opening in time for the launch of the app in April.
So we've got two really exciting things happening this year. So that's going to be really cool to kind of bring those two things together and genuinely starting to create a network of hubs and putting them near communities as well.
So the interchange is fantastic because it's right in the heart of the city. It's a great location for us, but we also want to be near to where people live. So the other locations around communities and interchanges and park and rides where they can connect with other opportunities as well.
Yeah so some exciting news on that and we'll be putting various things out as we go and as we get more things agreed and probably some hubs landing and lots of pictures and things like that and we will be showing people so yeah, I'm looking forward to that.
Tom: Yeah, sounds like exciting times. It must be quite like an exciting time for you right now, you know, starting off this business that you've probably wanted to do for a long time. And you know, it just sounds like it's kind of growing from strength to strength, right?
Neal: Yeah, it definitely is. But I'm really impatient as well. It's one of those things where it's all happening quickly but doesn't feel like it is. And yeah, we get there and we have as many challenges as we deem opportunities.
And there's definitely those days where I kind of wake up and go, 'I have no idea what I'm doing.' Like so many things that I'm doing are totally new to me, but I just speak to great people, get advice from others and try and learn as much as they can on the way.
Because yeah that is exciting to just take on a totally new challenge and see if you can make it happen.
Tom: Yeah. And even with like the technology involved, there's a lot of things there which I'm sure, well, I'm talking about me, but like, I definitely have not come across a lot of the tech, so I don't know if you have before, but when I was looking at all of the tech being used and you know there is eight or nine different different platforms being used to make all this technology work. So is a lot of that new to you as well?
Neal: Yeah. Totally new and that's why Hive has been amazing because the kind of advice that I get is, I wouldn't be able to I mean, I could google it for ages, and I would probably never find the right answer.
So yeah it's been really good and being able to rely on people to be able to bring skills to the team and help us do stuff is amazing.
There was a fun point, I think before our first pilot where I had a router and an access point and a satellite in my office.
And I don't think I'd ever played with that kind of hardware before. So I had three manuals open and Google trying to figure out how to make all of these things talk to each other. And I just thought, 'What am I doing?'.
I don't know about this stuff. I know I can probably figure it out if I read everything logically and figure it out. But like what am I doing? I just need to speak to somebody who knows how to do this stuff.
And I did and it worked. So there's moments like that when you try and do everything yourself and then go, 'Yeah, I should probably get somebody who knows how to do this to do it instead.' So, yeah, those kind of lessons are always good.
Tom: Yeah, absolutely. And it's nice to finish on that note because I'm sure, like everyone at Hive has been really grateful to be involved in this project. I think we've loved the whole collaboration as well. And so my final question and this is one that I ask I think every guest is a bit more of obscure and you can interpret it however you like, but what can people do to make things better?
Neal: What can people do to make things better? I think look out for each other.
I think that's the thing I notice more and more. It kind of leads back to people working from home and people being a bit more isolated then they may have been before and just asking people if they're okay and asking twice because usually the first answers yeah or something kind of vague, but actually try to really find out if people are okay and support them in whatever way you can.
So I think that being inquisitive and trying to find out about people is really important. And that's how you make things better by really understanding what's going on and really understanding not just the problem and the challenges, but the opportunities as well.
There's always ways to help people in a positive way. So I think that's an important thing to do.
Tom: Yeah, that's a great answer. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Neil. It's been great having you.
Where can people find you and Workfromhub?
Neil: Yeah. So we are on LinkedIn. Workfromhub or Workfromhub.co.uk. You can follow us, follow me as well. You'll find me on LinkedIn. They are the best places to find us.
Tom: And I hope everyone watching or listening has enjoyed this podcast, and I hope you have a great rest of your day.
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