Qb Studios owners, Alex Brennan, Mike Fisher and Tom Harding opened their first shared workspace in Christchurch in 2014 with a very open-minded approach to work, blending shared office suites with art and hospitality, housed in a modern and creative space. Opening a space on Newmarket’s Morgan Street in 2019, ZARA OVERTON spoke with ALEX BRENNAN about the ways that work has changed and how Qb are bucking this trend.
N. What were your backgrounds prior to starting Qb Studios?
ALEX BRENNAN. We are an eclectic mix. Tom played professional rugby with teams in New Zealand, England, and Japan. Mike is the fifth generation in a long family line of fine art dealers and I used to wear a wig and gown, practicing as a barrister in Ireland.
N. Can you tell us a little bit about Qb Studios and how the idea came about?
A. It all began on a rugby field in Rio de Janeiro. Mike and Tom had both moved to Brazil after the Christchurch earthquake. I had been living there for a few years and we met playing rugby in the local club. Mike and Tom had some experience with modular construction and we had the vision to develop a prefabricated building system that could be used to construct beautifully designed buildings simply and quickly. We worked together in Brazil on bringing that to life for a number of years. At the time, Christchurch was in the process of reimagining itself after the earthquake and it felt like it was the right place to build a showcase for our modular system and to contribute to the rebuild. We bought an old warehouse and built a small modular village inside it – with a café, art gallery, and a range of office suites. The timing was perfect because local businesses, many of which had been displaced by the quake, jumped at the chance to come together to work in a community environment again. That was our first Qb Studios and it was a roaring success. Shortly afterward we opened our first Qb in Auckland and, six years and six locations later, here we are. It’s been a great adventure.
N. Since COVID-19, we’ve seen a large shift in the ways people work, with workplaces normalising working from home, more flexible working hours, greaterconfidenceintheefficiencyofremotework and many reassessing their business models. What are some of the major changes that you’ve noticed around how people are working? A. You’re absolutely right – there have been big changes in the way people are working and, as a result, big changes in the role of the office. It’s a very exciting time because business owners are actually very open-minded to fresh ways of doing things and are experimenting to see what works best rather than having a fixed idea about their staff being at their desk 5 days a week. More and more companies are adopting hybrid approaches and mixing home and office work in one way or another. Businesses are realising that they need a much smaller footprint, when they can utilise shared facilities and services in a flexible workspace. We’re seeing a lot of demand from businesses with teams of 20-30 coming out of their traditional office leases and taking a small office that they use as an “HQ” for their teams to rotate in and out of and combine with remote work. It may take years for businesses to understand what works best for them so flexibility is also in high demand.
N. What are the benefits of working from Qb Studios over home or another workplace?
A. Above all else – a sense of quality. We work hard to create environments that serious businesses can feel proud to bring their clients – as well as a culture that is warm, welcoming, and friendly. Businesses who value their privacy can get the best of both worlds at Qb – the independence of having their own separate office studio while being able to use the boardrooms, lounges, and break-out areas as much as they need.
N. Are shared workspaces the way of the future?
A. We are in the middle of a deep transformation in the way we think about property. In the same way that we now consume music as a service on Spotify, we are moving towards a new way of utilising property – “Space As a Service.”Modern businesses want simplicity and agility. Attention is a valuable asset and in a complex and fast-changing world, business owners need to use it to run their business – not their office. Office management is being outsourced to specialists who can provide the creative and engaging workspaces revolving around face-to-face interaction, collaboration and wellbeing, that Millennials and Generation Z are demanding. Forecasts suggest that these types of spaces could grow from 5% to 30% of global office stock in the next 10 years. It doesn’t make sense for businesses to try to cater to all of their employee’s needs in their own office. Not only that, but shared workspaces are also a very effective way of combining office and remote work and are best seen as being complementary to home offices rather than in competition with them. Some employees need quiet, private space to do focused work and use the office as a way to avoid distractions at home. Others need collaborative face-to-face meetings and meeting rooms for developing and presenting ideas. Salespeople need beautiful reception areas with amenities to meet clients and managers want a place where everyone can get together to build team cohesion. When this can all be provided as a service for a simple monthly fee, it becomes a very practical choice.
N. The intersection of art and design becomes quite evident when you step into the Qb Studios space, with an industrial-style fit-out and interesting art to look at. Can you tell us more about your design philosophy and in particular, the design of the Newmarket space?A. Good design has been an inspiration for us since the very beginning. How a space looks and feels really does matter to people’s well-being. Churchill was right when he said, “We shape our buildings and then our buildings shape us.” This extends beyond the visual, to all of the senses – from textures to sounds and smells – this is all part of what we mean when we say “Curated workspaces”. We try to keep the aesthetic of our spaces simple and timeless and to bring out the natural features that our buildings already have. Qb Newmarket, for example, has high timber trusses, which are highlighted by natural light coming through a high gable roof. The colours are simple black and white with steel and glass joinery used for the office studios. This gives space for the art – and plants – to express themselves.
N. How does Qb Studios promote and combine collaboration and innovation?
A. Because our spaces are intimate with lots of shared lounges and break-out spaces, collaboration happens very naturally and organically. Members have the opportunity to meet each other at morning coffee and networking events that we regularly host. Each individual member and business also has a profile on our Qb Members platform and can communicate with other members across the national network using our Qb app. It’s working, because we see a lot of business being done internally within our network. We also throw a famous Qb summer party where members from all the Auckland locations get together to let their hair down.
N. Has the value proposition around community and the social side of coworking at Qb Studios grown over the past year? If so, how?
A. Well, community and face-to-face communication is the big thing that you don’t get working from home. Face to face is the most robust communication – we can try to replicate it with video calls but it will never create the same connection that we get with talking to someone else in person. Human beings have evolved through collaboration to prefer group interactions and people want to be around others and their community. Owners and managers that are having to entice staff who have got used to working from home back into the office are having to think hard about providing an environment that people want rather than need to go to. Having a strong vibrant community is the biggest attraction for staff.
N. What is Newmarket’s best-kept secret?
A. The cold noodles at Kaui Dian Eatery! Shhh!
N. Favourite book you read over the summer?
A. The Peregrine – by J.A. Baker – an amazing book that tracks the comings and goings of two Peregrine falcons across the marshlands of south England. Mysterious, transcendent, and poetic. Every sentence takes your breath away.
N. What will 2021 bring for Qb Studios?
A. There is a lot happening. With so much change in the way people are working, it’s looking like it will be a very busy year. We have some excellent opportunities to expand into new locations on the city fringe in Auckland. We are also working more and more with individual businesses to bespoke their office strategies and help them transition their operations into flexible workspaces.
2 Morgan Street