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Ayo Akinmade: Providing Virtual Office Spaces for Businesses
Ayo Akinmade, Vice Chairman of Regus, is one of Nigeria’s leading global workspace providers. At the recent launch of his new office in Lekki, Lagos, he spoke to Mary Nnah on the future of virtual offices in Nigeria as a panacea to improving the nation’s economy. Excerpts:
Can you tell us what the Regus brand is all about?
Regus is the leading global workspace provider. We have built an unparalleled network of offices, co-working and meeting spaces for companies to use in every city in the world. It’s a global infrastructure built for businesses to support every opportunity. Our network of workspaces enables businesses to operate anywhere, without the need for set-up costs or capital investment. It provides our customers with immediate cost benefits and the opportunity to fully outsource their office portfolio. Designed to enhance productivity and connect 2.5 million like-minded professionals, it’s an instant global community and a place to belong.
What brought the impetus to establish Regus, a virtual office in Nigeria?
Regus is a virtual office brand. So, when we say virtual office we don’t mean that the office does not physically exist; it is actually a physical structure but what we actually mean is that the office is devisable. You can have just as much as space as you need or you can go into its space with as little as you need. Regus has been in Nigeria for about 13 years. We are in Abuja, Port Harcourt and at various places in Lagos. So, Regus is opening the doors to its first offering in Lekki, and it is designed to accommodate the area’s growing business community.
Why the choice of Lekki?
Lekki, of course we know has suddenly gone very commercial from being a residential area. I remember about 10 years ago, Admiralty way in Lekki was only occupied with residential houses but you know what it is now. So, we have been looking for a location out of Ikoyi and Victoria Island and for us the natural place was Lekki Phase 1. This growing technological ecosystem makes Lekki the perfect place for Regus to open its next modern co-working space. The centre is located on Admiralty road with views onto the Lekki/Ikoyi link bridge.
We are delighted to be opening this new site in Lekki. The area offers the best of both worlds for those wanting a slight reprieve from the City, whilst being close enough to travel in for a meeting if necessary. Located in Lekki Phase 1, this high-class office building offers a tailor-made space for everyone from small businesses to larger, established corporations. Including private offices, shared co-working spaces and meeting rooms, the space is designed to work for every business – facilitating ideas sharing and networking all under one roof.
As part of one of Nigeria’s best performing regions, Lekki’s economy is thriving and has become a major commercial hub, residential area and tourist attraction centre in Lagos, making it the hottest location in demand. So, we are here today to launch our office location, so that in a couple of days we can start receiving paying customers. And one thing about our services is that we do not demand one year payment in advance but just one month and then you take the office for one month and then pay another month if you wish to use the office space for that month.
How is the industry like in Nigeria?
The industry is fragmented in this sense that there are many players in Nigeria and as there are many players, there are many kinds of scandals. The most important thing is that there is dynamism in Nigeria that people need offices and people cannot afford to go and pay a landlord one year rent and starting doing petitioning, tables, chairs, internet and all that. Before they do all that, money to actually do the business has finished. So, what we give is the amenities for you to just come and do your business within the capacity you can afford.
What stands Regus out from others who provide the same services you offer?
Our launch at Lekki is the first of a new type of approach to our expansion that we are considering. Traditionally before now, we would find a building, go to the landlord, pay rent and then run the building. But what we are trying to do now is to find landlords that have buildings for spaces that they want us to come and manage for them. So, in fact the business is theirs, we are just brining in our band to manage it. In other words, we are managing the buildings we occupy for the owners.
And because we have international reach and expertise, when landlords – either they purposely build the structure for an office, or whether it is a high-rise building where they have one spare floor or even half of the floor – they can invite us and we would come and give them specifications of how we think the building should look; we would bring our brand and expertise and manage it for the owners and of course we charge a fee to cover expenses. So, this year, we are hoping that this would be the first of many. We are looking to the mainland; we are also looking for places in Calabar and also in Port Harcourt. Surulere would be a very good location to have this as well as Festcac and Ilupeju.
We are also looking for landlords to come to us and for me, this is very exciting because we started this process of finding lands that have buildings and then coming to partner them to actually develop these offices. This will bring more and more buildings and offices into the Regus network.
More importantly, Regus is in 210 locations around the world, that is, 210 countries and in more than 4000 office locations. For a customer that comes into our space, we give them a first class office space already provided with internet, water, electricity, tea and coffee for a fixed fee. So someone can come in and say, I want to use your office for an afternoon, or for three days, or for one year and once we agree, the use is available for you for that period.
Again, what the Regus network does is that once a person signs up to a particular location, we give you a virtual card which is like the size of credit card on your phone, and if you go to Port Harcourt, and show up at our Regus office in that location, as soon as you enter the reception, your phone would automatically log unto our Wi-Fi and you can sit at the reception and start working. Take it beyond that, if you go to London on holidays and then walk into our office at Park Lane, immediately you enter, you would have access to our Wi-Fi through that same card. So there is a worldwide network that would not cost any additional money. So if you live on the mainland, instead of going to our office in Lekki, you could easily go to our office in Ikeja and do your work. Also if you are in Abuja and you want to travel via the airport, you can go and work at our office at the Church Gate Towers, which is very close to the airport and stay until when it is almost time for your flight.
While on the move, you can alternatively, ask your client to meet you at either our Ikeja or Lekki office services or even in our office at Abuja and what that does is to give your business a profile.
Regus network is the most important thing that we are trying to promote and trying to build on and of course in trying to do that; we need to find business partners, people that have office space, even standalone buildings in places like Ikeja GRA and so on, that we can convert into offices.
Regus network is the best of all. Nobody has the kind of network that we have in Nigeria and even the world. Once you are signed up to us, you get our services anywhere in the world. In fact we have an app, which is like google map. Once you have it, if you put on location services and you touch the app, it would show you where you and also where you can find the nearest Regus location and the direction you are to follow to get there. So everybody that can pay and does a legitimate business is welcome to our network.
What are the economic benefits for business persons operating a virtual office?
People are recognising that they are far more productive and successful in a dynamic working environment, while businesses are waking up to the financial and strategic benefits. Regus is helping to supply this demand and drive a workspace revolution in Lekki and beyond.
Notwithstanding the effect of the nation’s economic downturn on investments in the real estate industry in recent past, the rental market has remained vibrant with the emergence of co-working space stations for businesses and entrepreneurs.
Before now, co-working space stations were considered alien to the Nigerian business landscape but experts believe that about 80 per cent of Nigeria entrepreneurs and investors are now adopting the model in their rental needs. Apart from its affordability and low cost, the model comes with payment flexibility and provision of some basic office facilities in a serene environment.
Are Nigerians really taking advantage of this service?
I would say that Nigerians have taken advantage of the service but we in the industry have not publicised it enough. Before now we have been selective about the people we deal with so we go to only big clients like the embassies and all that but it was only in the last two to three years that we started looking at other businesses. So a lot of people don’t even know that such things exist. So, there is a job that we also have to do to publicise it and make it better known.