What led you to focus on alternative office models?
Our company was started in 2004 with a traditional office building on Avenida Duque de Ávila. Hence, the name "Avila Spaces”.
We quickly realised, especially with the onset of the crisis in 2008-2009, that companies were looking for alternative work models. Of course, there were lots of companies at the time that began to shrink for the sake of cost containment.
With this in mind, we tried to satisfy that new kind of demand and began to diversify our business and innovate in the field of virtual offices. We started to offer not only physical spaces to companies that used the traditional ‘private office’ model but also online solutions for virtual offices.
What are the advantages of having a virtual office, and what has changed with the emergence of coworking?
The greatest advantage of having a virtual office is, above all, the fact that it gives companies the option of using the physical space when they need it. In addition to the address, personalised telephone service, and correspondence management, we also offer meeting rooms and workspaces for occasional, specific use.
We have lots of client companies in northern Portugal (namely in Porto), from outside Lisbon, and even people who work at home who occasionally need a space at a reputable, upmarket address, such as Avenida da República, to contact or attract clients.
At the moment, we have about 500 clients, but they don’t come to an Avila Spaces outlet daily because they enjoy the virtual office service or coworking.
The most important thing that has changed with coworking is the fact that we have further diversified the range of services we offer.
As we like to say, we began offering the "best of the three worlds [– a physical office, a virtual office, and coworking –] in one space.”
Your concept seems to be oriented more towards businesses.
Yes, it is. Unlike some office centres that have coworking spaces that are aimed more at freelancers, creatives, and/or start-up companies, we are a corporate space that is geared towards companies that are already established in the market and value the quality of our services, our image, and the comfort our spaces provide for them to work in.
Initially, we were sought after by small businesses, freelancers, self-employed professionals, and consultants, but, ever since we began on our first coworking project in 2008 (i.e., the last 10 years), we have witnessed a growing amount of interest from companies, namely multinationals.
And this has happened for two reasons. Firstly, we offer a flexible model that lets these companies to open up shop in Portugal in part of a shared space that is accessible 24 hours a day, and, after three months, they are allowed to stop operating in the office or make changes. The second reason is the comfort, services, and wide range of spaces and amenities that we offer, such as the business lounge, leisure areas like our terrace, cups, drinks, free catering, etc…
We’ve ended up attracting and retaining a large amount of talent because these companies know that, in this space of ours, we offer good working conditions for their employees, which is essential to their productivity and creativity.
Will this demand compel Avila Spaces to expand soon, be it to other spaces in the same building or to other locations?
In this location, we started out on the 7ᵗʰ floor and then expanded to another two floors precisely because we needed to grow and respond to new needs and requirements our customers had.
Despite this, and although demand is increasing, we’re not thinking about growing our square footage. We’ve been in the market for 14 years now, and we’re a small company that wants to grow in ways that are sustainable.
In your case, then, growth is synonymous with innovation, is it not?
Yes. For us, growing doesn’t even always have to be about growing our physical space. In our case, it is, in fact, truly all about our commitment to innovation.
Of course, in 2010, we were the first company in the world to create a virtual office mobile application – the myOffice app – which is something that has differentiated us from other operators inasmuch as our clients receive real-time information about correspondence, telephone contact notifications, and meeting appointments through this application.
We are the most awarded office and coworking centre in Portugal. We’ve participated in national and international events, and we’re always looking for new ways to innovate for our customers. I can also announce that, in the coming weeks, we will be launching a networking platform through which our clients will be able to contact other members of the community to establish partnerships, publicise their products or services, and promote their business. It’ll be almost like a private LinkedIn.
What led you to change your slogan to "Work, Relax, Enjoy”?
I think the word ‘office’ is falling into disuse. What people have today are workspaces, since all you need is a mobile phone, a tablet, or a computer to communicate from anywhere in the world.
It was thanks to this new reality that we thought we should change our slogan to three words that best define our space and business concept: "Work (a place to work), Relax (you can take breaks, de-stress, and relax between meetings or in the middle of the day in the Business Lounge or on the Terrace), Enjoy (we invite people to enjoy the good moments in life with events we organise, from workshops to parties).”
The millennials have come to teach us that our lives shouldn’t be all about work, so, in this office, we cross work with relaxation. We have to enjoy life.