As one of the three co-founders of Fosbury & Sons, Maarten Van Gool has always had the entrepreneurial spirit in his blood. Now, living in the province of Antwerp in Belgium, Van Gool continues to make decisions that advance Fosbury & Sons’ mission of providing well-designed, aesthetically-pleasing spaces that feel like home.
Learn more about the founding of Fosbury & Sons and what sets the coworking company apart from other European brands in our latest interview.
How did you first discover coworking?
We never had the idea to start a coworking business. In fact, that wouldn’t even be an idea. We just wanted to create a space where people want to work and just did our thing.
What is your involvement at Fosbury & Sons and when was the brand first founded?
I founded Fosbury & Sons together with my partners Stijn Geeraets and Serge Hannecart in 2016. Stijn and I know each other from when we were students; years later, we accidentally met again and shared the same frustrations about traditional offices, so we decided to work together on an idea to re-invent the office.
We realized that when people hear the word “office,” there is an image that comes to mind and that did not change for the last 50 years. We wondered why we are still in these grey, dull environments, which we call our work environment whilst people love to go to nice hotels or nice restaurants. People also spend a lot of money building their home, but a lot of time is actually spent at the office — an environment they did not choose and that does not feel good.
It took us about a year to investigate and find what we can do differently. Same as Dick Fosbury, the guy who reinvented the sport of high-jumping. He completely rethought it and built a new standard, and that’s exactly what we want to do.
What has been the mission of Fosbury & Sons since the beginning?
It’s really about doing everything we can to ensure that work can positively contribute to our lives. We want to create a place where people love to go every single day. The traditional office is outdated and we are here to set a new standard.
What would you say are the key characteristics of operating a successful coworking space?
For us, it’s really about creating a local, soulful place in two ways: through the team that operates the location and through the way we design the space.
What sets Fosbury & Sons apart from other shared office spaces in Europe?
Each Fosbury & Sons’ location is unique, but the mission behind the spaces is the same in all our locations.
We have a unique recruiting process to which we pay a lot of attention, and we focus a lot on how we can fully support these local teams. There’s no command control involved; we focus on honesty and plenty of training and support to deal with whatever comes their way. After all, we are in a people business! When it comes to the design, the building and its surroundings are really our starting point for a thorough design process that combines real human experience and creativity.
Besides that, we also work with a product offer that sets us apart from other coworking spaces. Our elaborate Meeting & Event spaces play a crucial role in this. This enables us to offer a balanced and healthy catering to our members.
How did the consequences of COVID-19 impact your operations?
Back in March, we had to adapt very swiftly and good communication was very important. Our members needed to be properly informed on a regular basis. Every time the government gives an update about measures, we’ve translated them into our daily operations.
Communication is also twofold, as members also have to feel that we are still here to answer questions and concerns. They can always reach us by phone, e-mail, and through our members exclusive app Fons Jr.
We turned around our content strategy to stay connected with our members and started with content themes like ‘Tips from team F&S’, ‘Meet the members’ and ‘Meet the F&S team.’ Community is a strong asset of our product so we needed to continue efforts to keep the connection going.
What changes have you made to make things safer and more efficient for members post-COVID-19?
We acted very proactive and in no-time made sure all health and safety regulations were in order in our locations. We added all the basics like a circulation plan, social distance floor markers, sanitizers, desk pads, and so on.
But we also took it a level further and upgraded our members app, so now our members can book a desk in advance, allowing them to check how busy the office will be and to guarantee a safe spot.
On a product level, we invested even more in videoconferencing technologies for our meeting rooms and we offer a live streaming service for events.
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to start a coworking space?
I would say that the ‘international & travel’ aspect of coworking is highly overrated. I would advise you to focus on your own network and the local market for recruiting, partnerships, and clients.
Now that markets in Europe are slowly recovering from the effects of COVID-19, what are your predictions for coworking in 2021?
I think there is light at the end of the tunnel.
The short-term impact of Covid-19 was brutally hard for the coworking business and I hope this will result in a new way of partnership between operators and landlords. They will need each other because in the long-term, this period has accelerated a new tendency: hybrid working.
In the future, HQ’s will shrink, we will work from home or closer to home but also from a hub that allows us to meet up colleagues and to find focus. The serviced office industry will be relevant for the offering of all three environments.