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Canadian co-working company iQ Office Suites reveals three strategies for growth

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Kane Willmott (right), co-founder and CEO, iQ Office Suites, and Alex Sharpe, iQ co-founder and president, in iQ’s 150 King Street West location in Toronto’s financial district.

Submitted / PNG

Not all co-working companies and their spaces are created equal. That’s the message recently shared by the head of the largest Canadian-owned and operated shared-office provider.

Toronto-based iQ Office Suites is growing. Launched in 2012, iQ’s portfolio includes four co-working locations in Toronto and one in Vancouver. The company is also in the process of opening another four locations: one each in Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal and Ottawa.

The company is also expanding two of its Toronto locations. Overall, the openings will bring iQ’s total Canadian footprint to about 200,000 square feet and 3,000 desks, said co-founder and CEO Kane Willmott.

Most recently, IQ has announced a new location at 550 Robson St. and the expansion of the existing offices at 1055 West Georgia St. in Vancouver. The new spaces are booking now for occupancy starting in December 2020.

It’s impossible to discuss co-working these days without talking about WeWork, the New York-based giant that finds itself earning headlines over the recent ouster of its CEO; now-halted initial public offering process; and reports of staggering cash losses. All of those issues come after a lengthy period of extreme growth at WeWork, including in Canada.

Willmott did not address WeWork’s issues directly in a recent call with Postmedia, but he did dish on three major elements he thinks has made iQ profitable and ripe for expansion.

Focus on the corporate clients

Co-working has become typecast, Willmott said. Among casual observers, co-working seems to be thought of as a place bursting with start-ups or freelancers, often in wide-open, noisy spaces with beer taps and ping pong tables.

IQ instead focuses on providing space for mature corporate clients interested in setting up satellite and branch offices without committing to a long-term lease, he said. Users can take on an iQ space for as brief a tenure as two months. Companies including Tile, KPMG, Scotiabank, HSBC, Alibaba, Twitter and various other established companies have used iQ spaces, according to the company website.

“Co-working, done in the right way, is really disrupting a traditional office lease,” Willmott said.

When iQ initially launched in Toronto about seven years ago, it included a six-person office in its design, Willmott said. He lost sleep worrying about whether anybody would want a space like that.

But the larger office was the first to lease, he said. Later, iQ included offices for up to 12 people when it opened a second location. Those were snatched up first as well.

Provide privacy and security

In 2009, before starting iQ, Willmott himself spent time working in a co-work office.

“One of the big challenges we had was the privacy element,” he said. They liked the flexibility and convenience of co-working, but also needed quiet space to work and data protection.

When you focus on leasing flex office space to established corporate companies, those firms are also going to expect privacy and security.

That led to iQ including individual VPN firewalls for their members’ systems and also privacy screening across all of the glass in their spaces.

Willmott said they also include ambient white noise in all of their offices and common areas to dampen distractions.

Downtown locations

Most of iQ’s clients have businesses and staff that want to be in the downtown core near amenities and transit. So that’s where iQ has sought to open spaces.

Their current roll-out of new sites includes locations as 222 Queen St. in Ottawa; the Sun Life Building in Montreal at 1155 Metcalfe St.; Calgary’s new Telus Sky building at 685 Centre St. South; in addition to iQ’s downtown Vancouver locations.

“Our customers are telling us the primary reason (for being downtown) is they want to have access to amenities around the space, and they also want to have public transit so they can access talent,” Willmott said.


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