‘The challenge for the co-working sector will be increased competition’

13 Aug 2019

Clare Kelly. Image: Glandore

Glandore’s Clare Kelly discusses changes in the co-working sector, ways of encouraging diversity in business, and the importance of her morning coffee.

In 2008, Clare Kelly joined Glandore – the company that was founded by her father Michael in 2001. Working alongside her sisters and fellow directors Rebecca and Fiona, Kelly eventually stepped into the role of marketing and business development director.

An early pioneer of the serviced office and co-working model, Glandore is now an all-Ireland provider, with nine locations across Dublin, Belfast and Cork offering space for entrepreneurs, indigenous and international companies.

Having previously worked in healthcare as an occupational therapist, Kelly is passionate about workplace wellbeing and established a complimentary wellness programme for Glandore members, in addition to programmes focusing on personal and professional development.

A keen advocate for diversity and inclusion, Kelly also founded Glandore’s annual ‘Hear from Her’ event, which celebrates inspiring women that have made an impact on Irish life, in addition to showcasing mentoring initiatives and networks that support female entrepreneurs and business women.

‘My father’s favourite phrase is, “Go for it”, so we are always trying something new and developing the business’

Describe your role and what you do.

As marketing and business development director for Glandore, I am responsible for lead generation, member engagement and retention, which involves working with all departments from sales, operations, IT, front office and accounts to ensure that our member companies in Glandore have the best experience possible.

In addition to providing a productive, flexible and high-quality working environment, we strive to facilitate connections and networking opportunities through our Glandore Network events and introductions to the wider business community. I am passionate about building relationships with our members and understanding their unique needs and requirements to ensure we are constantly innovating and exceeding expectations.

My role as company director also involves assessing expansion opportunities, strategy development, and championing the Glandore culture and values.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

Ensuring Glandore is a great place to work both for our employees and the individual member companies we accommodate, where they feel appreciated, valued and supported, is key to how I prioritise my time in work. My day-to-day role can be very reactive so taking the time to plan key events three to six months ahead is essential to ensuring I stay on track with goals and objectives.

As a mother of two young children, I also make sure my calendar is synced with school calendar activities to avoid diary clashes or surprises.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

Flexible workspace and co-working as an industry has grown significantly in the past five years with a 50pc increase in the Irish market in 2018. The challenge for the sector will be increased competition and the necessity for providers to differentiate and innovate in order to retain and win market share. Glandore has developed a very strong track record over the past 18 years supporting some of the world’s largest companies, including Facebook, Google and Autodesk, with landing, project and overflow space requirements.

Another challenge, but also opportunity, for the sector has been the uncertainty regarding Brexit, which has delayed some investment decisions but has also resulted in an increased demand for flexible workspace.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

Glandore provides virtual and private offices, co-working space and meeting rooms to a diverse range of sectors from financial services and pharma to tech and creative.

Ireland continues to be a very attractive destination for international investment and in particular for US technology companies. It is expected that the level of investment from US firms in Ireland will continue and strengthen post-Brexit in order to maintain access to EU talent pool.

Brexit has also resulted in a significant number of financial services firms relocating operations from the UK to avail of EU passporting. This shift has been accompanied by similar moves from UK law firms and pharmaceuticals that are looking to Brexit-proof their business. Glandore’s experience in the market has been very attractive to companies like these.

Inside a Glandore flexible workspace

Image: Glandore

What set you on the road to where you are now?

Although it is not a conventional route, I believe my degree in occupational therapy was an excellent foundation for business. It is an extremely client-centred profession with a huge focus on building relationships based on mutual respect and trust.

Joining Glandore in 2008 in a sales role at the start of the recession was a steep learning curve, however, it was the quality of the relationships we developed with our members and the holistic approach we took to meeting their needs that really differentiated Glandore and facilitated our growth.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

As a company we were slow to embrace social media and did not fully appreciate the impact on brand visibility and awareness. We have since learned how valuable it is in showcasing the Glandore experience in addition to offering another way to support our members and promote our local partners and business community.

Personally speaking, I find it an ongoing challenge balancing family and work life but I am really lucky to have an amazing team that makes the working day so much fun, and a supportive family that give me the flexibility when I need it.  

How do you get the best out of your team?

Showing appreciation, respect and providing opportunities for learning and career progression is hugely important. I also believe showing flexibility, care and compassion, and supporting colleagues in achieving a better work-life balance is also key to having a happy and engaged team.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector? What are your thoughts on this and what’s needed to be more inclusive?

As a family we are passionate about promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace and particularly mindful of the obstacles that prevent women realising their full potential.

Our annual ‘Hear from Her’ event was established to provide a platform to celebrate the success and achievements of the women in our community and offer networking and peer mentoring opportunities for our members and wider business community.

In addition, in an effort to support families and promote gender equality, we offer our employees – male and female – equal paid family leave following the birth of their child. I believe that this evens the playing field at hiring stage, as both parents could and would have times of absence should they have children. In order to have gender diverse teams, particularly at board level, adequate parental leave for both parents and flexibility are essential.

Did you ever have a mentor or someone who was pivotal in your career? If so, how?

While it may not be for everyone, working with my family has been really pivotal in my professional development. My father Michael is an amazing mentor and a very inspiring leader, instilling strong values of respect, care and a ‘can-do’ approach to business within Glandore from the beginning. He also believes that looking after your team is the foundation to a successful business and quality relationships with our customers.

His favourite phrase is, ‘Go for it’, so we are always trying something new and developing the business, which has been essential for our growth and differentiation.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I was very sad to hear of the passing of Feargal Quinn, who left an incredible legacy on Irish business life. Although it’s been almost 30 years since it was first published, his first book and international bestseller Crowning the Customer is still a must-read for all business owners.

Long before ‘customer experience’ was a term, Quinn was passionately focused on customer service and retention. He coined the term the ‘boomerang principle’ to describe how listening to your customers and meeting their real needs will result in them returning. He also believed firmly in leading from the front and taking care of your employees, which facilitated the customer-centric culture that Superquinn was renowned for.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

With two little ones, as boring as it sounds, getting to bed early is essential. That and my morning coffee. After the rush of school drop-offs, it’s a little bit of ‘me time’ and resets me for the day ahead.

If I need to do some focused work during the day I will often take my laptop and go to one of our clubrooms, and it also gives me a chance to catch up with some of our coworkers. I will have lunch with one or all my family in work at least three times a week. It is often a working lunch but it’s a lovely luxury to have some one-on-one time with them in the working day.

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