German-Dutch Chamber of Commerce Interviews Eduard Schaepman

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DNHK interviewed CEO and founder Eduard Schaepman to find out how Tribes Inspiring Workplaces combines tradition and modernity to create an exceptional office atmosphere.

Discover the special concept of these hybrid workplaces, the differences to other providers and the current trends in the German-Dutch working world. An exciting insight into Tribes' unique vision.

Mr. Schaepman, your website says that Tribes Inspiring Workplaces was inspired by your own family history?

Yes, that is correct; Tribes actually comes from my own nomadic family history. My father made it his mission to trace the nomadic origins of our family tree. After his death, I took on this task and started looking for other Schaepmans - a word that, by the way, means "shepherd" and already points to my family's nomadic history. Through social networks I found out that many distant relatives still lived in New Zealand and Australia. Some relatives were also married to Aborigines and Maori, and so it was through them that I got my first impressions of completely different tribal customs and rituals. This search grew from a hobby into a passion and fascination for global tribal histories. I was particularly impressed by the ability of these indigenous groups to survive to this day and preserve their culture and customs.

This is how the idea came about to combine the essence of the tribes with modernity. While changing careers and looking for good investment opportunities, my business partner and I started building Tribes, a place for digital nomads. Each Tribes location is inspired by a tribe, with matching decorations, colour schemes and typical tribal elements. In this way, each location tells our customers a different story.

What is the concept of Tribes Inspiring Workplaces?

Tribes enables companies to create hybrid workplaces. In concrete terms, this means that customers can book Tribes office space individually according to their wishes. Our offer is fully customizable to the needs of the company, from a single workstation to an entire office, from a few hours to a day, a month, or even several years. Since companies only have to accommodate employees on certain days and rent office space from us, we can broker them to other companies on the other days. In this way, the office space can be used optimally. In addition, the concept helps companies reduce their ecological footprint. Employees often don't have to travel that far to our offices and companies can register several employees for a specific office space, who can then take turns working there.

How did you come to set up your first Tribes location in the Netherlands?

Every new company needs a starting customer who will grow sales in the initial phase. For us, this was a customer who needed co-working spaces in Eindhoven. The success of this location allowed us to quickly expand to other cities.

Was it difficult to find the right locations for expansion, and what criteria did you use to choose a new Tribes location?

The most important thing for me was that Tribes sees itself as a '5-star day hotel'. These hotels are mainly located in the 20 largest European cities. Therefore, it was and is important for tribes to settle in the 20 largest European cities. We also consider how many branches we want to open there based on the size of the European city and the demand for hybrid workplaces. We are also seeing increasing demand from our customers for buildings with the A energy label.

What makes Tribes different from other hybrid and co-working providers?

As in other industries (e.g. the automotive industry), there are premium and mid-range brands. We see ourselves as a premium brand in the area of ​​hybrid working. Service, sustainability and design speak for us as a five-star hotel for employees. We also do not participate in the price wars of other providers, but instead rely on our unique concept.

In your opinion, how has the market for hybrid working changed since the first tribes were founded?

It typically takes a company three years to become profitable. That was also the case for us, because Tribes became profitable in 2019. Unfortunately, this profitable period didn't last long due to COVID-19 restrictions. As a result, many companies terminated their contracts with us. In 2022, restrictions in the Netherlands were already relaxed faster than in Germany and Belgium, so our business in the Netherlands also recovered faster than in these countries. Although sales began to increase again, our costs also increased due to inflation, rising energy prices and geopolitical developments. As a result, we are noticing more risk-averse behaviour among our customers. While companies used to sign contracts with a term of five to 10 years, today we mostly see requests for short-term contracts.

Don't more and more employees want to work from home instead of going to the office?

Working from home certainly offers attractive advantages, but it has been shown that younger employees in particular have a strong need to be in contact with colleagues during working hours. In order to look after these young people, you also need supervisors on site. In many companies, this has led to Tuesday and Thursday becoming classic office days. The problem that arises from this is the partial congestion during rush hour on Tuesday and Thursday.

What is the difference between the German and Dutch markets?

What surprised me most was the fact that German and Dutch work cultures are much closer than I thought. When Dutch companies want to establish themselves abroad, they think of Belgium rather than Germany. Germany compliments the Dutch work culture much better precisely because of its work culture. While in Germany work is more precise and rules are followed more strictly, in the Netherlands things are more relaxed but more creative. The combination of these characteristics has led to our success in Germany.

Mr. Schaepman, what do you think are the current trends in hybrid working?

The workplace isn't as black and white as I originally thought. There is no clear trend towards 'working at home only' or 'working at the office only'. I always say: 'Fifty years ago there were offices without computers, now there are computers without offices'. An exciting trend. Another trend arises from the growing urban population in Europe and concerns the increasing desire for work and leisure close to one's own home. If we want to reduce our ecological footprint, we need to travel fewer distances. This trend can already be seen in cities like New York and San Francisco, but in Germany and the Netherlands regulations often prevent such restructuring and multiple use of buildings.

Text and interview: David Böhm

See the original interview on DNHK website here.

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