Learn more about DeskLodge with this interview with the founder - Tom Ball

Jamie Ellis
November 17, 2017
Learn more about DeskLodge with this interview with the founder - Tom Ball

Following an inspiring blog post from Cat Johnson ( that focused on how storytelling can help to humanize your brand. Here at DeskLodge we are really good at telling you how great coworking spaces are and all the amazing things that happen at DeskLodge locations but you don’t really know much about the people behind the brand. Who could be better to humanise the DeskLodge brand than DeskLodge’s founder and creator Tom Ball!

Cat Johnson writes content marketing for coworking spaces and communities and a weekly newsletter Coworking Out Loud.

Here is the influential blog post that taught us to humanise our brand through storytelling.

What is the DeskLodge story?

The first thought of what has now become DeskLodge, was seeing a village that had won awards yet contained no pub or social space of any kind. This started a thought that daily commuting to send emails is insane. I believe we are social animals and full-time home working can be lonely. Therefore, I wanted to create great places to work near home and to reduce needless commuting, I do think coming together with colleagues is hugely important, just not every day. Ultimately these places would be in your ‘village’ not in city centres – but that’s a few years ahead.

The second was seeing Google’s new office ( )open and wanting to have access to an inspiring office like that without needing to work for Google. That combined with wanting them to end up in villages created the thought about inclusivity, whilst we might have clusters (like tech and low-carbon in Bristol) I didn’t want cliques. I think having very different people, very different ways of thinking and working in a space is important.

Who are the people involved in the DeskLodge story?

In terms of building the space, our wonderful builders are where most of the ideas (and all of the work!) comes from.  Most of our builders, Skip, Martin, Wayne and Matt, I’ve known since I was two, when we grew up in the same village. Because we all have to travel to Bristol (We all live around Cambridge) we obviously stay over and go to the pub in the evening. This gives us regular time to think and reflect on what we’re doing, what’s working well and what doesn’t feel right. The Lego, tree and tent booths were going to be yellow, blue and red until a particularly good evening in the Blue Lagoon on Gloucester Road. That then gives the first version. The DeskLodge team are very good at sensing what is working, what people like and what needs to change. What could be better?

Have there been many lessons learned?

Where to begin! We started doing temporary spaces like a building due for demolition that we can use for a year or two. These are cheaper and allowed us to experiment much more but aren’t great long term as we would not be able to invest in a building or in growing a community if it was only temporary. We had a failed location in Hemel Hempstead, it was too far from transport links and was too small/too spread out to create a DeskLodge. We tried a few changes then realised we should either do it properly or not try. I think that focus on doing a few things well is really important in business, as well as tough!

What happened and is happening on the journey of building DeskLodge?

We keep trying to upgrade and improve the space. To make it more productive, friendlier and a nicer place to be. We are also thinking about how to make the space more inclusive to all, particularly to women, minorities and disabled people. Tiny changes like putting power sockets at table height not ankle height. We have much further to go in many ways.

What differentiates DeskLodge from your competition?

We try not to spend too much time thinking about the competition and defining them very broadly. I think I’ve learnt more from Wetherspoons and Thorpe Park than most offices! I’m convinced that choice is a good thing, both of vibes and of different types of furniture. We watch which places get used the least and try to swap them for better places and create more of the most popular seats. We can’t seem to get enough of the bar height tables!

Why did you start DeskLodge in the first place?

I just wanted to enjoy my time in the office and I noticed that there were places I liked more and got more done and places I liked less and got less done. I normally have a few favourite seats in coffee shops I use often (I can’t always find a good coworking space).

What are your short, medium and longer-term vision and mission?

The biggest focus currently is just to improve what we’ve got. To get our systems/processes even smoother so it’s less dependent on our wonderful team having to run around to keep it all together! Basically, preparing for future growth.

Medium and longer term, I’d like us to open more DeskLodges, but I think that will have its own natural rhythm. If we are creating somewhere good to work and making it easy for people to enjoy it and get more done, I think we’ll naturally slowly grow.

Who do you help? What have the specific results been to date?

I’m passionate that everyone should be very welcome. Corporates are very different to freelancers but the people aren’t nearly as different as we like to think. Especially the ones who like DeskLodge! And I think that diversity in every sense is wonderful, a freelance graphic designer can learn a lot from a corporate accountant and vice versa. I go back to that first thought of the missing village pub. I think grown-ups invented work so they could play together.