Is the success of co-working spaces throwing into question the traditional corporate offices as destination for work?

Our Managing Director, Gemma John, talked to Steelcase about what corporate offices can learn from co-working spaces.

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What is co-working?

Co-working is a social gathering of a group of people — often freelancers - who share values. They are interested in the synergy that can happen from working in the same place as other people.

It is not only for freelancers, however. Large corporations are also sending their employees to work in co-working spaces. For instance, Google is successfully enjoying the co-working formula, and freelance workers and corporates share the same workspace in its London Campus.

Other firms such as PwC and AT&T are using co-working spaces to support business collaborations. They are also offering their employees the opportunity to to carry out their daily tasks in a location that suits them — either at the office, in a co-working space, or from home.

A great example of this is Second Home in London

Second Home launched in 2014 at a site just off Brick Lane, in east London, and quickly became the coolest spot for young businesses in the British capital.

It attracts both start-ups and FTSE 100 companies. The business, which sells office space, set itself apart in a crowded market by actively building connections between its members and fostering a strong sense of community.

It has also attempted to distinguish itself from the co-working market. Its receptionists were told not to call Second Home a ‘co-working space’, which is how competitor WeWork describes itself. The impressive events programme make it as much a casual members’ club as a space for hard work.

It also cultivates a more casual aesthetic. The founder didn’t want any more powder coated Pret a Manger of workspace aesthetic. So, it flies in the face of other co-working spaces. The walls are plastic. The fit out £160 per Cat B, which is kind of amazing. The amazing thing about it is it’s not BCO complaint… it’s raw. It’s unfinished.

There are now a string of Second Homes in London. Many of these also offer temporary accommodation and childcare facilities for greater convenience.

Each co-working space offers a different flavour of community. It is branded to reflect the values and ambitions of this community, and individuals and corporates opt in or out of being part of it. Some co-working spaces are highly selective…

Then there is rent on demand

In the office sub-sector, WeWork, Regus, Desk Near Me and LiquidSpace, lease office spaces on demand, fostering flexibility. Other similar versions include: ZipCube that - similar to Airbnb - leases unused spaces in people’s homes.

I heard a great story from the CEO of ZipCube, who had been contacted by a well-known law firm, because they were looking for a desk for one of its employees. This was a lady who had a two hour commute to central London everyday. It was in the interests of the law firm to find her a desk nearer to where she lived, close to her daughters school, and this saved her and the company two hours commuting time. This is time in which she could be working, and if course, also charging client fees.

As you can see, co-working spaces — and similar rent on demand options — brings huge benefits to corporates, in the following ways:

  1. Rent on demand brings increased flexibility for companies… and also cost-savings
  2. Co-location leads to creativity and innovation… and enables a company to remain competitive
  3. Access to a community provides individuals with emotional and intellectual support… and opportunities for life-long learning
  4. Accessibility means that individuals can balance work/life… which enhances productivity

These are all good for the individual and the corporation.

But we shouldn’t think that co-working is totally perfect.

What individuals and corporates get is community, but co-working spaces can be challenging working environments.

  1. How much work gets done? Most of the co-working spaces have a high proportion of shared space for networking, collaborating and socialising — such as reception areas and lobbies. This is great for collaborative work but it is not so good for focused work. Offices are still a crucial amenity; co-working is only part of the palette of place.
  2. How comfortable are they? Co-working spaces are designed to a lower spec which means noise travels. Indeed, the fit out for Second Home was £160 per Cat B, which is kind of amazing. Needless to say, the space is less ergonomic, the furniture is less comfortable. It is a great temporary measure but not a permanent solution.
  3. Who are they for? Co-working spaces are great for a team of 15 or so, but they can be too small once a company starts to grow beyond that number. There is no shortage of start-up spaces… What you cannot currently do is ‘grow up’. There should be individual offices so that you can close the door and grow your business into them.

The benefits of working the corporate office are clear

  1. Culture: There is well defined corporate culture that provides individuals with clear guidance on the values and approach of their company;
  2. Function: There is dedicated support team, and spaces and amenities are tailored to the needs of the corporate group. There is often a wider range of spaces to choose from within an office — such as a cafe, gym, etc. Staff can access these at a reduced membership cost;
  3. Community: Individuals can benefit from the support of colleagues working on different projects, or in other teams. By working in the same office, individuals benefit from personal communication. This improves the quality of their outputs, which are more tailored to the task; and
  4. Design: Finally, offices are designed to a higher spec for enhanced wellness and productivity.

What can corporates learn from co-working spaces?

  1. Role: Co-working spaces offer a better work/life balance, and access to wider range of support — such as accommodation and child-care. People can bring their ‘whole person; to work;
  2. Function: Co-working spaces have a sense of informality, and provide social spaces for networking and innovating — which is not considered as ‘lost’ but productive space. This might even be as much as 30% of the floorspace;
  3. Design: Co-working spaces have offer greater efficiencies, and money is spent (i.e. digital infrastructure) and saved (i.e. lobbies as dining or exhibition or workspaces) where it counts. Co-working spaces are designed to be multifunctional, and timetabling and booking options means space is used more effectively and efficiently.
  4. Culture: Co-working spaces promote the rhythm of work. Rhythm is important part of working. In co-working spaces, everyone is on the same clock: 4pm tea and cake; Wednesday beers; Friday lunch; Christmas parties etc. This is an important aspect of team-building.

What’s next for corporate offices?

How we work and use commercial space will change to meet the insatiable demands of flexibility, service, and culture that co-working users have come to expect, and which co-working spaces have pioneered over the last twelve years.

  1. Corporate host co-working spaces: There is a need for short term rental space for small companies that cannot yet afford or commit to a large office space. Opportunities: There are opportunities for corporates here, and the ground floor of a large office could be turned into a co-working space. Benefits: This is a way to attract talent, and encourage individuals to mix with others in other businesses — which leads to creativity and innovation.
  2. Corporates create innovation hubs: There is a need for offices that are more than simply a workspace, but innovation hubs. Opportunities: There are opportunities for corporates to potentially develop industry partnerships, and work with education institutions and other organisations to develop a different kind of place for staff. Benefits: It provides individuals with convenient access to ideas — which leads to personal and professional development.

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