Part of a series designed to sort through coworking, teleworking, virtual offices and other touchdown workspace options available to mobile workers.
Coworking places came out of nowhere about 5 years ago in the San Francisco Bay Area. They host local communities of freelancers with a workplace environment that is affordable and designed to maximize social and networking opportunities.
Today there are close to 1,000 coworking locations worldwide. Coworking providers constitute the most informal segment of a workspace-as-a-service industry which also includes, on the most professional end of the spectrum, office business centers, with an estimated 9,000 providers around the globe according to John Jordan, President of the Global Workspace Association.
Coworking is a response to a social need by independent workers who find that “working alone sucks”. In an ideal way, coworking is about bringing the workspace and a loosely coupled business community into the “third place”, i.e. that place that is not home, is not the dedicated workplace, but that can be a multifaceted place in-between, preferably located at the center of a re-enacted village in an urban environment, a short walk away from home.
The success of coworking is a reflection of increasingly loose boundaries between business and personal lives. People want to work where they play, play where they work, and above all, do this within the context of a community they chose to be part of. Substitute “study” for “work” and we are talking about college sororities and fraternities. Not a terribly new concept after all!
But the question is whether this model, which works well for freelancers, has any application to enterprise users in their company workplace management mix.
Let’s explore the relevance of some of the benefits of coworking in an enterprise context:
Human beings are social beings and like to feel part of a community of folks with shared interests. This is true in our business as well as our personal lives. At the same time, enterprise users are by definition part of the community formed by their company. Who they work for helps define them. When that company culture no longer works, they leave. Thus, the community aspect of the coworking value proposition carries a relatively lower utility for enterprise workers who are a good fit for their company culture.
To their credit, many companies do make valuable efforts to bring the center of the village into the corporate campus, by deploying noisy lounges, on-site restaurants, and by encouraging on-site non-work related activities. Monday morning Fantasy Football conversations by the water cooler have similar social utility.
Whereas Enterprise workers are increasingly mobile, the corporate campus is not. Yet mobile workers still need to access an office infrastructure with collaborative space and meeting rooms. Coworking places are an option, but when road warriors need to focus their energy on a stressful customer presentation, the last thing they need is a spontaneous beer bust breaking out in their space. This is a time when the functional aspect of a touchdown space, in a highly professional and controlled environment, becomes more important than its social aspect. In that respect, virtual office solutions offered by on-demand workplace providers such as CloudVO are more adapted to the needs of enterprise mobile workers.
At a recent Corenet Global summit in Atlanta, Joe Ouye with New Ways of Working, pointed out the enormous value of the serendipity which takes place in the corporate campus where people bump into each other every day. New ideas or unexpected solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems can emerge through unplanned and unstructured conversations. While this is true, another kind of serendipity can be found in coworking places, stemming from exposure to different business and life experiences. The sparks of creativity can be more abundant, and the learning richer, when people meet folks that come from vastly different backgrounds in a high energy coworking environment like at NextSpace. This might be especially beneficial for folks in outward-facing functions such as sales, marketing, or customer service, but also helpful to internal functions that benefits from external learning and out-of-the box thinking such as R&D and some engineering functions.
Virtual Office plans that include access to hours of day offices and conference rooms with providers of on-demand workplaces such as CloudVO can be purchased for $200 to $300 per month in many locations. This is clearly an inexpensive way to supplement a work-from-home program, possibly eliminate un-necessary dedicated offices altogether, and give remote workers access to a professional space where they can bump into other professionals at the coffee bar. Day pass access to a hot desk in an office business center or a coworking place can be as low as $20, or less, and a significant step up from working at Starbucks. An increasing number of companies are eliminating expensive satellite offices, while supplementing telework with virtual office subscriptions as part of a plan to reduce portfolio-wide occupancy costs. When a dedicated office is needed for a small group of remote workers, a no-term lease solution like those offered by the Preferred Office Network helps eliminate the long term and costly nature of traditional occupancy decisions.
Corporate Real Estate managers would be well served to keep a keen eye on what is going on in the world of coworking. The coworking popularity is a sign of changing priorities and changing values in the workforce, where social considerations, flexibility, and work/life balance becomes increasingly more important. At the same time, enterprise road warriors may be better served accessing virtual offices or touchdown space in a more controlled and professional environment, where the level of amenities and privacy carry a higher level of utility than the highly social and informal nature of coworking places.
How to identify these workspace choices and book them real-time while on the road will be the topic of a forthcoming article which will feature the Liquidspace app and services available to corporate real estate organizations to optimize their options with workspace-as-a-service providers.