Coworking office spaces transcend industries. While the metaverse is uniting multiple universes virtually, coworking spaces can achieve that in the physical dimension.
2019 was the year coworking office spaces were at their peak. But the graph took a sharp turn in the first year of the pandemic. Everyone was working from home. Now, workers have gradually gotten comfortable in this set up. Does that signal the end of coworking spaces? Were these fancy contemporary offices for the freelancers and start-ups just a passing trend? Reports state otherwise.
At their core, coworking space companies are commercial real estate projects that provide flexible office spaces. Like the entire real estate and AEC industry, coworking spaces have seen their share of ups and downs in the last two decade. But they are gradually on the rise again. The way the business trends are moving, we believe that coworking spaces will succeed in 2022 and beyond.
Let’s look at the factors that are aiding their revival and what designers need to be mindful of while reimagining such spaces.
Coworking spaces: A brief history
The term “coworking” was coined by Bernard DeKoven to refer to a collaborative and non-hierarchical way of working. What began as a hackerspace in Berlin in 1995 for computer enthusiasts to collaborate, share their equipment and knowledge in, coworking office spaces have become a global phenomenon.
Much like the coffeeshops of 17th century Europe, which served as the hub for intellectuals to meet, converse and share their brilliant ideas in, coworking office spaces were aimed at entrepreneurs, professionals, and consultants to meet like-minded people in and to spark off creativity. The historical coffeeshops were like clubs which had been the catalysts for social movements like the Enlightenment and French Revolution. It isn’t surprising then the first proper coworking space was started in a San Francisco feminist club in 2005. On the anniversary of this coworking space launched by Brad Neuberg, August 9th is celebrated as Coworking Day.
By 2011, the potential of coworking spaces was discovered and Next Space became the first coworking space company to receive funding from angel investors. Since then, many big and small companies have sprouted all over the world, some offering ‘coworking visas’. Even with its failed public IPO in 2019 (which saw a turnaround in 2021), WeWork remains the most popular coworking space with its presence in 121 cities in the world.
Benefits of coworking: Statistics and trends
Based on a study by Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom, due to the pandemic, 42% of the U.S. labor force is now working from home full-time; 33% are not working, a testament to the savage impact of the lockdown recession; the remaining 26%, mostly essential service workers, are working on their business premises.
Although many companies are asking their employees to return to the office, workers are reluctant. A survey by Metova found that 48% employees say they are more productive working from home, 57% would prefer to work from home in the future and 68% have other workers or students also working in their household.
This has been one of the major factors in the great resignation. The workforce which has moved away from bigger cities do not want to return to the hustle and the stressful life. They are looking for companies that will not force them back to office. And to retain their best assets, their talent, companies will have to offer a remote work setup or a hybrid office space post pandemic. Coworking office spaces can capitalize on this tug-of-war.
Coworking spaces offer the best of both worlds
Companies can opt for an organization-wide membership which can be availed in any city that the partner coworking space is located in. These coworking office spaces will act as a much-needed respite from working at home, especially for people living in small apartments with other family members including children.
Additionally, the value proposition of a coworking space is appealing for organizations trying to work around the uncertainty of a more dispersed workforce spending most of their days at home. A company can save approximately 30% on the operational cost by allowing employees to work from a coworking space.
Coworking spaces were the fastest-growing type of office space in commercial real estate before the pandemic hit. While they currently comprise less than 5% of the market, they’re expected to make up 30% by 2030 as per the real estate company JLL.
According to a report by CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate space provider, about 86% companies amongst the top 80 companies surveyed across the globe, plan to use flexible office spaces as a key part of their real estate strategies in the future.
What the major players need to focus on:
- Freelancer needs:
Apart from the basic technological and logistical support, the real estate companies who develop and manage these properties can differentiate their services by adding day-care facilities for working parents. Designing packages which make it flexible for freelancers and small teams to utilize the space to their convenience will be the key.
- Corporate demand and packages:
Companies need better schemes to retain talent, and if coworking office spaces provide the perks that companies used to offer on site at these spaces, employees will continue to work for the organizations from the cities of their choice too.
- Enhancing assets:
Before spreading their wings to new destinations, existing spaces can be enhanced to provide for the current market situation and needs. From gyms, open spaces, pantries, multiple charging and workstations, the possibilities are endless.
- Geographic reach:
The next step would then automatically be increasing the locations. Here strategy is key. Tying up with smaller spaces in some locations, while opting for bigger spaces in others, it will be essential to maintain the standards everywhere. The Starbucks model can be used as a case study here.
Ecologically sound and zero-carbon processes need to be adopted by all businesses and coworking companies can lead the way. These are economical and just what the world requires.
- Technological transformation:
Biometrics, virtual reality, blockchain and AI are all entering mainstream. Coworking spaces will have to provide facilities that allow for advanced technologies to attract the right clientele.
- Networking opportunities:
More than anything, remote workers will come to coworking spaces to interact with people and feel the buzz of human presence, which the pandemic has harshly snatched from us. Designing flexible office spaces which promote interaction and networking will increase the popularity of these spaces with people. Events can also be organized at these spaces to encourage the sense of community.
- Health and sanitization facilities:
This is a no-brainer as the pandemic has made it abundantly clear that health comes over anything else. Providing deep cleaning services and access to cleaning products, washing areas, and other sanitization facilities will be a must.
Companies will only be willing to invest in coworking partnerships if they are guaranteed security of the data being accessed by their employees. Working on enhancing cybersecurity protocols and safeguards will save the coworking space companies legal hassles in the future.
What remote workers miss at home is the human touch. Even with back office work being outsourced, and advanced technology and automated services being integrated, having the right personnel and community managers at the coworking spaces will set the best spaces apart from the rest.
How to design coworking office spaces for the future
The above-mentioned factors set the stage for designers to revamp flexible office spaces to accommodate the coming times.
It is an opportunity to innovate and generate varied, flexible design options customized to client needs. Traditional office designs will not do for coworking office spaces post pandemic.
Coworking spaces everywhere have become accustomed to operating with safety protocols in place and are tasked to increase safety at work, such as social distancing, air filtration, enhanced cleaning & hygiene maintenance, etc. To avoid the transmission of germs at workspaces, co-working companies have enabled comprehensive contactless technology and robotic technology that has attracted clients. However, what needs to be enhanced is the design that promotes the feeling of community and safety.
The traditional desk will likely be non-existent in the coming years with wearable technology, artificial intelligence, machine learning taking over co-working spaces. Smart access, meeting rooms and receptions have already forayed enabling cloud-based access systems, facial recognition, and real-time security monitoring.
The pandemic has evolved coworking players to integrate remote working and enterprise solutions. They need to turn into fully integrated workspace solution platforms – from curating unique experiences and engagements to providing state-of-the-art amenities like gyms and creches.
Customized office space solutions will be in demand and agility in matching up to the client demands’ is the need of the hour. The focus will be to foster an occupant focused community, determined to win in these trying times.
This means that if a coworking office space can fulfil multiple needs viz., socializing, learning and development, conferencing, mentoring and collaboration, it can work in everyone’s favour. Coworking spaces are here to stay, and this industry will grow disruptively in 2022 and beyond.
Our designers have worked from home, and at traditional offices, coworking spaces and on-site. This diverse experience puts them in the position to predict the needs of commercial space users and customize design solutions.
Written with inputs by Nikita Sahu