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Should You Be in a Coworking Space?

Coworking spaces were once the domain of freelancers and independent consultants who wanted a professional alternative to working from home. In the last few years, these flexible shared spaces have experienced broadened popularity and are now attracting a variety of businesses, from startups to global brands. What are coworking spaces, and why are they inspiring a new way of working?

The number of coworking spaces popping up worldwide has tripled over the past 5 years, from 8,900 spaces in 2015 to an estimated 26,300 in 2020. It’s possible to reduce costs and boost employee productivity by moving away from a traditional workplace, but there are also trade-offs. Let’s look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of coworking spaces to see if this environment makes business sense for you.

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What are coworking spaces?

Coworking spaces provide shared office services to individuals and businesses and are operated by a third-party. They give users the flexibility of working in an office environment on an as-needed basis without the commitment of a commercial lease. Workspace sharing is particularly popular in large cities with high real estate costs and a concentration of digital and creative businesses, according to Statista.

Coworking spaces are ready to use and are typically furnished with furniture, meeting rooms, wireless networks, printers, photocopiers and other office amenities. Reception staff are usually available to greet visitors and accept deliveries.

Most spaces have an open plan with workstations to create a vibrant energy. People can work collaboratively or independently, depending on their needs. Although some facilities offer the option of private offices or suites, most users prefer the open layout, including startups and larger businesses.

Who uses coworking spaces?

There were 542,000 people making use of shared workspaces in the United States in 2017. This number is expected to top 1.08 million by 2022, with the largest number of users in Manhattan.

Freelancers are no longer the main users of workspace sharing. A study by Coworking Insights found that this segment makes up just under one-fifth of users. Here’s how the user groups break down:

  • Small and medium-sized businesses: 38%
  • Startup teams: 27%
  • Freelancers and digital nomads: 19%
  • Remote workers (entrepreneurs and corporate employees): 13%

1. Freelancers and digital nomads

You can easily work from home or a coffee shop if you have a job that requires only a computer and internet connection, such as writing, graphic design or website development. However, some people find their productivity is affected unless they’re in a structured environment that’s exclusively for work. Coworking spaces make independent workers feel less isolated and can boost productivity. They’re also ideal for part-time or occasional use.

2. Remote workers and distributed teams

Businesses are turning to shared workspaces to give remote workers a place to do their jobs outside of their homes. A membership at a nearby coworking space provides the proper tools and infrastructure, and helps employees feel valued. It can also be used to create a satellite office if there are multiple employees in a geographic location.

3. Start-ups

Entrepreneurs and start-ups trying to get their business off the ground can skip the initial investment of a traditional office by using shared workspace. This lets you get started immediately with as much space as you need and scale as your business grows.

4. Project teams

Teams working on a finite project thrive in a dedicated workspace, especially if they’re usually working in different departments. A coworking space lets you easily bring on external consultants, freelancers and other team members.

5. Corporations and global brands

What are coworking spaces like for brands such as Microsoft, Samsung or Barclays? Large corporations are finding that these environments spark new ways of thinking and collaboration and give people a sense of identity and connection beyond their employer.

Employee engagement is essential for any business that wants to keep talent, particularly younger workers who are drawn away from traditional offices to the more social atmosphere of workspace sharing.

6. Traveling employees

Coworking spaces with multiple locations usually offer members access to any of their facilities. If you have employees who travel, consider opting for a coworking space with worldwide locations so your staff can easily work on the road. This type of setup also offers a quick way to expand into other markets.

Advantages of coworking spaces

Depending on your business model, a coworking space can be a good fit. Here are some of the reasons shared workspaces are growing in popularity.

1. Location

Most coworking spaces are in an easily accessible, central location and can put you in the heart of a city without high real estate costs.

2. Amenities

You may have access to perks such as a kitchen, cafeteria, lounge and fitness center. These amenities can boost employee satisfaction and create an environment that makes it easier for you to attract talent.

3. Cost savings

The financial benefit of a coworking space depends on where you’re located and the type of membership you buy, but in many cases you come out ahead because of reduced capital costs. You don’t need to commit to a lease, purchase furnishings and office equipment, pay utility bills, hire cleaning staff or provide ongoing maintenance.

4. Agility

A commercial lease commits you to a space whether you outgrow it or downsize. Coworking spaces offer scalability and let you adjust your membership to your requirements. It’s easy to add new employees as you need them.

5. Networking

What are coworking spaces for if not to socialize? Many shared workspaces offer regular opportunities to grow your contacts through seminars, workshops and social gatherings. You can nurture professional relationships with a diversity of colleagues and potential partners.

Workspace sharing also gives you a built-in network. You can call on the graphic designer or software engineer next to you when you’re sourcing help on projects. They may also have you top of mind when they’re asked for recommendations of professionals in your field.

Disadvantages of coworking spaces

Sharing a workspace can also bring its share of challenges. Here are a few things to consider before signing up for your membership.

1. Noise and distractions

During peak hours, the noise and activity level can increase in a shared space, making it hard to concentrate if you’re doing detailed work or are on the phone trying to solve a problem.

2. Lack of branding

Shared space means you don’t have external signage to increase the visibility of your business or opportunities to place your logo, branding and colors inside your workspace.

3. Availability of amenities

If you have a last-minute meeting or need to gather your team members to tackle an urgent issue, you may not have access to conference rooms or common areas if they’re already in use.

4. Hours of access

Check the hours of operation of the coworking space. If you’re a freelancer who spends your days outdoors and works at night, or you have a startup team putting in long hours, make sure the space is accessible when you plan to be working.

5. Privacy and security

A shared workspace is exactly that: If you’re sitting in an open area, others can see what you’re doing and hear your conversations. Check that there are phone booths or conference rooms if you need privacy.

You’re also relying on the coworking space’s shared wireless network, so be sure to take precautions to keep your business information secure.

6. Who you share space with

As a member of a coworking space, you don’t have a say on who’s working alongside you. Be prepared to deal with different personalities and work styles.

Frequently asked questions about coworking spaces

1. How does a coworking space work?

Coworking spaces usually offer monthly or annual memberships. The cost depends on the type of space you want. For example, choose a dedicated desk if you want a space that’s always available to you. A floating desk is less expensive, but you must work wherever you find room. Teams or groups of employees can choose a private office or suite with access to shared amenities.

2. What is a coworking space equipped with?

A coworking space should have the basic infrastructure you need to do your job, including:

  • Staffed reception desk
  • Courier/package receiving
  • Work nooks and offices
  • Wireless network
  • Phone booths for private calls
  • Audiovisual equipment
  • Conference rooms
  • Printer
  • Photocopier

You and your employees may also appreciate amenities that make your day more comfortable, such as:

  • Cafeteria or kitchen
  • Lounge area
  • Fitness center
  • Terrace or outdoor space
  • Around-the-clock access

3. Is a coworking space worth it?

It’s estimated that workspace sharing can result in savings of 25% when compared to commercial leasing.

Aside from potential financial benefits, there are the intangibles of being in a dynamic shared environment. When employees are in a collaborative, social space that appeals to them—a place they want to be in—their productivity and job satisfaction can increase significantly.

Coworking spaces appeal to users for different reasons. Whether it’s the right environment for your company depends on your needs, budget and workplace culture. Consider evaluating the environment your business is currently in, including factors that directly and indirectly affect your work, before deciding if a coworking space is right for you.

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