With the shift to a hybrid workforce, office and facility managers can reimagine the entire concept of the office, from leasing options to overall space planning. Coworking spaces, including all their pros and cons, can help you deliver flexible solutions for a fluid workforce.
It’s easy to point out the trend, but harder to answer these two critical questions: Why is coworking space important? And what impact could coworking space have as the workforce continues to change?
In some ways, it’s simple: When companies implement the remote work options that many employees love, they’re often finding it harder to foster the opportunities for collaboration and networking and even just general social human interaction that comes with traditional offices. Coworking spaces offer the connections of a traditional office without the behind-the-scenes rigidity. In the future, they’ll continue to be a workable alternative, for some, to the traditional office.
But there are both benefits and drawbacks to coworking space, so, it might not be the right solution for every situation, including yours.
What is coworking space?
Likely the easiest way to create a definition for coworking spaces is to look at how they are different from traditional offices, where everyone works for the same company, in rigidly defined spaces, with access to a set of amenities that support both business goals and social interaction.
People in coworking spaces
In a traditional office, you’re sharing space with other employees, including those from other departments. In a coworking space, though, you’re sharing space with employees from other companies. In some cases, you’re working independently while in others it’s collaboratively with fellow employees. In either case, there are people there from other organizations, also working solo or in groups.
Space planning in coworking spaces
Many traditional offices look like military bases, where rank determines the size and location of your spot. While employees in more junior positions might be +tucked into smaller desks together, the C-suite has the bigger, nicer corner offices, with views that help them keep an eye on employees.
But in a coworking space, there’s a looser mix of desks and meeting rooms, and where you sit and work can change from day to day. Because you’re not there on a fixed schedule, you have more flexibility in terms of location.
Amenities in coworking spaces
It’s here where coworking places are likely the closest to traditional offices. There are all the things that make work possible and more efficient, from Internet access to the copy machines, plus a place for snacks and coffee.
Behind the scenes, there are other differences, with the most important being how coworking takes the most important and expensive business cost—the workplace—and turns it into a service. And now that space is being sold as a service, office and facility managers have a lot more flexibility, securing only the space they need and only when they need it.
But to get the most from this alternative, it’s important to understand both the benefits and drawbacks of coworking spaces.
What are the pros and cons of coworking space?
Every office has separate sets of stakeholders, the company and its employees, and coworking space holds pros and cons for both.
Benefits of coworking space
For companies, it’s about saving on costs while still being able to provide the space and experience employees need to do their best work. Coworking space:
- Removes the risks that come with large, long leases on office space
- Improves collaboration between teams and across departments for mobile workers
- Frees organizations from both long- and short-term facility maintenance
- Allows a lot of fast flexibility for scaling the workforce up or down
For employees, it’s about having the freedom to work in ways that are best for every individual. Coworking space:
- Allows employees to work remotely in a amenities-filled professional setting
- Provides different space types, from individual workstations to group spaces
- Accommodates almost all work hours so employees have more options than 9 to 5
But just like any work solution, it’s not perfect.
Drawbacks of coworking space
Most of the drawbacks that come with coworking options are related to the openness of the space. When you have a diversity of people working in an equally diverse space, you get distractions. Moreover, there’s a general lack of hierarchy and order, which takes some getting used to for both companies and employees.
The drawbacks of coworking spaces can include:
- Lack of permanence and dedicated personal space for traditional employees
- Lack of privacy and excess of noise and distractions can be hard to cope with
- Desk availability isn’t always guaranteed (even with reservations)
- Cost prohibitive to companies with rapidly growing space needs
The good news is that many of coworking spaces’ possible downsides have workarounds that simply require new habits in the office.
For the first one on the list, it’s true that not having a desk you can always call your own, decorated with family pictures and a few small plants, can feel like a problem for some. When you always have your own desk, you never have to worry about accidentally leaving your laptop charging cable at home, for example. And when you leave at the end of the day, you can drop your paperwork into the desk drawer, knowing you’ll find it there the next day.
How do coworking spaces affect employee experience?
These are overall small things, but they do affect overall employee experience. The good news is they’re also the kinds of problems you can solve by simply double-checking whether you’re showing up and leaving with all the things you need to work. It’s an extra two minutes at the start and end of the day.
In terms of the perceived lack of privacy and concerns about noise and disruptions, those are issues employees already deal with in traditional offices. Instead of seeing coworking spaces as creating these problems, you can think of them as offering possible solutions by making different types of workstations available, from desks in cubicles to private offices. If someone wants the social aspect that comes with working in an open space, they can book a desk there. If they work better in quieter spaces, they can reserve a desk tucked into a corner.
For companies trying to accommodate rapid growth, coworking spaces are likely not a good long-term, fixed solution. If you know you’re bringing in X number of new employees who are always going to need desks five days a week, you’re probably going to need to look at dedicated space and a long-term lease.
The key is finding the solution that best meets your current and long-term situation. In the past, the traditional office was usually the best answer, which was great because it was also often the only answer. But as the workforce changes, it’s important to have more options.
When you get down to brass tacks, is coworking space a good idea?
After balancing the pros and cons, are coworking spaces worth it? As demand for flexible work environments grows, commercial real estate costs rise, and employees enter the remote workforce, coworking becomes even more important, with many companies seeing them as an invaluable part of their business strategy.
The benefits of coworking add up to something pivotal for the world’s workforce. It’s an opportunity to reinvent the workplace, giving workers the stability of a traditional work environment, and the flexibility inherent to remote work. It’s quickly becoming the new standard.
Work is becoming something without borders or barriers. People work in shifts that can start and stop around the clock, any day of the week. And there’s a growing category of employees that can work from anywhere. Coworking supports workers, everywhere. If they can work remotely, they benefit from coworking; and so do the businesses they work for.
The space-as-a-service model changes the way companies function, too. By taking the most expensive element of work and turning it into a service, coworking companies maximize the value of physical workspace. Companies stop spending time worrying about how to arrange desks or what their space optimization is. Coworking does it all for them, leaving companies free to focus on investing in their people, instead of space.
Coworking space’s biggest benefit is how it creates flexibility
If there’s one trait prided above all in the workforce today, it’s adaptability. Being flexible in how, where, and when work gets done, without compromising on the quality and efficacy of that work, is invaluable to companies. Coworking spaces enable this flexibility, allowing more of the workforce to be adaptable to changing demands. Instead of a traditional workplace, companies are realizing how vital coworking is in enabling their employees. It’s hard to overstate the importance of coworking in the shift to a more remote, autonomous workforce.