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Coworking for organizations is the new normal

June 15, 2021

Sorry. The phrase "the new normal" was already quite annoying 6 months ago, and pretty much unforgivable at this stage, but we beg your indulgence nonetheless. Surely we can use it once? Coworking seems like a pretty good topic to justify dusting off the expression, because as we emerge from the pandemic, it is clear and plain that the way we work is fundamentally altered.We are not talking about the liquid workers and the digital nomads, but the 9 to 5 office workers who suddenly had to work from ergonomic chairs in their laundry room at home, and are perhaps still wondering what on earth happened.This does not feel like a temporary aberration: something has shifted. Offices are indeed opening back up in many countries, but not all employees want to return. It is not just the city workers in traditional white-collar roles, who do not all want to go back to their office desks, but also employees of Google and Apple who would prefer to be home than in the office treehouse or nap pod. While workers who want to be 100% remote are growing fast in number, the surprising statistic is that 82% of employees in the US want to work from home at least one day per week. No commute, more flexibility, interruptions and meetings- all may be good reasons to be more productive and happy at home. 66% of Australians said working from home had brought them closer to their families. Not everyone is happy at home, and work-life balance could be even harder depending on your family situation. For some, the office is a refuge! But one thing is clear: companies are beginning to wonder why they should pay hugely expensive overheads for a property that their employees largely don't want to be in. It is time for coworking to enter the mainstream.

The rise and rebrand of coworking

Enter coworking. No longer a few startup types huddled over desks in urban garages, but gleaming, modern, and aesthetically thoughtful spaces, bursting with diverse networking opportunities and bespoke additional services.For those who veer between office and cafe as their preferred workspace, beautiful concept spaces such as Anticafé in France have a pay-per-hour service that includes access to all coworking facilities, as well as hot and cold drinks served in beautiful surroundings. Anticafé is so successful that they have opened coworking spaces throughout France with a different twist compared to a "normal" coworking. No more nursing that cold cup of coffee to hang on to the coffee shop Wi-Fi a bit longer, as the staff stare at you with an "I know what you're up to" expression.There is an increasing diversity of coworking space, focus, approach, and structure; a sure sign that the market is growing. One very logical and effective approach is to focus the offer on a particular sector or community. Naturally, sectors like tech and design are very appealing, especially when so many of the workers are self-employed, or on liquid contracts that shift with demand. The third sector is an emerging sector of interest to coworking. In Edinburgh, The Melting Pot coworking space is soon to open its doors, with a focus on charities, NGO's and social entrepreneurs. This makes so much sense as collaborative practice is a lifeline in the third sector, where funding is restrictive, and rarely can one organisation operate without partnership. As they say on the website: "The Melting Pot harnesses the power of an unstructured collective – the power to ignite, support and effect social change by connecting resources to people, their ideas, passions and expertise."

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Why do organizations opt for coworking?

It's not necessarily the case that organizations completely ditch the traditional office and buy coworking memberships, but more likely a hybrid model. A staggering 68% of UK businesses already had a flexible workspace policy even before the pandemic! This means that some staff could work in coworking spaces some days if, for example, it was more practical to get to than the office.By having a flexible workspace policy, organizations can lower their carbon footprint, but also cast the hiring net more widely. Having access to a broader geographic pool of potential employees is a huge plus; especially in more competitive markets like software engineers and technical project managers. Costs are of course lower- typically between 20 to 40% cheaper per head. It is not only the square footage you pay for in a traditional office but the maintenance, cleaning, security, and whole host of others that are no longer a concern at a coworking space. Fixed office space is also a financial liability that impacts a companies appeal to investors, whereas coworking space fits neatly in the monthly columns. And you only pay for what you use of course. Agile organizations that need to flex quickly to respond when demand surges, can bring in project teams on a liquid-working approach and house the entire scale up in a coworking space. No renting extra space in the office next door- most spaces allow you huge flexibility of use after the basic package has been paid for.

What's good about coworking for the employees?

Don't really fit in to the office culture? No problem at a coworking space, where a shifting tide of diverse hot-deskers flow in and out. There is always a core of semi-permanent members, but enough movement around the edges that it rarely feels static. In any case, you don't work with most of them, so why worry!Networking, however, is a reason you do indeed want to unfurl those social skills and make connections. In a traditional space, we are cocooned from more transversal opportunities. Try as we might, it is inevitable that in working for one company, we fail to keep our professional network broad and current. In the coffee room is the CEO of that firm you've had your eye on for a while for a potential move, and next week someone is giving a workshop on a topic that really interests you, but which your own company would never justify investing in. Coworking has cross pollination and growth in its DNA. In fact, they have it in their manifesto. Coworking tends to come alongside a more flexible working arrangement in general. The culture of presenteeism holds no sway here so, depending on your role, it is likely that you can come and go when you like, without the stigma of being seen to be working late in the evening, or leaving early when objectives are met. There is simply more control and autonomy.

Universities and coworking spaces as the classrooms of the future

Divergence and diversity are the hallmarks of strong teams for the future, but these need space to converge and collaborate around projects and challenges that are as fluid as they are. Universities with an eye on the future can already see that coworking spaces are ideal places to merge learning and professional development with personal development and networking, and partnerships are the obvious next step.The University of North Carolina has jumped in with both feet, developing a range of partnerships with coworking spaces to support their students' divergent needs. It's not just the space they are looking for, but the ecosystem. Mentoring on university-based startup programmes can come from in-house experts at the coworking space, and access to such a range of thinkers and doers is fertile ground for innovative thinking and big picture approaches right from inception.The days of subject siloes and fortified classroom walls are over. Academia cannot be a bubble, but as a permeable membrane, it can flourish.

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Is coworking for organizations the new normal?

Sorry again. We promise it is the last time. And yes, coworking is the new normal for companies (sorry). The hugely cumbersome system of having employees work in the same place at the same time and in the same way just had to crack sometime. Family responsibilities, work-life balance, office culture (or lack of it), unproductive time without the ability to leave and come back to it refreshed; all of this is just not where the future lies.As climate change gathers pace and we finally, hopefully, get serious about it, how can we really justify the forced commute and the full-scale air conditioning and strip lighting for that one person who stays late in the office? Why would we fail to reinvent our city centres with something that added more vibrancy than the offices clustered around a Starbucks? The "prestige" of an organization is better represented by amazing levels of productivity from happy and engaged employees, than the brass plaque in prime real estate that weighs down your balance sheet year after year.Why would we not embrace the opportunity of diverse teams working in collaboratively in different locations, and the opportunity to hire top talent outside a 25-mile radius? They have to work somewhere, and home is not always an option.Add this to the cross-pollination opportunities in coworking spaces that are targeted at your sector, and you can see why coworking is inescapably a fundamental part of the new normal for organizations, and we're definitely not sorry.

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