If so, should they be? Would the word still apply to our fellow employees at a job, regardless of office setting? Did the pioneers of the coworking revolution consider this dilemma during the naming process? (Was that the whole point?) And how can we know the difference when the word is used in a casual conversation?
Fittingly, as this terminology grows more pliant, so does the universal idea of an “office.” The origin story of coworking spaces may be as a haven for weary freelancers and other lone-wolf workers: a place to mingle, dress down and get their best work done on drastically different projects. But soon, entire companies caught wind of the cool vibes, migrating select groups or whole staffs to the nearest collective.
Can you blame them? The office of yore is a bore. Cubicles, water coolers and unadorned, off-white walls are yesterday’s news — a dust-caked Atari next to the Nintendo Switch that the neighbors are playing. In a world where both exist, the former grows irreparably dated. And according to Harvard Business Review, they aren’t just cool, but highly conducive to success.
Coworking Space Benefits
So, coworkers became coworking coworkers (in other words, coworkers and coworkers, simultaneously). And the figurative ceiling for these spaces with frequently high ceilings became exceedingly high. Approximately 1.2 million people will use a coworking space in 2017, and the number of worldwide spaces is on track to nearly double from 13,800 to 26,000 by 2020. With that, the member base — from solopreneurs to startups to established companies — is becoming just as diverse as the artwork and furniture choices from one space to another.
A major factor in this growth is the ever-shifting and expanding definition of “coworking space.” What perhaps began as a big room with excess power outlets and coffee now can mean multitudinous things. The label of “coworking” today is a toy box about to burst; an increasing number of kindred organizations are inventing new terms on the fly to describe their services and stick out in the crowded field. But proponents know that these terms are secondary to the consistent core values: rewriting the rules on how people get work done, providing endless networking opportunities and empowering professionals to be themselves in the process.
“The days of when every employee has to get up every morning and make a long commute to a centralized office are over,” believes John Arenas, founder and CEO of Serendipity Labs, a coworking provider with locations across the United States. “Whether it’s being home for family commitments or participating more fully in the community, the workforce wants flexibility.”
“There is now a continuum of flexible coworking workplaces” Arenas adds, “Just like there is a hotel for every need and taste.”
The Coworking Boom
That is indeed meowing you hear — the cat is out of the bag in regards to coworking, and there’s no going back at this point. Many traditional companies are either transforming their operations with cues from the industry (i.e. fresh designs, looser policies) or slowly trickling into shared offices to take advantage of all there is to offer and cut down on costs. Global powerhouses such as WeWork, with nearly 200 spaces across 13 countries and counting, are greeting this demand with a strong emphasis on private office offerings. Some locations feature private office solutions for as many as 100 employees.
“Enterprise companies are actually our fastest growing member segment,” says Hillary Klein, WeWork representative. “We are increasingly working with established companies who want to offer their current employees new options, want to appeal to new talent, or see new space as one method to help teams develop new ideas.”
As of June 2017, the company boasts more than 120,000 global members, up from 80,000 last December and 40,000 the December before. Some of the community’s enterprise members include Microsoft, Salesforce, Pinterest and Samsung.
The Evolution of Shared Spaces
Starting in 2016, WeWork took things one step further with WeLive, an urban housing concept in the same mold of “sharing equals caring,” where most of the essentials are provided and residents have a rotating roster of cohabitants.
Co-living, as it were. Not surprisingly, the concept is spreading among open-minded individuals, and a variety of businesses are following suit with similar concepts.
“WeLive is a key part of a long-term vision to provide everything our members need to focus on their passions and live more fulfilling lives,” says Klein. “WeLive membership is distinct from WeWork membership — people can choose what is most meaningful to them on a month-to-month basis. WeLive members have access to WeWork’s global community, plus we offer an app to book cleanings and meet neighbors, along with building services like laundry, 24/7 security and a community manager in the building.”
“Moving into WeLive is the easiest thing you’ll ever do,” according to Jake DeCicco, a 23-year-old WeLive resident in Crystal City, Va., in an interview with the Washingtonian. “You don’t have to bring anything except your clothes.”
Meanwhile, back at work, up-and-coming brands are shaping the clay in new and different ways to fill holes and build bridges in the business landscape. Businesses like The Wing and One Roof provide female-only work environments and networking. Port Kitchens offers a self-described “coworking kitchen” in Oakland for aspiring chefs and restaurateurs. There are also shared workspaces designed for game developers, dog owners, energy-focused companies, lawyers — even cannabis growers.
(The pot thickens...)
Old hat paradigms left and right are experiencing a full-force facelift. Yet no group is feeling the reverberations more than computer-centric professionals: web developers, writers, graphic designers and the untold millions of office personnel who sling emails, presentations and spreadsheets on a daily basis. According to Deskmag, nearly one-third of coworking members are in IT.
Coworking is not the first place where people could pound away at laptop keys; coffee shops, park benches and the like — not to mention the couch at home — are time-tested and still do the trick. But these innovative hubs are giving remote individuals something far more elusive than just a location: Inspiration.
An abundance of thought goes into the creation of these spaces; that no two look alike or follow an exact model is the essence of what makes them succeed. A visitor never quite knows who they’ll meet or what they’ll see. But there most certainly will be meeting and seeing. And for someone glued to their screen 10 hours a day, this sort of stimulation helps oil the mental gears in a way that the apartment or office desk can’t. More than 75 percent of coworkers (that is, people who cowork) feel that interaction with others and a feeling of community are top reasons they keep coming back. Approximately 70 percent of WeWork members have collaborated with fellow members in some way, and 50 percent have done business together, according to internal data.
“I’ve witnessed real benefits from the serendipitous interactions that occur when members network with each other in terms of new business opportunities, mentoring, and exposure to professions and points of view outside of their own expertise,” says Arenas. “I really enjoy getting to know our members and have learned from each one of them.”
It also doesn’t hurt that members are paying to be there. An active and alternative environment is well worth a significant dollar amount for many who would otherwise be shuttered in their homes and cut off from others. Plenty feel that even bars or restaurants are beneficial to their work. And wouldn’t you know it, bars and restaurants have no problem charging people just to sit down and access the wifi. A number of service industry establishments are starting to promote this option to wandering workers, and sites like Spacious.com are helping with the legwork, curating makeshift workplaces at restaurants during off-hours.
This may be a stretch from the original sketch of what defines a “coworking space,” but the concept is bigger than buzzwords. People across the globe are woke to the idea that work can be done anywhere — even retail — and that each day is a new opportunity to create and be part of a constructive, creative community. It’s a beautiful thing.
So, you can cowork in a bar, you can cowork in Qatar. You can cowork where you read, or cowork growing weed. There are so many faces to coworking spaces and there’s no way to know which will stay and will go. But if you or your crew are due for a change, view spaces near you with some help from G2. (Whatever you do, please leave a review.)