14 May 2019 | pacts insight | Views:

Co-working spaces: the future of the office?

We’ve all worked in a truly terrible office. The sort that’s stiflingly hot in summer, and below freezing in winter - ushering in a sea of desk workers huddled in oversized scarves and giant hoodies.

The toilets are frequently filthy or overflowing, the lighting is headache-inducing, there’s barely a kettle as far as facilities go. It’s dire.

Or maybe, to be frank, it was the people you didn’t like. The same faces, day after day. The same mouth-breathing deskmates, or overbearing managers peering at your screen. And then there’s the awkward ritualistic 3pm tea breaks, or compulsory lunch break meetings.

Not every office is like this… but a lot are. So it’s not surprising people look for alternatives.

Co-working spaces: what are they?

Work is changing. Instead of 9-to-5s you endure for 40 years before retiring, more and more people are entering into a more flexible way of earning. Freelancing, consultancy, project work - the gig economy is on the rise.

But all these professional drifters need to do their work somewhere. And while it’s tempting to get on with stuff in your pyjamas in front of Come Dine With Me (cough cough, guilty), that doesn’t work for everyone.

Enter co-working spaces. Rent a desk or office, or pay for access to a co-working ‘lounge’, with all the basic shared facilities included - well-maintained toilets, showers, internet, often 24/7 access and sometimes even coffee on tap.

The rise of co-working spaces

Sound attractive? You’re not alone. There’s expected to be four million co-working space users by 2020, from one million in 2016. And companies are making the most of the considerable demand.

37% of providers are looking to open other locations, WeWork already has 338 locations in 72 cities despite only launching in 2020, and The Office Group has 15,000 members in just London.

In the last year, there was a 10% rise in these spaces in the UK alone. It’s clearly a booming business. But why?

The benefit of co-working spaces for… workers

We’ve touched on the bad bits of traditional office environments, and some of the perks that flexible working environments offer. But there’s several factors at play.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, as we are social creatures, co-working space users rank the proximity to other working people as the biggest benefit - 59% citing the social atmosphere, 56% the interaction with others, and 55% loving the community.

Maybe you’re just escaping the monotony of working from home, or starting a new business - and needing the moral support of other struggling entrepreneurs. Co-working spaces offer a community that allows you to socialise and strategize when you want, and keep yourself to yourself when you don’t.

There are always arguments that it reflects a new mode of working. The limitations of traditional employment - from set working times and fixed holiday dates to stuffy workwear - are being rejected. Not to mention the shakiness of the job market causing many to look to non-traditional working habits to finance their lives, let alone give them the freedom they crave.

The benefit of co-working spaces for… employers

Don’t be mistaken - co-working spaces are not just for a freelancing tribe of authority-deniers. Businesses are also finding them to be increasingly useful for a multitude of reasons:

- Saving money

Renting a serviced office or area means there’s no need to pay for more space than you need. It also means you can keep staffing numbers low, with no need for an office manager. There’s no-one stuck with the jobs of ordering supplies, paying bills, hiring cleaners, organising repair work - so young businesses can keep costs low.

- Scaling up

The other beauty of it is that as start-ups grow, so can the space they’re using. There’s no premature decisions to make about hiring permanent staff to look after the things you didn’t need before, or jumping into a much larger office as things are going well right now. Which is vital in an unstable economy.

- Engaged employees

Every employer wants a team of people who are switched on. With 71% of co-working users reporting that their workspace positively affects how they engage in their work, it seems a sensible option for employers to offer.

Where are co-working spaces going?

With co-working spaces very firmly on the rise, there seems to be more and more opportunity for non-traditional working environments. Warehouses, old breweries, former churches - the options are endless. Even… public parking spaces.

WePark started with a simple premise - use low-fee parking spots for another purpose. Starting as a stunt in San Francisco, a parking spot was set up with tables and chairs. Using the city’s free wifi, it was then used as a communal spot for… whatever. Working, socialising, doing some life admin in the sun.

But the idea worked, and similar things have been replicated in Portland, Los Angeles and even Bristol. Novelty really does capture the public’s imagination, and maybe that’s the secret of co-working spaces in general. Not the same faces or places, day in and day out, but something a little different.


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