Co-working: Fad or trend for corporate occupiers?

Do you do most of your work while you are on the move?

Or are you an independent worker, a freelancer may be, but still wished you had a bunch of people to work with as opposed to working in isolation?

Well if you answered yes, and if current trends are anything to go by, you are not alone. The result is the rapid rise of a corporate co-working culture.

Before I go much further, a definition: Co-working is the term used to describe when a group of independent workers carry out their various tasks in a shared workspace, a co-working space. This is often alternatively termed as third space given that it sits outside of the formal corporate real estate portfolio or the employee’s home. Co-working providers are offering user-based arrangements depending on the location, duration and space requirements.

In many ways the apparent shift to co-working is the consequence of a wide range of pressures shaping the global workforce and workplace. As the workforce continues to shift both geographically and demographically, traditional office settings will increasingly be obsolete (Offices 2020 and Obsolescence to Resilience) necessitating a phase of occupier led workplace transformation (Global CRE trends 2013). Against this backdrop there is a fundamental question: Co-working a fad or a real trend for modern occupiers?

There is no doubt that co-working has gained significant acceptance over the past few years with the proliferation of the “contingent workforce” or what Charles Handy called ‘portfolio workers’ – professionals who work independently as freelancers, startups, remote workers, or entrepreneurs. I assumed at first this was a phenomenon unique in the U.S., which is known for harboring startups, but there are many evidences of the same in Europe and across globe.

Before I could digest the new model of co-working, I was thrilled to know that this model is already reconfigured to “corporate co-working,” where the employees of a major corporation share a facility that also houses startups and/or employees from another corporation. “Corporate co-working” looks one of the boldest corporate people management concepts where the primary objective is to generate innovative ideas through collaboration with like-minded people in supportive environment.

Co-working has become a buzzword within technology sector and is now starting to gain acceptance more generally! Tech firms have thrived on the mantra “innovation doesn’t happen in isolation” and it is proved again by Google with its impressive “campus” coworking building in East London, accommodating more than 100 young companies on two co-working floors. Central working group is responsible for managing space available for non-Google staff in Google campus building. Also, AT&T’s 3 Foundry innovation centers is another example where the firms share their corporate office spaces with strategic partners, developers, and customers.

So, Co-working: a fad or trend for corporate occupiers? Well, I would definitely dismiss the notion that it is a fad. It is very real. Presently however, it is a model which is in flux and probably ahead of demand. As the market grows it will enable occupiers to tap into hidden opportunities. But the question remains, whether it will cater to all corporate occupiers in diverse sectors? Maybe not! I have heard of some other professional services firms like PwC, Accenture, of imbibing this new model which is fueling a shift to a distributed work day. Unlike the traditional nine-to-five, professionals are distributing their work around the clock (24×7), so with corporate co-working one office space can be catered to multiple occupiers. If this new trend is here to stay, it will change the landscape within office real estate and will bring significant shift in demand for the type and amount of work space companies require. In my opinion, corporate co-working is a catalyst in workplace strategies which will cultivate collaborative communities within businesses. So, there is definitely strong potential for the future, but let’s be clear, like the age old debate concerning home or remote working, co-working is not about replacing the office. It is about creating an alternative, flexible collaborative work space that is in keeping with the modern way of working. It is not, and should not be positioned as ‘a new coat of paint on an old workplace’.