The workplace has seen many changes over the years. Until recently, most consisted of large corner offices for the top guys, more modest private offices for middle managers and the rest of the team in what was often described as a cubicle farm. This at least gave everyone a little space to call their own and put up a photo of the wife, the family pet or an out of date meme.
While the top executives might still have their fancy offices, many of the rest of us mere mortals now work in a very different environment. Often, this will be in a co-working environment.
We have all seen the funky designs, slides, video games, bowling alleys and climbing walls at some of the behemoths like Google, Microsoft, and Facebook. Most of the population still work in a somewhat less exciting and inspiring environment.
What is Co-Working?
Before we consider the positive and negative aspects it is important to understand what co-working is and what it looks like.
Put simply, co-working is a shared office area where workers generally share office equipment, IT infrastructure, meeting rooms, common areas, kitchens, and bathrooms. Often even support staff such as receptionist and secretaries are shared by the users of the co-working office.
Space or desks can be allocated to specific companies or individuals or could be dynamic. In a dynamic area, you simply find an empty workstation, plug in and get working.
Love it or hate it, the concept is becoming increasingly popular.
Why is co-working becoming popular?
Initially, the concept appealed to small startups, freelancers and solopreneurs. It gave them access to the space and services they needed as well as a professional front for their business without the massive overheads of running their own office.
Over time, medium and even larger companies came to see the benefits.
Office overheads are high and constant. Most space is underutilized for a large part of the day. Co-working allows for the best use of the space and the cost of common areas, meeting rooms, kitchens, restrooms, break areas and other space can be shared proportionately by those that use the facility.
IT infrastructure and maintenance costs, office automation such as copiers, printers and other equipment, telephone systems and other essential equipment and infrastructure costs can be shared.
The cost of support staff such as receptionists, cleaning, maintenance, security, and others is also shared according to the space requirements of each individual or organization in the co-working environment.
Group buying power can also reduce the cost of office supplies and consumables that the individuals or smaller businesses would not normally benefit from.
Modern companies need to be agile and flexible. Expanding a traditional office is a slow and expensive exercise if even possible. It might mean relocating as you expand. Co-working allows you to expand faster and with less disruption and expense.
Importantly, it also allows you to scale back if and when necessary. With co-working you can scale your business as and when necessary including seasonal expansion or visiting contingents.
Speed to market
Building on the above point, speed to market is often a critical success factor in modern business. Setting up a new office in a new territory is not only expensive but time-consuming. Co-working spaces could allow you to set up immediately with little to no delays.
Co-working allows smaller companies, individuals, freelancers, and solopreneurs to have a professional office space and an environment that could improve their status and image for the fraction of the cost of a traditional office.
Having a wide mix of skills and talents in the same space could result in networking opportunities and skills sharing that could be of great benefit to all involved. This is a growing trend and much easier to achieve face to face than online.
While many people believe they work better alone, be it at home or elsewhere, this is rarely the case. We are social animals and need the company of others around us. Co-working allows people to get on with their work without the isolation and loneliness that often comes with working alone.
Budget offices, which many might have to resort to as an alternative to co-working spaces, are more likely to be drab and uninspiring. The shared costs allow the better co-working offices to have modern designs with great features and an excellent feel.
Some have amazing facilities including quality food and beverage facilities, health centers, excellent breakrooms, and recreational facilities.
What are the downsides?
Co-working is not all rainbows and butterflies and there are some downsides. While there are many benefits, it is important to access the negative aspects before committing to the concept.
Many people like to be the master of their own domain and have a spot they can call their own. Most co-working spaces are open plan although there are flexible options. Some workers might be bothered by the guy two desks down that slurps his coffee loudly or the aggressive sales guy making booming phone calls all day. While this can happen in any office environment one has less control over these situations in a shared space.
Some companies have concerns that competitors might take up space in the same environment. This can be discussed with the managers of the environment but again, this could present opportunities for collaboration that might not otherwise become evident.
You might have urgent deadlines or simply prefer working odd hours. Many co-working environments have 24-hour access but check on this before deciding.
With your own office, you have control over all aspects of the environment. In a shared environment, you will have to sacrifice much of that control for the benefits it provides. If you do not like the artwork in reception or the color of the walls, it will not be up to you to make changes.
The rapid growth in the popularity of co-working is a testimony to the many benefits it offers. While it may not work for everyone, for many, it allows them to focus on their work without the stress of running an office. If you need a place for yourself or your staff to work from, co-working is certainly worth considering.