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Coworking – Advocates, not Advertising Grow Brands
Part 3 of 6

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Coworking’s unique blends of empowering, socially positive, collaborative, and supportive values create ‘communities’ – rather than corporate cultures – that have a grass-roots authenticity. They leverage their online communities and use member advocates to grow their brands, and benefit by association with the success of start-up brands they help nurture.

Legitimacy and authenticity are the new currency of brand loyalty – not advertising.


In the first two parts of this Series, “Why Coworking is a Bellwether for the Future of Work”, I explored the socio-economic drivers of the phenomenal rise of coworking as a global industry, and expanded on the changing “War for Talent” as the first of five reasons why organisations and CRE leaders should take note and consider potential implications of these same drivers for their future workforce and workplace. This article explores the second disruptive trend of employees as members of a community and as potential brand advocates, again with related takeaways for CRE leaders.

Established organisations are increasingly challenged by start-ups who, like coworking organisations, are able to amplify their brand to rapidly build market share or destabilize existing markets through customer advocacy – in fact it is estimated that by 2020, four in ten industry incumbents will be displaced by disruptive competitors. These companies compete aggressively for the ‘hearts and minds’ of both customers and employees, further heightening the uncertainty around incumbent organisational access to talent and innovation.

Regardless of whether they all survive, these disruptive competitors will leave a legacy of dramatically expanded ‘legitimate’ employment choices for ambitious talent.


One recent study suggests candidates are 73% more likely to accept a job where the salary is 5% below their acceptable minimum if a friend recommends the company as a great place to work, and further that less than 10% of job seekers consider ‘prestigious reputation’ as the most important factor in considering a new job.

Organisations that think of employees of ‘allies’ or ‘members of a community’ rather than staff, and understand that engagement is a two-way street will benefit from more successful retention and recruitment.

Forward-thinking companies are exploring the freelancer economy and ways of harnessing the energy and specialist expertise of startups and small businesses, offering employees the opportunity to have more than one role or a series of project based assignments (source: “The Future of Work – Make the Future Work for You”, edited by Andy Jankowski). These strategies provide significant resource agility and engender a culture more akin to a laboratory or university than a factory.

What does this mean for CRE Leaders?

Forward-thinking companies use workplace and related programs to encourage their people to become advocates who actively promote the brand to prospective customers and new hires. The physical environment is one area where any disconnect between what the company says and what it does is glaringly obvious. Communicating brand goes deeper than displays of logos, company values, media archive images or a branded colour palette.

Authenticity goes to the heart of decisions made about status and access, empowerment and choice, resource allocation, and the activities and behaviours the organisation signals that it values (or discourages) through workplace design.


Google is probably the best example of turning employees in to net promoters – its philosophy of creating “the happiest, most productive workplace in the world” has translated into workplace environments and policies that espouse their brand and values, and in doing so creates thousands of self-motivated employee advocates for the company. The Google Coffee Lab in Mountain View reinforces the company’s commitment to creating places that re-energise, inspire, and connect employees in a ‘controlled’ corporate environment that employees want to share with business colleagues, friends and associates.

In the next article, I’ll take you through the changes that are moving workplace supply from a traditional “physical” space, to workplace as a service, or even more holistically as part of an overall user experience.

This article was originally published by Caroline M. Burns, PhD, on May 28, 2016 at the series by Dr. Caroline M. Burns on Coworking and the Future of Work

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