Image of a multi-use area in a coworking spaces

Coworking – Accessibility and Agility is More Important Than Control
Part 6 of 6

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Symbolic of the culture of a ‘sharing economy’ is the notion that organisations (of any size) do not need to own and control all their resources, including physical space. Although organisations have been outsourcing parts of their supply chain for decades, emerging models of digitally-enabled networks tend to value agility, access and constant evolution over ‘ownership’.

The notion of corporate control over resources is antiquated.

The emphasis on open access spaces more than defined territories within coworking hubs illustrates this shift.  A few organisations are taking advantage of this in a variety of ways. GE’s clean energy start-up Current, Silicon Valley Bank and Merck are all members of WeWork, and KPMG has a small team of young employees working with tech start-ups based in a coworking facility in London, UK.  Although most traditional organisations seem reluctant to allow more than occasional use of coworking touchdown spaces for security reasons, this is likely to go the way of similar concerns about WiFi a decade ago.

A number of leading global organisations are also experimenting with ‘enterprise coworking hubs’ bringing employees, partner organisations and aligned startups together in an attempt to create an incubator/innovator culture.  To be at all successful in this ambition, traditional bureaucracy and employee policy needs to be ‘left at the door’ so that workstyles, culture and workplace design are all aligned. SAP have created the ‘AppHaus’ in Germany as a design and co-innovation centre, which is also open to other employees, clients, and partners. Like independent coworking hubs, enterprise coworking initiatives, such as the AppHaus, need to emphasise freedom, collaborative creation, resource sharing, trust, and proactive community participation to be successful.

In parallel with the rise of coworking models of real estate supply, traditional commercial leasing structures which are inflexible and entirely at odds with the unpredictability and volatility of corporate space requirements are also being disrupted by intermediaries such as LiquidSpace, PivotDesk, InstantOffices and RocketSpace.

Building owners are taking notice, seeking to improve occupancy, footfall, and diversify the tenant mix of their assets through coworking, community, and corporate membership strategies. The range of facilities we now consider as potential ‘places to work’ has rapidly expanded from commercial buildings to suburban shopping centres, civic libraries, universities (traditional homes to incubators and accelerators), hotels, and even schools.

What does this mean for CRE Leaders?

Coworking and other new real estate supply models allow organisations previously unavailable options for increasing portfolio flexibility, and it its likely that innovations in matching organisational demand with real estate supply will continue.

Although taking advantage of these requires corporate real estate leaders to rethink conservative concepts of control and access, they are consistent with the broader trend towards more networked, open-platform approaches to business.

CRE leaders will need to partner with HR and IT to devise strategies for matching variable demand and supply of work-related resources across multiple locations and time-zones.  This will require greater acceptance by business leaders of the reality of distributed work, and the benefits of focusing real estate investment on places that create hard-to-copy competitive advantage from the unique alchemy of their people.

Coworking – What does this mean for the Future of Work and Workplace?

Coworking as a movement is a transformative force.  That transformation will alter society’s understanding of work, so over the next several decades, we’ll associate it less with being compelled to commute to an office to work for someone else and more with going to a place of our choosing to do work of our choosing alongside people of our choosing,…and for all the growing it’s done, it’s got a long way to go.
Tony Bacigalupo, cofounder of New Work City

The phenomenal rise of coworking as much more than just a new real estate play but as a whole new industry, has been fuelled by substantial (and largely connected) changes in society, technology, and the economy.  As we enter what is commonly referred to as the ‘fourth industrial age’, the coworking movement provides business and corporate real estate leaders with insights into the future of work and workplace.

Talent is Winning the War for Talent

The employee/employer relationship is forever altered.  This ‘democratisation’ of work will increasingly provide people with legitimate alternatives to full-time permanent employment in large corporations.  As distinctions between employee and “not employee” and between job types become less meaningful, traditional frameworks for workplace design, allocation, and access become increasingly irrelevant.  Companies that loosen up job roles, work-styles, and workplace choices will be more likely to attract and retain top talent in future.

Advocates not Advertising Grow Brands

The coworking movement has tapped into the power of social networks as a way to build their brand more successfully than many organisations, recognising the importance of delivering a memorable experience to members in order to create advocates.  The high growth of global coworking memberships suggests traditional organisations will need more integrated approaches to helping people be successful at work.  To thrive at work, employees don’t require extravagant office perks.  What they need are workplace experiences that help them feel competent, self-directed, respected, and connected to colleagues.

Workplace as a Service Not a Space

Coworking businesses have evolved rapidly from providers of shared real estate to ‘orchestrators’ of business ‘enablement’.  In many ways their business model references the origins of ‘company’, which is derived from the Latin “companio“, meaning “companion, one who eats bread with you”.  The way we experience work is personal, messy, and complicated.  Management of employee access to the physical and digital resources they need to perform will need to be integrated, dynamic, and coordinated between real estate, technology and human resources.

Face to Face Matters More Than Ever

There is more to it however, than simply frequency of face to face communications; the quality of interpersonal interactions relies on a balance between the social and physical dimensions of proximity, privacy, and permissions.  Effective environments (including coworking spaces) not only permit, but actively encourage, valuable interactions by “ bring[ing] people together and remove[ing] barriers, while also providing sufficient seclusion that people don’t fear being overheard or interrupted.”.

Re-conceptualising ‘the office’ as a destination that fosters community, culture and co-creation rather than as the primary enabler of production, is critical to ensuring ‘face-time’ really matters.

Accessibility and Agility is More Important Than Control

The difficulty in predicting user requirements and occupancy demand over time will get harder, not easier.  If the rapid growth in the ‘new’ economy tells us anything it’s that control of all the assets and resources of a business is no longer a requirement for success.  Organisations should regard this as an opportunity to build flexibility into their real estate portfolios by more strategically leveraging a wide range of ‘third places’ (such as coworking hubs, hotels, airports, cafes) with supporting technologies and flexible work policies to un-tether the production of organisational value from physical office occupancy.

Coworking spaces challenge people to un-learn their old thinking around work, individualism and control.  They create participatory cultures that champion people getting together to support each other.  This culture is only possible because coworking doesn’t view its members as merely customers or employees – coworking values are founded on empowering each person who walks in the door.  In this way, the coworking movement can help shift our relationship with work to be one that is more purposeful, collaborative, holistic, and self-directed.  This is the attitude people and organisations will need if they are going to successfully navigate the new economy.

Corporate real estate leaders need to be part of the future of work discussion within their organisations, encouraging multi-disciplinary approaches to enabling great people to do great work.

Increasingly this work will be distributed across space and time, drawing on physical and digital resources, and access to people, inside and outside the control of the organisation.
Dr. Caroline M. Burns

Don’t forget to continue the conversation in the Comments below!

In the next and final article in this series, I’ll discuss why accessibility and agility are more important than traditional “control” concepts.

This article was originally published by Caroline M. Burns, PhD, on April 2, 2017 at the series by Dr. Caroline M. Burns on Coworking and the Future of Work.

Click here for the entire series or use the navigation below or in the menus.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series. Don’t forget to continue the conversation in the Comments below!

Kind regards, Caroline

Authors note: At Workplace Revolution, the independent consultancy I lead, we believe in ‘walking the talk’ when it comes to the future of work. Our business model is based on a networked community of employees, contractors, members, and associates who are motivated by the opportunity to create competitive advantage for our Clients through corporate real estate and workplace initiatives. We share eight core values, broad-based expertise, in-depth knowledge, centuries of combined experience, global thought-leadership and plenty of laughs. We organise work streams around creating unique and innovative solutions to Client challenges, supported by a robust digital platform that enables context-rich, real time collaboration internally, and also externally with our Clients. Our services are geographically independent and we work when, where, and how we choose, including in coworking hubs, cafes, and Client offices!