I explore the current problems of co-working as I delve deeper into making a successful co-working brand.
What qualifies as co-working today
After a thorough security check, I take the elevator up to my co-working space located on the 3rd floor of my Grade-A commercial building in Mumbai. Packed with me in the elevator are corporate employees with their suits and ties seemingly dreading the workday ahead. I feel already out of place in my jeans and t-shirt. I squeeze through the crowd in the elevator and breathe a sigh of relief, as post another security check, I enter the lounge area of my super sleek co-working space.
Large floor to ceiling windows, mid-century modern design, and beer on tap, this co-working space, like so many others, brags about its design and amenities. Although, I know why I am here, it’s location and pricing appealed to me in an increasingly undifferentiated market.
A stock co-working image, illustrating everything wrong with it
I walk through the lounge past more bankers, corporates in their suits and ties and to my private cabin located amidst a row of other such “private spaces”. They all look identical and the ambiance here is especially un-inspiring and cramped. I realize that I will be spending my time in this below average space rather the sexy, uber-cool lounge space I was sold on.
How many of you have the same experience working in a co-working space? As data-security conscious enterprise enter the co-working market, the rise of private spaces within co-working spaces is on the rise. A private cabin, or what is essentially no different from a traditional office space, is where the co-working spaces make most of their money. This option is cheaper for enterprises as compared to taking up their own office space and that is why they are here. Community, culture, events, and activities are non-existent in their list of priorities. This is basically the same old traditional Commercial Real Estate model, however, with a half-hearted hospitality component attached to it. No major innovation, just a marginal rent arbitrage with minimum value addition.
This is certainly NOT coworking. So the question remains, what is co-working and who is it for? What should you look for when building a co-working space that works?
Co-working was founded as a breeding ground for innovation. Built for entrepreneurs and SME’s with diverse backgrounds to come together and grow their businesses. The idea was for co-working to cater to smaller teams and looking to grow rapidly iterating and innovating, through collaboration, while keeping their costs low. However, once an inflection point is reached they re-locate to their own private office spaces as they add on dedicated departments and build their own company culture.
As fully formed teams with diverse company cultures enter a coworking space, they are beginning to function as essentially smaller versions of commercial buildings, with little personality and differentiation.
Imagine two classrooms with similar teachers. One has fifteen students, the other, thirty-two. Which group gets a better education?
Co-working spaces are designed to nurture entrepreneurs and SME’s. However, most co-working spaces are large with more than 500 to 1000 seats. The focus of operators then moves to try to fill a large number of seats in the shortest duration of time rather than work with the companies within the space. This has two adverse effects.
Focus on quantity over quality: Each co-working space is only as good as its members. But in a quest to reach occupancy levels quality is dropped in favor of any company that can fill the most number of seats.
Priorities Mixed Up: The quest for occupancy results in the coworking space operators trying to appease and support their largest clients rather than the small, high growth entrepreneurs and SME’s that need their support the most.
Community & Support
Every co-working space talks up about their amazing community and it’s built-in support systems. However, with the rise of private spaces resulting in the increasing distance between the members and the co-working space operators, the spaces have no idea about what their members are looking for.
They are increasingly relying on technology to enable member interaction, but without a catalyst in place, technology platforms remain unused. In fact with the rise of co-working space technology platforms, the spaces are outsourcing exactly what their USP is, their community engagement platforms.
Technology platforms don’t substitute your community building efforts
So having said that how do we fix these inherent problems as co-working grows?
The answer to this remains simple, building a hospitality brand in the workspace sector, we need to look at the best companies in the hospitality industry. What can we learn from the greatest hospitality brands like the Marriott, SoulCycle, Shake Shack, and Southwest Airlines and their evolution? How can we put User Experience at the center to design inclusive workspaces that harness the true power of collaborative work?
I believe right now we have only scratched the surface of what co-working can achieve, we are in for a seismic shift as the co-working industry gears up for its first true disruption. In my next blog, I discuss how one can disrupt the already staid co-working industry and build a workplace hospitality brand that lasts.