The evolution of co-working
In recent years, the co-working market has exploded. Since 2005, the total number of sites and seats available is estimated to have roughly doubled each year. And as the number of spaces in co-working facilities has increased, we have seen a significant shift in the types of individuals and businesses that the model is serving. In March 2019, we launched The Coalface, a workspace in London’s Finsbury Park, and since opening our doors we have learnt much about this ongoing evolution in co-working. So, what has changed?
At its inception, co-working was designed to offer smaller businesses and entrepreneurs a less expensive and more flexible alternative to traditional long leases for commercial office space. And it undoubtedly continues to do this. However, whilst you may imagine a typical co-working user to be a self-employed individual or a small business, we are now seeing a new generation of perhaps more unexpected co-workers emerging.
One major trend is the increasing use of co-working by big business. Large companies, often financial services firms, have clocked the value of offering their staff a trendy office space as an alternative to their existing corporate sites. This offers many advantages to bigger corporations – notably it can have a positive effect on their image, which supports their recruitment efforts amongst new generations of workers, who have different expectations about the environment they work in. And whilst it is of course great to see this diversity of use in co-working spaces – indeed, we have supported several large businesses who have taken private office space to work on specific projects, or to offer an alternative environment for their staff – it is also important that the co-working market gets the balance right. If it begins only to serve the needs of larger companies, there is a risk that it could price out the smaller organizations. Many of our members who have previously worked in more established co-working spaces in central London have said that they felt alienated by the increasingly corporate culture that is emerging as a result of these bigger businesses taking over, causing them to seek a workspace which offered a more boutique and homely feel. Clearly, we need to ensure that there continues to be a sufficient variety of sites available to serve everyone.
Supporting individuals and the local community
Co-working offices are ideal for anyone running a business, of any scale. But we have learnt that it can also serve more unusual needs. Our members include an individual who is studying for his PhD – unable to work at home or concentrate in coffee shops, he needed somewhere quiet and professional to help him focus. They can also be useful for the public - for example, we have a travel vaccination clinic based at The Coalface, providing a resource for the local community that may otherwise have been unable to open in this area. We even have a member who uses our meeting room space to record his popular podcasts!
Streamlining business models
One of the more obvious and commonly cited benefits that co-working offers is the flexibility to grow a business without having to move premises; you can simply take more space in your existing site. Because of this, we often consider that younger, start-up businesses are one of the main demographics using these facilities. However, we’ve discovered that the proliferation of co-working sites is also now increasingly enabling businesses to move in the opposite direction, i.e. scale down and streamline their operation. In short, the explosion in co-working is allowing entire business models to change – to become more efficient, and as a result, often significantly more environmentally friendly.
One of our members who illustrates this is James Lambert, an experienced architect. James formerly employed as many as 12 people in his practice based in its own offices in Clerkenwell. However, the time it took to manage all of the office admin, as well as the overheads and the environmental impact the business was having, led James to think that he could work in a more efficient way. Because of the opportunities afforded by co-working spaces, James has been able to streamline his operation to the point that it is now just him, a bag and an address book. He can offer clients his senior experience and draw upon a pool of freelance architects, only employing the right people for each particular job. This is efficient in many ways – and there are particular environmental efficiencies to the way James works now; his business is almost entirely paperless and, as he’s found a co-working site local to where he lives, he now cycles to work most of the time (he used to use his car every day). Basically, James can offer the same service as he was providing when he ran a bigger company but in a much more efficient, cost-effective and environmentally friendly way.
Allowing businesses to upscale, or downscale; helping individuals with their academic or creative endeavors; and even offering new services to local communities, the explosion of choice in the co-working market has something for everyone. Long may it continue.
Jonathan Hausmann, Chief Operating Officer, The Coalface