Business Centres Can’t Do Coworking: The Debate Continues

Coworking at Club Workspace, Clerkenwell, London
Coworking at Club Workspace, Clerkenwell, London

Yesterday we kicked off a discussion on how business centres and coworking spaces mix. Or don’t mix, as the case may be.

The article – Business Centres Can’t Do Coworking (part one) – discussed the idea that business centres don’t tick the right boxes for what is today considered a ‘true’ coworking space. However, as we discovered, there is no hard-and-fast rule that defines coworking.

Some business centres have ‘got it’. Others haven’t. Some are half-hearted, and offer their own version of coworking just to say they do coworking. As a flourishing market, it makes sense that the business centre community wants a piece of the action.

“A different approach”

While some business centres may struggle to dedicate the time and attention that coworking spaces need to thrive and grow, there is another way for operators to bring coworking into the mix. A workable conclusion is to set up an independent offering that stands alone as a singular coworking brand. Look no further than Club Workspace as a successful example.

“Independent coworking spaces have the ability to specialise and focus on what they do,” said James Friedenthal, Managing Director of London’s Club Workspace, the coworking arm of long-established commercial property brand, Workspace Plc.

Workspace made a conscious decision to separate its coworking offering. “Independent providers can be more nimble and move more quickly,” explained James. “Coworking is not simply desk and chairs, and it’s not an extension of the tenant and landlord relationship. It requires a different approach – one that’s aligned more to leisure and retail rather than commercial property.”

As such, Club Workspace operates as a separate and completely independent business, with its own branding, terms and conditions, even its own terminology.

So do business centres need to look to this model to deliver a successful coworking strategy? As we noted earlier, it depends largely on the needs of the businesses using the space. A business centre could have a perfectly good shared office space which is accessible, well-equipped, affordable, and brews knock-out coffee. It might not be a ‘classic’ coworking space with a rich community and the latest funky furniture, but it could be the perfect solution for local businesses. That, surely, is what matters most.

Diversity

While James recognises that coworking spaces should tick certain boxes, like ‘inspirational’, ‘collaborative’ and ‘community-driven’, he also notes that the success of a coworking space is decided by its members.

“The marketplace will accept or reject it,” he said. “For business centres the key opportunity here lies in diversity and growth. Diversity is natural, and business centres always have the choice to convert some space or ‘tack on’ a coworking space. Whether it works or not ultimately depends on the people who use it. If it develops into a strong offering with a solid client base, they’ve fulfilled a need – and they’ve got nothing to worry about.”

Hybridisation

Many business centres and flexible workspace operators are beginning to add ‘coworking’ to their offering. Most recently, Bizspace went public about their coworking roll-out and Avanta also joined the coworking community with a plush new West End location.

We’ve already heard about the so-called ‘hybridisation’ of business centres and coworking spaces, a trend that Ray Lindenberg of Select Office Suites has been tracking for some time. He even notes that some independent coworking spaces are moving towards a business centre model, by privatising certain parts of their space.

Rather than trying to define coworking, we should instead be focusing on what different spaces can offer their market. Coworking is flourishing, and as demand soars, business centres are indeed adapting their offering to fulfil the needs of local businesses that want ever more flexibility from their workspace. And rightly so.

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Not everyone wants a coworking space with a lively community vibe. I know because I’m one of them. I go to a coworking space to work. Lively, buzzing places don’t work for me – and I’m not alone.

Business centres have the opportunity to bring a rich variety of workspace to the coworking sector, in a much wider range of locations, which will only help to strengthen the market. Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing more and more coworking spaces springing up, both independent and in business centres, in cities and towns, business parks, above shops, behind cafes and in the back of beyond. In short, anywhere there is a need for them.

As Desk Union’s Victoria added: “There is enough room for everyone, so long as each space represents its own clearly defined niche. It all comes down to the product offering and the particular type of community the space is trying to develop. The creation of wide ranging types of space can only help to raise the profile of agile coworking working to the general population.

“Surely that’s a win for everyone?”

Thanks to Club Workspace – Clerkenwell for the image.

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