Coworking has been at the front and center of the flexible workspace industry this year. Some love it, some hate it, and some (still) remain skeptical about it; yet 2016 was a year that saw the coworking movement strengthened.
But, as happens with various other issues, the more that its popularity increases and the more attention it gets, the harsher the critiques become. Coworking has received its fair share of critics in the last year, especially from those who don’t believe coworking as a standalone model provides a sustainable source of revenue.
A few weeks ago, David Saul, Managing Director of BE Offices, explained why he believes coworking ‘doesn’t work.’ Today, Ray Lindenberg, President and Founder of the Workspace Association of New York (WANY), counters David Saul’s argument, stating that coworking can indeed work.
Do you think coworking works? Does it need to be a part of a hybrid model to survive? Is coworking just a ‘fad’? If you’d like to share your opinion, let us know.
Why Coworking DOES Work: A Second Look From a Different Angle
Written by Ray Lindenberg, President and Founder of WANY
As COworking continues to enjoy much popularity and mainstreaming on the world’s serviced workspace stage, what also continues to pile up are the criticisms of its shortcomings and the predictions of its demise.
How do we square such a dichotomy?
On one hand, from Timbuktu to Kathmandu to Kalamazoo, coworking as a serviced workspace offering and category is going gangbusters in terms of openings and expansions (and lo and behold), even as a money-maker. Nonetheless, the acknowledgments of its successes, plus its viability as a fabulously popular work-way alternative, are fleeting, especially from the business center traditionalist camp of which I am primarily a 25+ year member.
Not that long ago, I remember reading a plethora of write-ups that heralded “Why Virtual Offices Won’t Work”, “Why Day Offices and Touchdown Spaces Won’t Work”, and “Why Open Plan Offices Will Never Work”.
The common thread on all these propositions is that they ultimately worked…just like coworking. So, what gives?
First, we need to unpack the premise that ‘coworking doesn’t work’. We need to start by defining coworking: are we talking about a method of community-based collaborative working or are we talking about an open workspace design that invites and encourages such working?
In other words, is coworking a workspace term or a work-way term? Or is it a combination of both? Whichever definition one chooses, one then runs into the various interpretations and practices that can make any given coworking space more or less appealing to certain individuals and groups.
My point is, coworking is not just a simple, homogeneous ‘one thing’. It has many differing levels of value and it is run by a gamut of brands–some that are casual, occasional beer-appreciating social communities, and others that are heads-forward, library-serious spaces and individuals who like the convenience, agility, and flexibility of working spaces, and let’s not forget all the different in-betweens these two that currently exist.
It all boils down to needs and preferences. What is it that the market and individuals are needing and expecting from their workspace these days? We have to face the fact that workers today have less of a need for the conventional, private office that was the standard for previous work generations.
Coworking spaces and collaborative workspaces work for today’s generation, and they will continue to work for future generations that relish and value the flexibility, dynamism, and sleekness of a pay-as-you-need workspace.
Workspace needs will be dictated by market trends and not by expectations based on the values and preferences of gloriously successful, and often lucrative work-way models of the past.
Look at it this way: If I owned a Steakhouse today, I’d need to contend with the reality that the dietary preferences of the emerging work generations are streaming towards non-meat eateries, for what they consider to be healthier fare. It’s incontrovertible that exclusively meat-based restaurants are dwindling, just as health food and vegetarian eateries, plus restaurants that offer a mix of meat and vegetarian items are surging in popularity.
We can’t declare that sushi and quiche takes a backseat to steaks, any more than we can claim that coworking doesn’t stack up well to business center enclosed offices.
Market needs and preferences are our masters in this equation.
The mysterious hands of a free-market system will let us know, well-enough, which will be the winners and losers going forward. But don’t bet on steaks going the way of Selectric Typewriters either.
Likewise, the emerging workforce–which includes the one shuffled by the tech-fueled, agile-mobile business models– is more apt to lean towards more economical, plug-and-go workplaces of which coworking spaces (and business centers that have added a coworking component to their centers) have greatly capitalized on.
Granted, WeWork is possible more a traditional business center with its primarily enclosed office build outs; but it nonetheless has a pronounced coworking community that various workers find appealing. And, even if the term ‘coworking’ is a misnomer, WeWork was smart enough to read their SEO terms report cards to realize that coworking is still, by far, the hottest and sexiest term used to search online for workspace-as-a-service options.
In the end, coworking does work. It will continue to work and is a fantastically successful ‘work in progress’ movement and industry category that’s pointing towards an even greater market demand for the future.
There’s a reason over 90% of business centers have already moved in that hybridizing direction to offer coworking and shared workspace. Enterprising Darwinism lives.