Coworking is Dead, Long Live Coworking

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Written by Ryan Chatterton. Feature image: Techfestival’s website, photo by Ana Santl.

This is article 3 of 4 in a series about my experience over the last year as a digital nomad working in the coworking industry.

I recently celebrated my first anniversary as a digital nomad. I set out by flying out of New York City to London a little over a year ago, October 14th, 2016. Once in London, I began working with Habu, a coworking space software company.

Honestly, my one year anniversary has come as quite a surprise. On the one hand, it feels like the year has gone by incredibly fast. It’s astounding that I’ve done so much in such a short amount of time. And on the other hand, it’s strange to think that it’s only been one year since I was back in my downtown Salt Lake City apartment selling or donating nearly all of my possessions in a mad rush, in preparation for an entirely new chapter of my life. That particular memory feels like it happened a lifetime ago.

In the last year I’ve done all the typical nomad stuff, such as traveling to common nomad destinations all over the world, including Berlin, Budapest, Bali, and Chiang Mai. I’ve ridden to the tops of mountains in northern Thailand and I’ve swum in cavernous jungle pools under a barrage of falling water near Ubud. I’ve basked in the beauty of the Hungarian Országház and I’ve balked at the price of a pint in a quaint Vesterbro bar. I’ve hiked to wintry mountain lakes in the magnificent Pirin mountain range. There hasn’t been any shortage of adventure, as you can image.

In total, I’ve been to 10 new countries since I started my nomad journey last year, and I fully expect to add another ten nations to my passport in the coming year.

Because of this extensive travel and my simultaneous work within the global coworking scene, I’ve gained a unique perspective on the ever-evolving trends for flexible workspaces, digital nomads, and remote work.

This series of articles that I’ve recently published talks about a few of the things I’ve noticed over the last year and what, if anything, should be done about them. Each is a different insight I’ve gained or reinforced as a digital nomad working in the coworking industry. Some are related to coworking, and some are related to nomad life; and  I think each is filled with valuable insights for people whose lives relate to coworking or digital nomadism in some way.

You can find the links to the other articles at the bottom of this one.

Coworking is Dead, Long Live Coworking

In the last year, I’ve identified two incredibly important trends in the coworking and flexible workspace market. In this article, I describe these trends and outline what new and existing coworking managers need to be thinking as the market evolves.

The Corporates Are Coming!

During my time in Copenhagen, I co-hosted a summit for coworking founders, researchers, and members to explore the future of the coworking industry with my friend and coworking consultant Brittnee Bond.

It was clear from multiple conversations that many of us in the industry are seeing the same thing. Corporate real estate is moving in, and they are moving in big. I wrote extensively about this in an article published on Deskmag. The main point is this: coworking won’t take over the commercial real estate industry as many think it will. However, coworking methodologies and practices will transform the way traditional commercial real estate is managed, marketed, and consumed.

Coworking methodologies and practices will transform the way traditional commercial real estate is managed, marketed, and consumed.

The team at Habu and I have noticed this trend accelerating over the last year. While much of our current feature development is primarily focused on satisfying the needs of coworking spaces, we’re simultaneously building a solid base for offering end-to-end solutions for enterprise clients and traditional office real estate management. This is because we see what’s coming. In fact, some of it’s already here.

Here are a few recent and notable examples of corporates moving into the coworking world:

  • “April 2017: Bosch (yes, that Bosch) opens Platform 12, a major innovation hub near Stuttgart. In May they then launched The Chicago Connectory, an IoT innovation and co-creation space.
  • June 2017: British Land, one of the largest property development and investment companies in the United Kingdom, launches Storey, a flexible workspace brand, which will be incorporated into their existing properties.
  • Coming 2018: Skanska, the fifth largest construction company in the world, will launch Scandinavia’s largest innovation hub. We’ve seen the plans, which are very impressive!”

The team at FlySpaces, a flexible workspace discovery platform based in Manila, Philippines, also shares this perspective. In a recent article on Coworking Insights, they said “not only are we seeing corporates move into coworking spaces, but we are also seeing operators begin to cater to these larger clients by acquiring larger spaces. Examples include WeWork’s acquisition of 93,000 sq. ft. for one Hong Kong centre and JustCo occupying 60,000 sq. ft. in Marina One in Singapore, significantly dwarfing traditional spaces.”

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And it’s happening everywhere, in every coworking market, all over the world. Every region now has its own version of WeWork, and every major corporation will soon have their very own ‘innovation hub.’ But the real transformation will be in the way that the traditional commercial real estate industry changes its management and marketing practices based on the insatiable needs of it’s increasingly younger and more digital customers.

Can One Be Too Niche?

The corporates aren’t the only people absorbing coworking methodologies and best practices. More and more, we are seeing the nichification of flexible workspaces.

Niche coworking spaces shirk the traditional role of flexible workspace for startups and freelancers. Instead, they adorn the mantle of a haven for the obsessed, the masterful, and those with highly-specific workplace needs.

We’ve seen spaces focused on food, travel, fintech, science, blockchain, women, men (but that one didn’t go over so well), social good, retail & fashion, digital production, childcare, wellness, physical therapy, psychotherapy and so much more. Nobody wants another space focused on startups. It’s been had. Instead, more and more members want spaces for people just like them.

Within this nichification trend, we also see a steady rise in destination coworking; coworking operators that takes advantage of exotic, remote, or highly desirable locations as their main niche. These spaces include Outpost Bali, Dojo Bali, Kumpul, and Hubud in Bali; Punspace in Chiang Mai, Thailand; Coworking Bansko in Bansko, Bulgaria; Hub Fuerteventura in Fuerteventura, Spain; The Ski Locker, with locations in France and Colorado. Those are merely the spaces I know off the top of my head, plus what I was able to find within a 30-second Google search.

Make no mistake. This is the future. And I caution all coworking founders and managers to start thinking about this shifting market. Thinking ahead to new possibilities for services, space niches, and products within the evolving commercial space industry will not only keep you on the playing board, but it will also let you join in writing the rulebook.

This is article 3 of 4 in a series about my experience over the last year as a digital nomad working in the coworking industry. Here are the other articles: