Coworking Grows Up, And So Does Its Population

coworking spaces have grown up
The shifting demographic of coworking spaces means that operators need to be able to cater to a wider audience
  • As the coworking industry has matured, so has its population
  • The fastest-growing coworking membership segment is comprised of individuals aged 50 or over
  • This means that flexible workspace operators need to be able to cater to different individuals, regardless of their age

Early coworking spaces may have resembled startups, with plenty of game tables, lounge seating, powerfully strong coffee and snack choices in workplaces populated by youthful Millennials working in tech.

But coworking spaces have grown up.

And not only have the spaces matured, so has the coworking population.

If you think you’ve noticed a greater number of gray-haired workers in your coworking space, you’re not alone.

Today, the 50+ population is the fastest-growing segment of coworking spaces, followed by 40-49-year-olds, according to DeskMag’s most recent annual survey.

Meanwhile the proportion of under 40-year-olds continues to decline, dropping from 73% in 2015 to 55% today.

In the same three-year period, members over 40 have grown from 27% to now comprising nearly 40% of the membership.

Why? And what does this mean for coworking spaces?

The shifting demographics can be attributed to numerous factors, several of them interrelated.

1. Coworkers themselves have aged.

 “There’s a natural time factor,” explained Alex Hillman, who founded Indy Hall in Philadelphia in 2006, making him an elder statesman of an industry that’s barely into its second decade. “Since we’re 12 years old, it means that our first members, thoses who joined in their late 20s or early 30s, are now in their late 30s or early 40s. So, the community itself has grown up.”

2. The number of mobile-friendly industries has increased.

Just as each iteration of the smartphone brings new features, continued technology innovations enable a greater number of job functions and industries to work remotely. “When we first started, it was mostly tech-based companies,” recalls Hillman. “It was rare to have a work-issued laptop. And even if you did, the ability to use it offsite was also pretty limited.

“Now it’s like standard issue. You can do most of your work on a laptop or a phone. You can work from anywhere,” Hillman says.

“That’s opened up the doors to people working in a wider range of industries. Once you’ve got a wider range of industries, you get a better representation of age, gender, regions, and experience.”

3. We are a country of knowledge-workers.

As the information age has evolved, the number of jobs requiring manual labor has declined, making physical limitations (aging or otherwise) a less significant factor. With such obstacles minimized or eliminated, people can stay in the workforce longer, with better-educated workers having an increased likelihood of staying in the labor force, past the traditional retiring age.

4. People are living and working longer.

People are living longer and are healthier than ever before. Life expectancy has increased by 50% in the last 100 years, according to the Columbia Aging Center.

With greater life expectancy, more retirement-aged individuals are remaining in the workforce, resulting in a higher share of older people in the workforce than at any point since before the creation of Medicare, reported Bloomberg, with 19% of Americans over 65 working at least part-time in 2017.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that about 40 percent of people ages 55 and older were working or actively looking for work in 2014.

And  although generally speaking they make up a smaller number of workers, BLS also expects rates of labor growth for workers over 65 to outpace other segments. In the decade from 2014 to 2024, 65 to 75-year-olds are expected to have a 4.5% labor growth rate. For workers over 70, a growth rate of 6.4% is anticipated.

By 2024, BLS projects that the labor force will grow to about 164 million people. Of those, about 41 million will be will be individuals over the age of 55, and 13 million over 65.  

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5. Delaying retirement is a conscious choice for many.

More than half of American baby boomers (born from 1946-1964) plan to work past age 65 or not retire at all, according to a report by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies.

The trend is expected to continue with more than 70 percent of today’s pre-retirees (50+) planning to work post-retirement, according to a Merrill Lynch survey on work in retirement.

Some choose to continue working in order to maintain long-term mental health, as work can boost cognitive skills keeping the brain nimble, and iIt also has been shown to stave off dementia.

6. Workers are re-entering the workforce after retirement.

The same factors that keep older workers at jobs past retirement age also drive many back into the workforce post retirement.

With a shortfall of savings, some older workers are returning to work when they can’t make ends meet. According to a 2018 survey from LendEDU of 1,000 Americans aged 65 and up, 55% say they have not saved enough saved for retirement, which could be prompting many retired workers back into the office.

Others discover retirement is not what was they expected, finding it boring, lonely or unfulfilling, motivating them to seek greater stimulus and interaction.

Dubbed “Boomerang workers” this segment includes workers who were asked to return to the workforce due to skills shortage, as well as those who are choosing to work to keep the brain sharp. In many cases, the arrangement is on a consulting basis, with the worker based out of a remote office closer to home.

7. Entrepreneurship provides alternatives.

Many boomers are choosing to return to work, though on their own terms. Becoming an entrepreneur or freelancer is a strategy for retirees who either don’t want to return to a 9 to 5 job or who have run into ageism or other hiring barriers, according to the study by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Research by Mavenlink as well as LinkedIn and PwC shows that it is older workers, not millennials, driving the gig economy. Contingent work favors those with higher skills and longer work experience, as well as a robust professional network nurtured over decades.

Interestingly, in the process, many entrepreneurs choose to switch occupations or fields as well.

So, what does this mean for coworking operators?

For one, entrepreneurs remain the dominant users of coworking spaces according to CBRE’s 2016 report. And as retirees choose entrepreneurship, they often gravitate to coworking spaces.

Secondly, with up to five generations in the workplace, workplace environments must be able to cater and serve to each one.

Third, when nurtured in a collaborative environment typical of coworking spaces, the results of cross-generational exchange can be magical.

Finally, when observing a mix of ages in their spaces, many operators have found age matters less than other factors, like personality type.