Why Coworking Needs A New Definition

“Continuing to call it coworking is doing a disservice for what it has become.” - Joyce Bromberg, Convene
  • During the New York City chapter event of the AIA, flexible workspace experts discussed why coworking needs a new definition
  • Everything we know about landlords and how workplaces are designed, built, managed and staffed is being disrupted
  • Coworking has evolved into something that is not really coworking anymore

What began around 2010 as a way for unemployed and freelancing Millennials to get out of their homes or coffeeshops and experience the community of a shared work environment is no longer representative of the coworking movement, a panel of experts told an audience of architects at the Knoll New York City showroom.

While some associate coworking with large open desk areas and early-stage scrappy startups, shared space has grown up in many ways and is moving into a more interesting realm, requiring more sophisticated design, measurement and marketing approaches.

Speaking at an event presented by the New York City chapter of the AIA, space providers, occupiers, landlords and architects discussed how this rapidly evolving industry is transforming the workplace.

A New Definition for Coworking

A confluence of trends, including people wanting choice in how, when and where they work; corporate need for short and long-term flexibility; the miniaturization and portability of technology; and Millennials desiring to work in environments reminiscent of their recent college experience have all changed the workplace landscape, according to Joyce Bromberg, chief strategy officer at Convene.

“It has evolved into something new that is not really coworking anymore,” explained Bromberg. “We’re looking at a new way to provide workplace for enterprise-level clients.”

Everything that we know about landlords and how workplaces are designed, built, managed and staffed is being disrupted, necessitating a new name for what Bromberg predicts will become the way people work and how real estate will be consumed.

“Continuing to call it coworking is doing a disservice for what it has become.”

“The shared economy dynamics you saw in early coworking hold true to some degree as you scale up, and then they shift and become more about the relationship with the landlord,” explained Eivind Karlsen, head of design at Industrious.

Coworking, with its broader umbrella, is about shorter lease terms and an added layer of service and hospitality that ultimately empower the provider and user of the space.

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“We’re challenged to make sure that we create a service that satisfies the modern worker, if we fail to do so, they will move to another operator,” Karlsen added. “This is a fairly new dynamic. You’re giving the occupier a key that they didn’t previously have.”

“Consumerization at the speed of decision-making,” added moderator Melissa Marsh, founder of Plastarc, and senior managing director at Savills Studley.

For the corporate occupier, it has led to more purposeful decision-making about where to locate particular groups and departments, according to Lucia Diana, global real estate for Verizon.

Coworking now also encompasses “co-locating” people, which numerous corporations have done in spaces such as Alley powered by Verizon, tech-heavy communities that the communications giant has opened to monetize its obsolete real estate holdings.

“I think that other ‘co’ is not about keeping people out, but finding ways to bring what’s going on in the world into our organization,” Marsh commented. “And I think a really big piece of Verizon’s approach to coworking is recognizing that there’s potentially more to be had by letting the boundaries down than by building them up.”

Summarizing criteria for the new definition that puts the “co” in coworking, Marsh offered, “The definition of coworking is about how people work. It’s also about how the real estate, design and construction industry deliver that product in a more systematic or productized way.”

Coworking is:

  • A way of working with people in more diverse environments.
  • Co-locating people in different companies.
  • A way of delivering hospitality-driven office environment as a service.
  • Flexibility.
  • Speed of change from real estate and demand side.
  • Redefining corporate intellectual property boundaries from defense to offensive .