15 Years On, What Is The Future Of Coworking?

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International Coworking Day takes place on August 9th 2020, which marks the 15th anniversary of the coworking movement.
  • International Coworking Day takes place on August 9th 2020, which marks the 15th anniversary of the coworking movement.
  • The pandemic has created challenges for coworking, but it is also generating fresh demand for the industry as people seek out more workplace flexibility.
  • Ahead of the big day, coworking owners and operators around the world shared their thoughts with Allwork.Space on the future of coworking.

On Sunday August 9th 2020, the coworking movement marks its 15th anniversary.

Why August 9th? 

In 2005, that was the day when software engineer Brad Neuberg blogged about an idea to “come together in community” and cowork together.

Re-reading Neuberg’s original post at a time when many people are forced to work from home, often in isolation and under threat not just from a global health crisis but also loneliness, anxiety, stress and burnout, his words hit closer to home than ever before:

“Traditionally, society forces us to choose between working at home for ourselves or working at an office for a company. If we work at a traditional 9 to 5 company job, we get community and structure, but lose freedom and the ability to control our own lives. If we work for ourselves at home, we gain independence but suffer loneliness and bad habits from not being surrounded by a work community. Coworking is a solution to this problem.” – Brad Neuberg, Coding in Paradise

While communities offer a solution, it is also the reason coworking is facing challenges in 2020. The collaborative nature of coworking, which brings dozens of people together to share space and amenities under the same roof, seems alien during these times of lockdown and physical distancing.

But it’s not the end of the story. In fact, most would say it’s the beginning of a new chapter. Coworking is finding its way back by drawing on its collaborative strength, by encouraging owners and operators to work together, share knowledge, swap resources, and support each other.

Suggested Reading: 30 Flexible Workspaces Share Their COVID-19 Adaptations

With measures such as reduced capacity, smaller meetings, single-use utensils, physically distanced workstations, one-way systems, and a ton of cleaning, coworking and flexible spaces are re-opening and welcoming members back safely.

Coworking is slowly turning the tide.

But don’t just take our word for it. What do coworking owners, operators, and members have to say about the now, and the future, of coworking?

The Future of Coworking

Jamie Orr from Jellyswitch and Cowork Tahoe (California, US)

One quote I use as a go to is this from William Gibson: “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed” (The Economist, December 4, 2003)

I feel like one potential positive to come out of this pandemic is a more distributed workforce, even after we are beyond it. It does not mean the death of the office, but rather a distribution of the office. For coworking and flexible offices, I think we will see workers that are now able to have more flexibility and mobility in their jobs use coworking spaces to support their new worklife. For some, that will mean the ability to move away from cities. For others, it might mean having the ability to have a shorter commute or a change of scenery depending upon the type of work being done (home, office, coffee shop, coworking space).

So in the next 12-18 months I think we will see a higher demand for space in suburban and rural markets than we’ve seen before and that by the 5 year mark we will see many new spaces opened up and established to meet that need.

Brad Krauskopf, Hub Australia

Over the next twelve to eighteen months coworking, and indeed the workplace, cities and society in general will evolve at a breakneck pace to a new way of working in a distributed model that revolves around the person and where they can work in the most productive, safe and happy way. This will still include a company HQ in an office tower or coworking space in the CBD or fringe, but working-from-home will become part of the workplace mix for all good employers, as will providing the option to escape the isolation of working alone, beat the commute and work near-to-home from professionally operated suburban and regional work hubs. 

In the years to follow, once institutions and infrastructure have caught up to the new normal, the way organisations will consume much of their workspace will shift from meters squared to people squared. Whilst traditional leases will always make sense for a portion of an organisation’s workspace, and essential for landlord commercial models, outsourced providers of Workspace-as-a-Service will increasingly be the only way that an organisation can service the workspace requirements of its distributed workforce. This is good news for all of us as these outsourced providers will ultimately only succeed if they deliver a productive, safe and happy workplace experience that people love. Coworking operators are well positioned to respond to this demand.

Cat Johnson from CatJohnson.co

Coworking is uniquely positioned to help usher in a brighter future that we can see off on the horizon—a future where everyone has the opportunity to explore, and fulfill, their potential. I envision a world in which anyone who desires can plug into the right coworking space for them. These shared spaces provide the infrastructure for starting and growing a business, and also the support networks for personal and professional development.

We know there’s a wave of people coming to coworking once we’re on the other side of COVID. This is the perfect time for space operators to revisit their purpose, values and vision. The world is changing. People want to align with companies that are aligned with their values and ideals. It’s time to remove the barriers that keep people isolated and siloed. We have such incredible collective potential. I see coworking leading the way into a more connected, collaborative world.

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    Laura Tien, Workit Spaces (Sydney, Australia)

    In recent months, we’ve seen interest in our traditional office spaces decrease with people looking to work from home. On the flip side, we’ve seen a massive surge in people moving into our eCommerce showroom and storage spaces. We’ve had a lot of new members join in the past couple of months and we thought getting together (safely!) on Coworking Day would be a great community building opportunity.

    We’ll be celebrating with lots of (not so healthy, but delicious) doughnuts for breakfast. We’ll give everyone the chance to explain what they do and why they decided to join our coworking space. Throughout the day, we’ll get people to add their favourite songs to a playlist and we’ll play it in the common areas.

    With COVID-19’s restrictions, we have our sights set on the eCommerce market as the future of retail and coworking in Australia. We’re only expecting the growth of eCommerce to accelerate in the next few years, even if things go ‘back to normal’ sooner.

    Carina Boston Pinales, Splash Coworking (Texas, US)

    The future of coworking is that which replaces or fills in the void that public spaces and institutions were thought to provide. It is the new common community space and brings value by way of how the individual member can benefit. For us a big milestone was finding a solution for our members when it came to health care, we now have the beginning of that solution by being the first-ever, flagship program in partnership with iSelectMD.

    Creative Capacity Building is our methodology. We aid in the process and creation of an environment to evoke insight and application for a transformative, regenerative community, and Splash’s primary goal and mission is to create sustainable independence through community. We are the go to resource for opportunities and innovation in our ecosystem. This is far away from the real estate model most coworking spaces have structured their model around and is why we are still going strong where others unfortunately have fallen short.

    Hannah Clifford, Nairobi Garage (Nairobi, Kenya)

    It’s hard to envisage that companies and people will no longer need work space. Working from home isn’t all that practical for many people, especially in Kenya. I think there will be an increased focus on flexible work strategies, which sees more teams considering working in a remote or dispersed fashion – which could mean coworking spaces become a secondary space to offer employees options other than WFH or coming to the “main office”.

    We may also see companies going fully flexible, where employees have memberships to a coworking space with multiple locations and the employee chooses which space to work from, depending on preference for that day; which was already happening to an extent for some of our members – so I think this situation has accelerated that trend.

    Overall – we are very positive that long-term coworking is the most sustainable approach to work-life balance. Plus there is a huge need for social interaction and a supportive community for general happiness and fulfilment, which this pandemic has highlighted.

    The Future of Coworking – What Do the Stats Say?

    In lieu of a crystal ball, we have research and trends that help to project how the coworking and flexible office industry is likely to emerge from the pandemic, and how it will evolve over the next few years.

    A joint report from CoworkingResources and Coworker.com — The 2020 Global Coworking Growth Study — suggested the following growth pattern for coworking and flexible space:

    • The number of coworking spaces worldwide is projected to reach almost 20,000 in 2020.
    • The number of coworking spaces worldwide is expected to more than double by 2024, and surpass 40,000.
    • In 2020 the coworking market is forecasted to grow at around half the rate as the previous two years, due to the coronavirus.
    • However, the study expects growth to rebound from 2021 onwards, with a yearly growth rate of 21.3% until 2024.
    • Around 5 million people will work from coworking spaces by 2024, an increase of 158% compared to 2020.

    In a separate study, Workthere, a flexible office broker, released data in July 2020 showing that enquiry levels for office space globally have rebounded to an average of 44% of normal levels, up from 20% in April and 28% in May.

    On a more corporate level, JLL, which famously claimed that by 2030, 30% of all office space will be flexible, is standing by that prediction.

    JLL’s new report ‘The Impact of COVID-19 on Flexible Space: What the Future Holds in a Fast-paced World Affected by the Pandemic’, suggests that following the coronavirus pandemic, the need for agile portfolios with a spectrum of flexible options will only increase.

    So, what’s the future of coworking and flexible space?

    Ultimately, the future is bright.

    There will be ongoing challenges, adjustments, and some workspace closures owing to the current situation and the immediate aftermath. But long-term, the trends that have been driving people to flexible space in recent years are being amplified and accelerated, which means more people will flock to flexible space in the coming months and years.

    Wherever you are on August 9th, Happy International Coworking Day from Allwork.Space!

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