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How big a threat is coworking to your business?

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Once the staple of freelancers and startups, coworking is creeping into the corporate environment and making businesses reevaluate their way of working. 

Coworking spaces are shared workspaces where you can hire a desk or an office on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. There’s no restrictive and expensive rental agreement - you just show up whenever you need to and work surrounding by fellow flexible workers. 

Coworking is a growing phenomenon. More than one million people will work across an estimated 14,000 worldwide coworking spaces in 2017 compared to half a million people in 8,700 spaces in 2015, research reveals. And big businesses are starting to feel the impact of this surge in popularity.   

For example, Automattic, which is the company behind Wordpress, recently closed its main office in San Francisco because no one showed up. Employees were finding different ways and places to work.   

While most people choose to work from home, Automattic also gives its staff a coworking allowance of $250/month if they want to work from a cafe or coworking space. Matt Mullenweg, founder and CEO at Automattic, said: “It's more about distributed work, rather than having an office or a coworking space.” 

But coworking spaces do hold a certain appeal for remote employees, as Lucas Seyhun, cofounder at NYC-based The Farm Coworking, explained: “While we welcome a core community of entrepreneurs and startups, we are seeing more workers from multinational companies eager to dodge the commute or find a productive place to work from coming through our doors.”   

“However, I would not say that this shift is a threat to these corporations. It is an evolution of the way people now want to work - which is flexibly,” Seyhun added. 

So, is coworking really such a bad thing for your company?   

Not at all. Frank Cottle, chairman and CEO of the Alliance Business Centers group of companies, operating in 52 countries worldwide, said: “Coworking? A threat? That’s like saying technology is a threat, or training, or collaboration in the workplace, or even diversity. Coworking is an asset, not a threat, and what companies of all sizes can learn from coworking is the importance of creating a working community that collaborates with a sense of common values and goals.”     

“It’s not an entirely new concept; but, it’s one whose fruition has come together and formed the nexus of three mega-trends: technology, millennialism and contracting. Add economic globalism into the mix and you have the working economy of the future, not just the workplace of the future,” Cottle added.   

Evidence suggests that flexible working boosts both productivity and profits. In a survey of 8,000 global employers, 61% said flexible working increased company profits, and 83% said adopting such practices resulted in improvements in productivity.   

Coworking could also help corporations be more innovative, according to the Harnessing the Potential of Coworking report, which said: “More and more corporations have already started to realise that coworking offers great potential for fostering innovation.”   

“Coworking spaces provide a productive, creative, and satisfying work atmosphere, not just for freelancers, but also for corporate organisations," the report added.   

This also gives your organisations the ability to build synergy as your staff will be part of a supportive community, instead of an environment ruled by office politics and hostile competitiveness. 

How could you use coworking in your company?   

Shutting up your office and fully embracing flexible work solutions probably a step too far for your business. But there are several ways you can embrace this way of working.   

You could set up a team in a coworking space as professional services firm KPMG did in Camden’s Interchange coworking spot. A resident team of advisors are on hand to offer advice, support and mentorship to London’s small business community. It’s an arrangement that benefits both the coworking community (who get instant access to business advice) and KPMG (who are front of house to the capital’s startup scene).   

Big businesses including Santander, Soundcloud, AOL, Skyscanner and British Gas are also using London’s coworking spots and Spotify, Pandora Media and AT&T have all begun coworking in the USA too.   

IBM took things one step further and have reportedly taken over an entire coworking space in New York. At the other end of the scale, you could use a virtual office to give your business a presence in another city. Most virtual offices let you rent out an office address, live receptionist and meeting rooms for your staff.   

You could also set up a base in a coworking space for remote working. It’s a savvy move as flexible working is predicted to be the main way of working for 70 per cent of the workforce by 2020.     

Placing employees in a coworking space also addresses many of the concerns of remote working, such as isolation from colleagues and career opportunities. Coworking spaces give your employees the opportunity to interact with others using the space - and this environment boosts innovation and productivity, research from Cornell University reveals.   

Networking, on both a personal and company level, is another obvious advantage - your staff will connect with professionals across a range of industries. Your employees will also learn from the community of coworking professionals and can expand their skill set, which opens the door for further professional development opportunities.   

A coworking space could also be used to run company events, as Seyhun explained: “A recent member at The Farm was part of America's SAP Users group. She used our space for remote work and also held events in our NYC event space for smaller gatherings at SAP.”   

“The pull of our event space for big businesses is that it’s not only aesthetically stunning, it also lets them tap into the startup community in a seamless manner,” Seyhun added.   

So, is coworking a threat to your business? No. If used wisely, it actually presents a crucial opportunity to match the future demands of your workforce, maximise your productivity, keep you innovating and, ultimately, keep you in business. 

Gemma Church, specialist journalist, copywriter and blogger 

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Gemma Church
Gemma Church is "the freelance writer who gets tech", a specialist journalist, copywriter and blogger for the science and technology sectors. Her USP is that she's worked in the industries she writes about, bringing a unique level of insight and experience that most writers cannot offer.