Over the past five years more and more companies- small, medium, and large- have embraced coworking as part of their workplace strategy. It is now widely accepted that coworking is no longer just for freelancers, startups, and solopreneurs. When firms such as IBM, Amazon, and UBS take up whole buildings under WeWork’s coworking management system, it is clear that the coworking industry has hit an inflection point and is heading to a new level of maturity.
What are the specific elements, from a corporate perspective, that are driving those rising rates of adoption? There are many, but I consider a couple here.
1. The real estate angle is an obvious one. As firms scale up and down, and as company employees seek greater choice and flexibility in how they work, fluid workspace solutions help firms avoid costly long leases for offices that go underutilized. Traditional office utilization rates rarely get above 60%, which has been a structural problem in corporate real estate for years. Of course, this is great for asset owners and brokers, who happily lease tenant companies more space than they need, but for companies and employees it seems that that changing..
2. Another driver, as yet not sufficiently explored, is the issue of productivity and employee output among workers who work in coworking spaces. Recent research suggests that working in open plan offices not only leads to greater frequency of illness in offices, but that workers in open plan offices are also 15% less productive than their office-bound counterparts. This is food for thought for workplace strategists.
Working in the Fish Bowl
Perhaps this is why many (if not most) corporate employees who work in coworking spaces do so within private offices within the spaces. Yet, in this transition, the square footage per worker has continued to shrink to around 40-50 sq ft (down from around 150-250 sq ft per person in the traditional office, and now down to around 100-150 sq ft in the corporate environment). This raises an important question that needs addressing. How small can the sq ft per worker shrink before these private offices cease to be desirable and productive places to work?
More academic research needs to be conducted on corporate employee productivity in coworking spaces before we can know how it differs from declining productivity in open plan offices back at company HQ. Such research will be critical as companies continue to consider coworking as part of their workplace portfolio.
Now that coworking has proven to be a real thing, it is time for academic researchers to play their part in terms of generating actionable research to help companies in their ongoing decision making processes regarding their workplace strategies.
This article authored by OpenWork Agency Partner, Drew Jones, PhD.