Shared workspaces and coworking

What became of networking?

By Morf Morford, Tacoma Daily Index

Shared workplaces were, not that long ago, the next great idea. The premise is simple; sharing utilities, rent and meeting spaces, among other business or networking essentials (like receptionist and custodial services, office equipment like printers and wifi, and in some cases refreshments and parcel acceptance services) are vastly more accessible and affordable as expenses split and shared among a variety of users, schedules and purposes. An entrepreneur or start-up on a budget can establish a professional presence, and in theory at least, establish a working base for their business venture.

As mentioned above, shared workspaces were seen as the next great idea – and they still are an important, and in many cases, essential service.

Few foundations are more crucial for continual economic and business development than the nurturing, low risk, temporary and introductory space with fellow entrepreneurs and local visionaries.

This is the ideal “greenhouse” or incubator for budding businesses, especially independent contractors, autonomous scientists and researchers, remote workers, digital nomads, freelance professionals, gig workers and people who travel frequently. Besides all this, co-working in a shared space helps workers avoid the feeling of social isolation they may experience while remote working or traveling.

And to a large degree, these are dedicated work spaces which, by being a dedicated gathering work-centered space, help eliminate or at least minimize distractions in the typical home office.

Many of these gathering points are about far more than providing a work-focused physical place, but some are also about establishing a community of shared interests from the arts to technology (like 3-D printing) to food preparation and much more.

As you might guess, shared workspaces are most appealing to younger creators. Way back in 2011 several surveys found that most cospace workers were in their late twenties to late thirties, with an average age of 34 years.

Two-thirds are men, one third are women. Four in five shared space workers started their career with a university education. The majority work in creative industries or new media. Slightly more than half of all co-space workers are free-lancers in a range of fields.

Between 2006 and 2015, several studies showed that the number of coworking spaces around the world roughly doubled each year.

Shared workspaces were an opportunity for entrepreneurs and freelance professionals of all kinds – and for those who saw providing those spaces as their own business opportunity.

Every city, it seems, has its own semi-neglected warehouse or historic district. From New York City to Asia to middle-sized cities around the world, locally owned and operated companies – and larger companies – have stepped up their development of such spaces.

Hot desking

Hot desking is an office organization system that involves multiple workers using a single physical work station/surface during different time periods.

The premise is that, in many work situations, a dedicated desk or work space may not be used for much of the work day by any given worker, and could therefore be shared with others on a different schedule as opposed to every staff member having their own personal desk.

As you might guess, for workers and companies alike, shared workspaces (especially on a micro-scale like hot desking) are not always popular, or, for workers or data, as safe and secure as they might be.

In some US urban areas, up to one in ten workers have or use a system of shared workspaces to some degree.

But that was then…

But, as always, one era’s great idea doesn’t necessarily translate into another era’s needs or values.

Small scale, locally owned and operated companies should be doing okay in this shifting landscape, but, like many of the big players in what many of us thought would be the new and invincible digital and online economy, from Twitter to cyber-currencies, some of the major shared workspace providers are in trouble.

WeWork, which provides about 700 flexible and shared office spaces in 119 cities across the world (as of November 1) is filing for bankruptcy. Not long ago, they were valued at $47 billion. But as with digital currencies, billions can evaporate seemingly overnight. Their share price is down 96% this year. The last time I looked, it was about $1 a share.

Sounds like it might be time for some tech moguls to get accustomed to hot desking.