There was a time when remote work almost exclusively meant working from home. Maybe it’s a desk in the corner of the living room, maybe it’s a private office over the garage. Regardless of the location, a big benefit is that it’s easier to work without disruptions. However, it can also be lonely. Hopping off to a coffee shop can help, but how much coffee can one person drink? Given the challenge, it’s no surprise that along with the rise in remote work, there has been a rise in alternatives to places to work.
Those who enjoy a little human contact but crave the flexibility of a remote work schedule can have the best of both worlds – working away from a central office but still being around people through co-working sites. Shared office spaces are popping up in cities and towns across the country offering a hybrid space that combines the work anywhere ethos with the comforts of a traditional office.
It’s a concept we’ll hear more about as demand grows and investors see limitless potential. The number of co-working locations worldwide could balloon to 14,000 by 2030 up from 600 in 2010, according to Green Street Advisors. The growth is driven by demand combined with the technological advances that make it more realistic. And, just as companies found cost savings in outsourcing IT and cloud computing, C-Suite executives are examining co-work spaces and “hoteling” options as an alternative to fixed-cost office overhead.
What is co-working?
Co-working isn’t a new concept, companies like Regus – a major “hoteling” firm that started in Brussels, Belgium in the 80’s – have provided flexible office solutions to a traveling business audience quite successfully for a long time. But remote work trends and the gig economy are redefining and expanding the meaning of co-working to include a wider range of options. It goes to the very heart of the future of work and where we will conduct business in the coming decades. As with all thing related to remote work, it’s about cost-savings, practicality, flexibility, worker preference, work-life integration, technical connectivity, redefining community and saving the environment.
“On one level co-working is about providing office space and amenities,” says Michael Lucerto, who launched Inc.ubate, a boutique co-working space just outside of Boston. “But on a deeper level, it’s about connecting with people and plugging into a community.”
On the demand side, the trend has been driven largely growth in the number of white-collar workers out on their own into 1099 independent contracting and temporary gig work. Add this is to the big push towards small business and entrepreneurship for college graduates or middle-aged professionals alike when large companies contracted and stopped hiring.
Now, there’s more interest from big companies looking for options to expanding their offices. In some cases, it’s an option to ease overcrowding or add flexible space. In other cases, they’re setting up satellite offices in across town or in other cities.
Of course, demand is being fueled by a growing number of providers who have opened spaces and are heavily marketing to raise awareness about the option. What was once a quirky cottage industry has grown to include big business as investors realized the opportunities in scaling. In addition to the independent spaces, there are a growing number of companies with a regional presence like Workbar that has offices scattered throughout greater Boston. And then there are companies like WeWork with offices scattered around the world. Each provider has its own set of benefits and opportunities.
The Co-Work Advantage
Because these spaces are being built from scratch with the sole focus of providing a great work environment, they may have an advantage over a traditional office setting. Unlike a traditional office, people are paying to be here so it has to be a place they’re willing to pay for. The primary goal is comfort and convenience.
WorkBar has neighborhoods within each location that are designed for specific needs. Need to talk on the phone? Hang out in the café. Looking for a quiet space? Try the library where there is open seating but limited conversation. Or, head to a private office if you need to shut out all distractions. If you need to meet, there are rooms for that too.
The deeper benefits go beyond having a desk, ergonomic chair, and fully stocked copy machine. Co-working is as much about community as it is a physical location. Often co-working places will host lunches, networking events or after-hours parties to bring workers together. There are hosts at the door who handle the logistics of getting people settled in along with making introductions and helping people get to know each other. The result is co-workers without the typical drama.
“You have co-workers who aren’t a part of your project. You can ask for advice and they’ll give you feedback, but it’s more collegial,” said Devin Cole, head of community at Workbar.
The co-working places can provide the energy of an office without the commute.
“You are around like-minded, motivated people,” Devin said. “Being around people who are working hard is motivating.”
Co-working isn’t the answer for everyone. There is a cost involved. For some, it adds a commute. And, with community comes distractions that can interfere with productivity. However, it may be the solution for some of the big challenges of remote work. There are amenities and advanced technology that may not be available in a home office. There are people to bounce ideas off and potential collaborations. It’s a place to escape the distractions of home. And with so many places and spaces available, it fits in with the work wherever/whenever concept.
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