Business as usual isn’t what it used to be, especially if you are in any kind of digital business. More and more, the workers who really make things happen are mobile professionals. That includes supertemps, talent-free agents, elite niche players, and freelance entrepreneurs, among others. You don’t own them, but rather rent them.
What they all have in common is a lot of options to do what they are good at, and whom they choose to work with. But they still need a place to do it, along with a place to belong while doing it.
Whether nomads, road warriors, or local homebodies, many of these workers still find they need an office-like environment in order to work productively. Yet leasing office space is often impractical and cost-prohibitive, as is annexing tables in neighborhood coffee bistros.
Coworking spaces fill this need by providing space in a full-service office on a rental or subscription basis. Coworking spaces also provide a professional environment for talent more inclined to socialize with communities of peers rather than organizations.
Working independently as a community
Coworking space locations are typically found in fashionable urban business districts. Step inside and the environment often resembles a well-heeled, stylish startup. Available are open plan desks, private offices, conference rooms, office supplies, state of the art business services, and generous amenities. Also available is a community of like-minded good neighbors and good partners, benefit coworkers tend to regard as extremely valuable.
Thus, coworking locations simultaneously create a thriving physical space and a thriving work community. They offer what University of Texas Professor Clay Spinuzzi describes in his landmark study as the “independence of freelancing with the structure and community of an office space.” It has also proven to be the formula for the massive worldwide growth of coworking locations in the last decade.
The most common participants in coworking communities tend to be independent professionals in creative or technical fields, but not exclusively so. Spinuzzi’s study found several groups of coworkers in traditional professions such as real estate, retail merchandising, and advertising. What coworkers all tended to share was deep involvement in digital business. For example, a retail merchandiser supporting lines of apparel delivered exclusively through e-commerce, or a real estate broker handling all inbound marketing online.
Where coworkers differed, according to Spinuzzi’s research, was whether their work required meeting clients regularly. Coworkers who tended to have regular in-person contact with clients preferred a coworking location that resembled a traditional office environment: private spaces, dress code, appropriately businesslike conduct at all times, and minimal distractions.
On the other hand, coworkers who seldom or never met clients in-person preferred more collaborative and informal coworking locations. Frequently, they depended on their coworking colleagues for the same kind of professional insight, feedback, dialogue, and advice that would be afforded in a standard employment environment.
Regardless of whether a co-worker regularly meets clients, being in proximity of like-minded professionals and creating a camaraderie are two of the strongest reasons for participating in a coworking community. It also goes a long way in overcoming isolation that accompanies remote work.
Doing well globally by doing good locally
The idea of going into an unfamiliar office full of strangers and trying to get work done might seem recoiling. But to many thousands of coworkers, having a place in any of the world’s major cities where they can both work and belong is as vital as the air they breathe.
To learn more about what it takes to be successful in a co-working space, we chatted with Elton Kwok, who manages 14 WeWork locations in Northern California 4 in downtown San Francisco.
“The idea of coworking is changing very quickly,” explains Kwok. “At WeWork, we see coworking as providing space as a service, and we want it to be a beautiful space, one where everyone can belong, and be a part of a bigger economy.”
To do so, Kwok encourages all coworkers to think of themselves as an entrepreneurial venture. “You are your own company. Where do you want to go with it next? We can be the platform for getting there by doing what you love.”
That platform is built upon the four tiers of service WeWork offers, each consisting of both physical and community support designed to get coworkers to their desired next level. “We design our services specifically around growing both your network and your career.”
Kwok mentioned that every new WeWork member receives personal onboarding, where the importance of belonging and community is reinforced. “But the rules of etiquette are very simple,” Kwok heartens.
“Respect other members. Use common sense. Be a good neighbor. Contribute to the community.”