Coworking as we know it is changing. In fact, it might have already changed.
For a time, the practicality and efficiency of shared office space at a price lower than most commercial rent rates was the main selling point. Tacked onto the end of the pitch, almost as an afterthought, were notions of community and paeans to networking.
But it seemed a little forced, a little heavy on wishful thinking. Was anyone really taking a coworking desk to make friends?
Heading into 2017, the answer is yes, actually, community in coworking is extremely valuable. And not just to those enterprising individuals seizing the opportunity to connect. Coworking, at least the retooled version, could impact whole cities, whether they’re asking for it or not.
As a budding industry, coworking is entering a highly competitive phase. Shared space at lower rates is no longer enough to lure the cognoscenti. It’s the extracurriculars that can make coworking more than the sum of its parts.
The same promises of “community” are making the rounds—they’re just backed with a little more proof now.
More Niche Coworking Cohorts
The accessibility of coworking is giving way to something else:
Call it a reaction to the monoculture so expertly skewered on shows like Silicon Valley, but places like the Wing, a Flatiron coworking enclave exclusively for women, will only proliferate.
Instead of the standard coworking experience, the Wing bills itself as more of a club that brings women together for “fellowship” (their word), where socializing isn’t something that has to be enforced (as has been the complaint in some coworking circles trying to “build community”) but is more holistic and, ultimately, empowering.
The trend has its critics but will likely grow to encapsulate other groups that see benefit in this kind of networking. Coworking for women is itself a phenomenon spreading throughout the country, in places like Philadelphia, St. Louis and Phoenix.
And it’s not merely a matter of identity politics, either. Coworking by industry is gaining popularity as well.
Coworking space has long existed outside of places like New York and San Francisco, but as a cultural phenomenon and community foothold, it’s just getting started.
One city that’s particularly interesting to watch is Boston. How will GE’s move to the city impact its economy? Will it result in a tech boom that bridges the gap between the talent brewing at the city’s many esteemed universities and the private sector?
Spaces, a Regus-owned enclave located at 359 Newbury Street, entering this new ecosystem. The consortium offers 300 dedicated desks, 100 coworking desks and a number of meeting rooms.
Spaces Newbury Street opens in Febuary.
Fine, a thriving coworking scene in a city like Boston might not be a stretch. But what about places on the wrong end of the best states to do business?
Take a place like Maine (where, full disclosure, this writer hails from), which still relies heavily on tourism and shipbuilding contracts for industry. Portland now features a handful of coworking spaces like Think Tank, but can they thrive long enough to spur on new, innovative businesses? Can they nurture industry at scale? If they can, perhaps Maine can find its footing in the Trump economy.
To the extent ping pong tables ever infiltrated coworking offices too, they’re starting to give way to more practical, value-additive benefits.
In the case of the aforementioned Spaces, on-demand dry cleaning services and IT support are included benefits. You can imagine developments like creative services and event planning not far behind.
Where ping-pong symbolized a startup’s willingness to loosen up, it quickly became caricature. Next will be a yoga mat.
Massive companies like KPMG and HSBC have embarked on adventures in coworking (or coworking-lite) experiences.
HSBC moved 300 workers into a WeWork space in Hong Kong last year; GE sent 20 people to a WeWork space in Boston; KPMG took 75 desks at a WeWork in Manhattan. Do they just need flexible space for a big project? Is it a recruitment ploy? Open floor plan envy? If it’s just a matter of pinching pennies, surely other large companies will follow.
What’s perhaps a more interesting trend is what companies like Microsoft are doing with Reactor, a sort of in-house coworking space for developers and local entrepreneurs. It gives Microsoft ample opportunity link up with local entrepreneurs and developers which, despite its former CEO’s exhortations, hasn’t always been easy sledding. And the budding talent gets great value on a workspace with nice amenities and some resources from a software giant.
In places like the Microsoft Reactor and the Wing, we may very well be witnessing the birth of some kind of post-coworking, where the emphasis is less “work” and more “co.”