Short-term pain, long-term gain?

Popular pre-Covid, coworking spaces were hammered by the pandemic. Now, with the remote workforce growing, they may be uniquely positioned to fill the void

Photo: Second-floor coworking space at Innovation Works 

ONE OF THE biggest beneficiaries of the uncertain future of office work might be coworking spaces. After being hit hard in the early stages of the pandemic, over the last year the industry has worked hard to position itself as the in-between — a compromise solution between remote work and a whole-hog return to the office.

Neither has emerged as the general preference; studies have consistently found that the bulk of people want to see a hybrid arrangement — some remote, some in-person work. Coworking spaces, then, seem a bit like a natural solution, for workers keen to ditch the office part-time, for home-based entrepreneurs looking for a break from the home office and for and companies looking to downsize their office footprint.

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“We continue to have daily inquiries from organizations that want to give up larger brick and mortar spaces to lease flexible office space for anywhere from a few workers up to 25, who would rotate into the desks on different days,” says Lore Wainwright, director of operations at London’s Innovation Works coworking space on King Street, run by the Pillar Nonprofit Network. “Employers are responding to how work culture is changing and embracing our time-tested and proven model of flexible work — for organizations and individuals.”

“Coworking spaces are a clear choice for organizations looking to accelerate growth while caring for employee wellbeing” ―Lore Wainwright

That trend can be seen in the raw number of coworking spaces now active in the world — around 20,000, a number some industry watchers say could double by 2024. They are thought to be particularly popular with younger generations, more and more of whom work in isolated gig economy roles that tend to lack relationship-building qualities. Shifting one’s work to a coworking space could thus be a benefit for employees of a company and independent workers, a melting pot of sorts.

“It’s about the relationship among people who are here, or welcoming others from the community,” says Innovation Works tenant, Sheila Simpson. “Thats what it’s about — people who are there for one another — and Innovation Works is just that. There have been times when other people who are co-tenant members here have picked me up when I’ve been having a rough time, and I’ve tried to do the same, and I think that’s what a really good community does.”

Short-term pain, long-term gain? coworking WorkforceInnovation Works director of operations, Lore Wainwright

Coworking spaces are gaining attention from companies who are shifting away from the model of a centralized headquarters.

“Businesses and people are seeking more sustainable ways to live and work,” writes researcher, Jasmina Berbegal-Mirabent, in a study of coworking spaces. “Likewise, the adoption of agile and lean practices has altered fundamental aspects of the work culture and requires new approaches that are better suited to the current needs. Coffee houses, libraries and hotels offer the attractiveness of being intermediate spaces between home and work, away from distractions. At the same time, they provide a social and inspiring atmosphere.”

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None of those spaces were designed as places for work, though, she points out. Coworking spaces present an elegant solution: a place for work with the vibe of somewhere else.

“Coworking spaces are a clear choice for organizations looking to accelerate growth while caring for employee wellbeing,” says Wainwright. “We are seeing that two to three days in the office is the sweet spot. As more organizations embrace this approach to work, I am confident that we will see gains towards both economic and emotional healing for communities and organizations alike. The time is now.” Short-term pain, long-term gain? coworking Workforce Kieran Delamont

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