In the world of work in 2019 and beyond, speedy internet connections and ergonomic chairs are a given. But as coworking spaces expand to new cities and become increasingly available, how do coworking spaces differentiate themselves and evolve to serve a broader set of needs?
Victoria Landreville, director of community engagement at Ottawa-based coworking space Coworkly, sees the future of competitive advantage in community building. “We don’t take everybody here,” says Landreville firmly. “We want people who are positive and contributing and who bring a good spirit to the space. This has been our focus from the beginning and it’s really paid off.”
Building Communities with Diversity in Mind
A new generation of coworking spaces provide members with their office needs, comfortable amenities, and opportunities to meet people from outside their field who can bring new perspectives and ideas.
Landreville notes that when Coworkly launched, she and Arar pictured the space attracting “mostly 30-year-old techies.” Instead, they’re seeing several generations — X, Z, and millennial — commingling and connecting.
Connecting with a diverse base of individuals who work in different fields and at myriad companies benefits coworkers in multiple ways. Those who cowork have reported that frequently sharing and explaining their work to others has helped strengthen their work identities, and they report increased collaboration with those outside their organizations.
This benefits individual employees by giving them a renewed sense of both purpose and structure, as well as diverse learning and networking opportunities. It also benefits the organizations employing these individuals by driving employee engagement and retention and increasing motivation, productivity, and commitment.
Creating Workspaces in Unexpected Places
To meet non-traditional coworking needs and an increasing demand for shared spaces, non-traditional spaces are also being converted to co-working. Why camp out in a cramped coffee shop, for instance, when you can work (and meet) in style at a restaurant that’s closed for business during the day? Flexday in Toronto offers up more than 30 restaurants in the downtown core, a model that leverages downtime and is spreading. Individual cafés and bars have also partnered up to create hybrid café workspaces during bars’ unused daytime hours.
Even retail stores are getting into the action. Office supply store Staples recently launched Staples Studio within one of its Toronto locations, offering up a sleek, newly renovated space just down the street from MaRS Discovery District. Their coworking space comes complete with entrepreneurial talks and skill-building presentations available to members.
Outside of cities, a collective entrepreneurial culture is forming. Rural on Purpose, based out of Belleville, Ontario, is a pilot for co-working outside of urban areas, where the issues are different. For example, rural freelance workers tend to be spread out, older, and reliant on cars, whereas urban co-workers tend to live and work in denser areas, are often millennials, and have access to transit. The pilot attempts to address the seemingly contradictory issue of being rural and freelance and how simply mapping over an urban model to a rural setting won’t work. It needs local scale and nuance. Rural coworking is also seen as a solution to social isolation, a real problem faced by those who run solo businesses or work remotely in less dense environments.
Further abroad, the rise of remote work has led to other innovative initiatives worth exploring, such as Smart Work Centres in Singapore that offer pay-as-you-go workspaces out of libraries close to people’s homes, while in South Korea, the government has granted access to some 800 public buildings during off-hours for members of the public to host events and meetings.
Strengthening Opportunities for Coworking Members
Regardless of whether coworking spaces are based out of cities or rural towns, bars-turned-workspaces or their own buildings, they also increasingly feel a need to advocate on behalf of their members as the nature of work evolves.
According to the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship, Canada is still built upon traditional work structures where benefits and taxation are concerned. So as companies increasingly turn towards a gig employment approach to drive down costs — Google now employs more contractors than it does full-time employees — individuals may experience more flexibility and freedom, but they also frequently give up job security, health benefits, legal protections, and the ability to advance within a company.
That means coworking spaces that can solve for these risks are becoming increasingly valued.
When MaRS Commons, an 8,500-square-foot co-working space for entrepreneurs in the information and communications technologies sector, launched in 2011, entrepreneurs and small companies were still asking for a defined space in an open environment. “People still wanted to know it was ‘their desk,’ ” says Nina Gazzola, director of real estate management for MaRS Discovery District, the massive Toronto-based not-for-profit whose assets include four buildings and 1.5 million square feet of space.
As the co-working sector becomes more popular and, thus, more competitive, Gazzola says tenants expect their office to help them get ahead. “People going into a co-working space are saying ‘What else will I get by being here?’” she says. “They want to network and collaborate.’”
Those opportunities to collaborate build a mobility ladder for people working gigs or in startups by allowing for connections between people at various phases of a project. The spaces enhance this collaboration by offering strategy workshops, grant and funding guidance, networking help, and promotion.
Other spaces, such as 312 Main in Vancouver and Base Coworking in Montreal, solve other freelance pain points by offering members access to a shared health and dental plan called COHIP. Amsterdam-based coworking space TSH Collab hosted a two-week Senior Spaces project in which they hosted multigenerational collaborations and highlighted a need for gig economy supports, like freelance retirement plans and inclusive hiring practices, that support the longer lifespans and later retirement ages that younger generations are facing. Permanent senior-only workspaces have also sprung up in places like New York City.
As the world of work continues to change, so will coworking spaces and the advocacy work they do for remote employees, contractors, and freelancers. And as those offerings become stronger, the real question becomes: will traditional workplaces and workspaces keep up?