Are We Ready For Communal Workspaces?

(As featured on Monster.ca)

It’s the era of the communal workspace, and we’re just living in it.

You might have noticed a proliferation of coworking spaces in the past decade. Perhaps you’ve seen them advertised on your Facebook feed, or your hip former colleague works in one.

Coworking spaces, also known as communal workspaces, started popping up in big American cities in the mid-2000s, as more people became self-employed either as freelancers or startup founders, explains The Atlantic article, “As Coworking Spaces Scale, Can They Keep Their Communal Vibe?”

The economic downturn led to companies replacing full-time employees with contractors, while others in the workforce chose the freelance route to free themselves of their regular “9 to 5”, corporate jobs.

According to SmallBizLabs.com, coworking spaces are getting more and more popular. Recent studies predict that coworking memberships are poised to grow about 40 percent per year to reach 1 million members globally by 2018.

 Cubicle vs. Shared Office Space

 The days of the four-walled cubicle are no longer relevant. That era is perfectly represented by the Dilbert comics of the late ‘80s, which poked fun at corporate life and the typical micromanaged office.

Cubicles are becoming an antiquated concept, much like fax machines and the Rolodex. Let’s be real: the cat or dog posters with inspirational quotes often found hanging on cubicle walls can’t even save them from their sterile nature!

Instead of cubicles, today’s freelancers and startup / small business employees can work in beautifully decorated co-working spaces, featuring cool decor, lounge areas, conference rooms, unlimited fresh coffee, long desks for people to share, while enjoying the benefits of collaborative working.

Keep in mind that when referring to coworking spaces, I’m not simply referring to an open-air office — it’s describing people from various different companies working in the same shared space. Some of the more popular ones today include WeWork (they have over 20 locations spread out amongst the U.S., Europe, Israel, and recently launched their first spot in Canada, with a Montreal location) and Regus (one of the original “virtual office” space providers, and admittedly more of a flex office space than a communal workspace), which is currently in seven Canadian provinces.

WeWork is more representative of the hip, inviting, collaborative, and “community” vibes that today’s coworking spaces are all about. There’s a long list of these kinds of communal workspaces, such as NeueHouse (which has outposts in NYC, LA and London), Spring Place (which is an upscale workspace and membership club, with a location in NYC and more to come in cities like LA, Buenos Aires, Paris, and Hong Kong) and Buro, currently in four locations in Miami, an important hub for independent contractors.

The rise of coworking spaces begs the question: is this the new standard in office culture? And are these types of open-air, communal spaces improving workplace productivity?

Let’s examine the benefits and (possible) disadvantages of communal workspaces.

The good

 It leads to networking opportunities

Business contacts are literally at your fingertips — or more specifically, sitting across from you. When you work in a coworking space, you’re surrounded by like-minded individuals, and you become part of a creative community. This is one of the main selling points that communal workspaces drive home: magical things can happen when chatting with people over coffee!

I spoke with Jed Wexler, CEO and Director of Strategy at 818 Agency, a full-service B2B content marketing agency, about his experience in a coworking space in NYC: “People come to a coworking space to be around other people. When starting a new business, your vision quest can sometimes be a lonely endeavor until it takes off — it’s nice to come to work every day knowing that everyone understands and supports your hustle, your desire to architect your own life.”

Wexler continues: “Networking is huge, as long as you make the most of it. As with any type of networking, you have to be able to explain what you do succinctly so the people you network with can easily understand what you do and can then sell you to other people. We’ve met so many talented people where we are — we met our website developer in our space and now work on tons of projects together.”

Organic networking at its best!

 It boosts creativity

According to an article in Fast Company, 71 percent of participants reported a boost in creativity since joining a coworking space, while 62 percent said their standard of work had improved. (This stat is from Deskmag’s annual Global Coworking Survey).

Fast Company also included this stat from Deskmag: 90 percent of people in a coworking space said they got a boost of self-confidence, likely because their working environment cultivates creative collaboration.

It makes work-life balance possible

Thankfully, there seems to have been a shift in corporate thinking, from a “punch in, punch out” office culture, to a “get things done” / output mentality. According to the aforementioned Fast Company article, coworking or virtual offices make it possible for office workers to have “flex space” to hold meetings or get work done on the road. Regus is renowned for offering temporary spaces for employees of companies like Google, Amazon, and other Fortune 500 companies.

I can’t mention “flex office space” without giving a shout-out to Breather. The innovative app offers on-demand space, with a range of meeting rooms in buildings and even cafes, for office workers or freelancers to either “take a breather” while on the road, hold a collaborative work session or meet with prospective clients.

 It includes tech support

An amazing part of communal workspace membership is the built-in tech support you get. No need to deal with troubleshooting or trying to hook up your wireless printer.

 It’s great for your image

Just like that, as part of a communal workspace, you get a corporate address, access to conference rooms, and a front desk greeting visitors and prospective clients. So you’re automatically perceived as more professional. Boom.

It’s an easy way for a company to test a new market

Some companies are renting out desks in virtual or coworking spaces rather than investing in permanent office space, when penetrating a new market. It’s an effective and cautious way to expand before going full-force.

It offers built-in workshops / training  

Some coworking spaces even develop their own newsletters, with original branded content to help keep members in the know, as explained by 818 Agency. For example, WeWork’s magazine is called “Creator” and focuses on education, while NeueHouse develops “NeueJournal,” a source of innovative creative news featuring the best of art, fashion and culture. This is amazing added value – talk about priceless marketing!

The bad:

 It can be distracting

Maybe there’s a reason a cubicle has walls? In an open office concept, you become privy to random conversations (the guy in front of you is breaking up with his girlfriend and the two programmers by the foosball table are having a major “Aha” moment). All you know is, you have a deadline looming and you’re starting to stress out.

Jed Wexler of 818 continues: “Noise-canceling earphones/headphones are the new cubicle. We can self-isolate yet still be connected to our crowd!” Put some on when it’s crunchtime.

 It makes privacy difficult

If you’re meeting prospective new clients or shareholders, you won’t have privacy in these kinds of spaces, unless you book a conference room.

 It can feel lonely

Turns out that even being amongst other people can make you feel lonely if you don’t know any of them. And it can be intimidating if you’re a freelancer working on your own. Moreover, if everyone is wearing noise-canceling headphones, then you actually don’t talk to anyone!

 It can be pricey

As an independent freelancer, the monthly investment of working in a coworking space can get costly, especially if you need to pay for daily parking. But if the contracts and networking opportunities are worthwhile, then it’s definitely interesting — and beats working at your local coffee shop every day!

 The takeaway

The pros certainly outweigh the cons when it comes to a co-working space.

The amazing thing about being part of a shared office space is that you’re surrounded by likeminded people who are pursuing their passion – whether as a freelancer or start-up.

Not being part of one might make you feel like you’re missing the boat — especially if you’re following their accounts on Instagram. (This can be quite #FOMO inducing!)

When it comes to choosing the right coworking space for you or your company, it comes down to personal preference and your needs. So much like when looking for a home, visit as many spots in your city and trust your gut — when it feels like “the one,” you’ll know.

 As for the traditional cubicle?

 Jed Wexler says it best: “I’ve yet to meet anyone who has been happy working in a traditional cubicle space — it represents a bygone era. It costs the same to design a holistic space that can accommodate both privacy and open community. These ‘bullpens’ are, or should be, a dying breed.”

Here’s to a future of collaborative working and communal office space. After all, sharing is caring.

Resources:

http://www.smallbizlabs.com/2014/05/coworking-forecast.html

 http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/02/as-coworking-spaces-scale-can-they-keep-their-communal-vibe/385653/

http://www.fastcompany.com/3004788/future-coworking-and-why-it-will-give-your-business-huge-edge

 http://818agency.com/content-marketing-for-shared-work-spaces/

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