New coworking spaces
Will anyone go back to the office
12 months into lockdown and WFH, there is more data on how the future of office space may work out. Initially, everyone was happy to be able to WFH, but more and more of us are hanckering to have some return to the office. As the novelty of WFH has worn off, we are having more deeper conversations around social interactions, isolation, and employee stickiness.
Employee Stickiness is a hard one to solve. Without feeling that the team you are on forms a community that in your consciousness extends beyond immediate deliverables, switching employers for a moderate pay increase would become increasingly likely. I’ve explored elsewhere how the rise of platforms such as Upwork will further extract employees our of the employer’s ecosystem and form more independent, transient employees. This challenge is something digital first companies, whose primary jobs can be done remotely without loss of quality, have to grapple with more than others. Going online means that it will take more time to build strong ties with your team and exposes every employee to global recruitment - which means the surface area for getting job offers has increased while the surface area that is holding you in your current job has decreased. Having brought up the topic, I’m going to duck out without providing any type of solution - for now.
Social Interaction and Isolation
Coworking spaces have for a long time provided a community for entrepreneurs. The initial struggles are long and lonely and having the opportunity to bounce ideas of other people helps solve problems. In a WFH future, everyone is turning into an entreprenuer - or at least dealing with the bad parts: lonliness. In a previous role which was primarily WFH, long before the pandemic, one of the struggles I experienced, and which led to burn out despite the high quality of the team, was the sense of lonliness. When you look into an abyss it is really nice to know that someone else is also seeing this abyss. By sharing the struggles, the pain, the difficulty, it helps understand that the problem is a problem. Without that re-assurance you slowly start thinking that you are the problem for not being able to navigate through this like a hot knife through butter.
This is where coworking spaces can help. Coworking has been trending up all the way until the pandemic, and even with WeWork’s spectacular demise, there was no real notion that the idea of coworking had issues. However, coming out of the pandemic coworking needs a rethink.
There are a couple of factors driving this and coworking spaces can take advantage of this to make additional revenue while solving a very good problem.
People need a space to connect with people, have conversations around professional problems, and occassionally have an unplanned interruption in their day. But nobody wants to travel an hour (or more) each way (each day) for that novelty. Coworking spaces need to consider moving closer to the suburbs to build coworking hubs, much like Goodlife Fitness. While previously, density was a key consideration that pushed coworking spaces mostly to the fringe of high density locations (where the costs made sense) they should now push outward to build small spaces that are more closely atached to housing developments in the suburbs. The rent is significantly lower and the new influx of well heeled companies (like BMO) sending their flock off to work from anywhere will provide a new cohort of users. These users would become long term customers - even as they switch between employers their need for professional social internactions will remain.
These coworking spaces can in turn embrace being community hubs to provide more stickiness. Amazon delivery drop off centers, with FedEx and UPS pick ups are already a part of the “mailing address” feature coworking spaces provide. Other opportunities are to share rent with daycare centers, sell gas station like convenience items, and even provide gym like facilities - in short, coworking places should pivot slightly to build a destination for professionals who are otherwise left isolated in their home office. A recent winner of a global design competition for replacing gas stations showed that the location of gas stations makes them ideal for becoming community hubs. Coworking spaces should take note and possibly scoop up those locations. WeWork, now with new management, is leading the way in transforming the utility of their spaces but stradled with lots of centralized office space, may find it hard to switch to the suburbs.