Co-working is an increasingly popular strategy for entrepreneurs, freelancers, and tech start-ups around the world. The benefits of co-working for small businesses are numerous and include increased access to community, a context for greater work/life balance, and real estate agility—but can these benefits scale up for a large corporation?
With this question in mind, Perkins+Will recently conducted a roundtable discussion that included our clients and colleagues in the Twin Cities’ corporate real estate community. Not surprisingly, our participants were familiar with Alternative Workplace Strategies (AWS), including working from home and third workplaces. Awareness of AWS in the Twin Cities is on the rise as a result of several Fortune 500 companies that have implemented such programs on their campuses, offering employees choice and flexibility. In the public sector, Hennepin County has drastically reduced their real estate, in part by implementing the Results-Oriented Work Environment (ROWE) program that focuses primarily on results and not hours clocked at the office. Our roundtable participants also cited that the demand exists and that their human resources departments are frequently being asked by recruits of all ages what flexibility programs are available.
While new co-working models were not being considered in the participants’ current portfolios, several members of the roundtable were familiar with a popular local co-working site, Coco, which operates out of the historic Trading Floor of the Minneapolis Grain Exchange—though they did not readily associate this type of environment with an AWS. Many of them could envision an easy opportunity to co-work during remodels or consolidations, as an alternative to creating swing space within their own facilities or implementing temporary work at home programs. Most had also had personal experience co-working in nationally-established third workplaces, such as Regus.
The group cited various concerns about co-working as a large-scale strategy, and many of these were the exact issues and concerns found within the workplace today—including ergonomics, acoustic and visual privacy, confidentiality, reliable connectivity back to the home network, and security of hardware such as laptops and devices. Some saw the potential of a professional co-working environment as a viable alternative to coffee shops and spare bedrooms—but only if it were part of a national membership chain, where national-reach would allow for replication and consistency in the implementation as well as immediate appeal to frequent travelers. A sufficient variety of work settings would need to be available in order to alleviate ergonomic concerns and also to provide employees with the comfortable seating they would choose at a local coffee shop. In addition, technology, and in particular network security, would need to be on par with the corporate offices. Virtual collaboration tools would need to meet or (more likely) exceed those found at the corporate office to allow for the high levels of virtual teaming and remote leadership required of successful AWS programs. Several members of the roundtable also mentioned that large meeting rooms for 16-20 people would be attractive to corporations for hosting meetings and training.
On the whole, the possibilities and concerns brought up by the roundtable draw attention to the gaps that exist between co-working and corporations—including control v. choice, confidentiality v. transparency, standards v. flexibility, and time- v. task-based productivity. As one corporation indicated at the roundtable, this won’t be reconciled anytime soon. In the meantime, some members of the roundtable are hoping to capture the zeitgeist of the co-working movement in a strategy tailored to the needs of their company by embedding co-working spaces on their corporate campus. This strategy allows the corporation to maintain control over privacy, liability, and reliability while encouraging increased face-to-face cultural and social engagement.
For now, corporate employees of the world might just consider funding co-working memberships of their own in order to avoid long commutes or distractions at home. After all, new studies are showing that third workplaces that reduce our commute time correlate strongly with healthier lifestyles. More on that next time.