There was a time not too long ago when the vision of what a career should look like was fairly standardized. Working up through the ranks of a stable company, attaining respect and a great pension, was the goal. It was a trajectory that was meant, on paper at least, to allow for a comfortable quality of life while also requiring sticking with an employer for the long haul.
Needless to say, job trajectories today couldn’t be farther from that norm. While plenty of people still do work their way up through a company or profession, the number of people taking on other careers, like start-ups, freelance jobs, or straight-up entrepreneurship have been growing, which is to speak nothing of the number of people who hop from one big employer to another over the course of a career.
Co-working is another subject that has a prevailing vision for what “should be.” It would likely not ruffle many feathers to say that the typical idea of a co-working space is a large office area, occupying one or more floors, with a number of private suites, a ton of hot desks laid out in an open office style, and then various additional configurations of seating: lounge chairs, coffee tables, hightops, focus pods, and more. Then, of course, it would be fair to expect ample amenity space, a nice kitchen, and a beautiful lobby. Bonus points for a full-fledged coffee shop in-house.
But perhaps it is time to reconsider whether this is the way our co-working spaces need to be. While they make great sense in the center of big cities, the same cannot be said for other places. Mark Furness, Founder and CEO of co-working software provider Essensys, recently told us that “The reality is that small and growing businesses in suburban areas require the same IT, tech and infrastructure services as those within urban areas.” But although infrastructure needs are similar to those in cities, total space needs are much different. Suburban areas, with their lower population densities and lesser number of companies, simply can’t support big co-working spaces to the same extent as urban areas. While some may view this as reason to ignore the suburbs entirely and focus resources on cities, the answer might be to offer different types of co-working spaces outside of cities. We’ve previously written about the opportunity to put co-working inside big box stores like Office Depot, but there are other ways as well.
For instance, co-working spaces could find success in mixed-use, transit-oriented buildings near train lines or other transportation hubs. Alongside residential spaces, they would add a vibrant element to a given building, turning it into a destination in its own right. Or co-working spaces could simply occupy existing office or even retail space, but with a smaller form factor, perhaps offering only hot desks. Mark added that “CRE stakeholders are leveraging coworking to activate latent space across residential and co-living developments, underutilized retail space and others. In a blended model, coworking helps asset owners maximize the overall value of the property while driving value to occupiers. It demonstrates that coworking is not only increasingly mainstream and in-demand, but that there is a fundamental shift in focus among CREs from asset broker to service provider.”
As co-working spaces grow around the world, there will certainly be continued emphasis on the larger, trophy-class spaces like WeWork or Industrious. But that shouldn’t discourage those who are interested in running smaller spaces. These less sprawling spaces could include any combination of traditional co-working amenities and design, in a smaller form factor capable of making an impact in any community. Flexible work arrangements are something that can and should benefit everyone, not just urbanites.