Co-working spaces - office spaces where multiple solo practitioners or start-ups rent working space and are supplied with Wi-Fi, printers, and other office amenities - are growing by leaps and bounds. From 2012 to 2013, the number of co-working spaces across the U.S. climbed 83%. Memberships in co-working spaces grew even more during that period, by 117%.
The Harvard Business Review points out an even more intriguing statistic about co-working spaces: Workers in them thrive much more than workers in conventional offices.
Autonomy and Flexibility Valued
The HBR wanted to know why employees were far more likely to thrive.
A big reason was the autonomy and flexibility co-working spaces offer. Jobs can be done at any time. Most co-working spaces are open to members 24/7. Workers can choose to work early or late and leave afternoons open for errands or work-outs at the gym. They have control over how, when, and where they perform their job tasks.
In addition, co-working spaces offer a community, but members of a co-working space are autonomous members of it. They can describe their jobs and tasks to fellow members of the co-working space in a way that makes sense to them and makes them distinctive among the co-workers. They do not have to worry about office politics, of fitting in with a group in a 9-to-5 office.
At the same time, co-working spaces provide structure. While start-ups, freelancers, and gig economy workers whose home base is at home may be disenchanted by the "home" side of the equation, co-working spaces reinforce an ethos of work time. They have the accoutrements of an office: coffee, printers, wastepaper baskets.
Finally, co-working spaces may allow those who use them to identify with a cause larger than themselves. Co-working is a movement that prizes networking, collaboration, growth, and teamwork. It offers the benefits of participating in a social movement.
The Company as Co-Working Space Tenant
As a result, proprietors of co-working spaces have increasingly found themselves hosting not just start-ups and solo workers, but often company teams, specific age cohorts, and full divisions.
Teams of companies often use co-working space as sites to congregate that are more flexible and fluid than their home base offices. Some companies send Millennials to co-working spaces rather than expand physically themselves. They see co-working spaces as ideally equipped for the flexibility needs of the Millennial generation.
And divisions? Well, companies have been lured by the flexibility of both the workspaces and the flexibility of economic arrangements they offer. Most co-working spaces can be rented by the month. Companies expanding into a new district office, for example, find this more economically advantageous than signing a year or multiyear lease.
Business Strategy Lessons for Corporations
Perhaps most importantly, co-working spaces offer a blueprint for organizations looking to maximize employee productivity and satisfaction.
Given that autonomy and flexibility are high values and allow employees to thrive, it makes sense to replicate the conditions of co-working spaces in organizational offices. A blend of open plan and closed offices for privacy allows employees to move between the spaces. Flextime and other options that give employees more autonomy are likely to make them more productive.