Co-working: Is the Concept Defunct or Changing?
Will our experience of the pandemic change the way we value co-working spaces?
Over the last several years, the demand for choice, flexibility and autonomy in traditional workspaces has grown exponentially. Shifts in demographics, advances in technology, and the increased speed of decision making has resulted in workplaces being organized around employees who prefer to choose where and how they work. New business models, driven foremost by technology start-ups, have fuelled a rethink of how companies of all kinds can manage exponential growth and embrace constant change. This has more traditional firms embracing these models as an opportunity to foster innovation, attract talent and develop new approaches to their business and office needs. These new models, referred to most often as ‘co-working’, rely on a key element, adopted in part from trends prevalent in the hospitality industry: a community-centred environment, fostered via a collection of club-member services designed to support creativity, productivity and collaboration.
Working remotely as a result of the pandemic has made clear that many professionals do not need to be in the office to remain productive. It’s also made clear that returning to the office will have its challenges, especially as we consider social distancing, hygiene and the communal spaces present in most offices, including washrooms, lunch areas, ad hoc meeting spaces, and meeting rooms. There appears to be one element still missing in our global work-from-home experiment, and that is the human factor, which includes the social connections and personal experiences that foster true innovation. The human factor cannot be satisfied by technology-driven solutions like teleconferencing or virtual meetings alone. Ultimately, the need for social interaction, team building and community engagement will bring us together again in the not-so-distant future.
Given our current, and potentially long-term, approach to social gathering, the ability to sell traditional firms on the human-centred advantages of co-working will likely be reduced, as the world struggles to deal with the anxiety of personal contact, community spaces and sharing touch-down space with strangers. Understanding whether we are in the midst of a passing phase, or on the brink of a new tomorrow, is one of the largest challenges to understanding the continued evolution of office environments. It appears that most businesses are considering what a strategy for returning to work should look like, and what to do with the office spaces they once occupied, both traditional and communal. While it may seem sensible to return to private offices that promise safety via distance, spaces like these no longer respond to the way we think, behave and undertake business.