Once the realm of freelancers, entrepreneurs, and startups, coworking spaces have grown to become that perfect third space for all. Even employees from Fortune 500 companies would rather choose a coworking space that fits their personality and lifestyle than trek into a corporate office every day. According to one of the most popular coworking companies, WeWork, 40% of their members work at a company with over 500 employees.
The pandemic put a temporary halt to the rapid growth of coworking. Even employees who disliked working at home avoided being in public, especially indoors.
However, as the coronavirus forcibly changed the way society operated, it also introduced new ways of adapting in our work environments. Coworking will play a large part in the future of work culture, as flexible working arrangements will be in demand long into post-pandemic life.
In this article, I will discuss how coworking spaces will provide the perfect balance employers are striving to provide and why coworking will recover quickly from the effects of the pandemic. I will also discuss how technology-focused coworking spaces, specifically those that incorporate automation, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things, will be popular choices for workers in all industries.
Coworking after the pandemic
Coworking is a growing trend that was hit particularly hard by the pandemic. When the world was overcome with concern about COVID-19, the last place people wanted to be was in a shared, public place.
To make matters worse, most of the coworking spaces were located in large cities and in tall buildings that necessitated traveling in elevators or passing through small, packed hallways and corridors. The result was that employers and employees were forced to shift their mindset about work.
Employees who were cynical about their ability to replicate the office environment at home were astonished by how, with the right technology and tools, people can remain connected and communicate effectively online. Those who had always yearned for the flexibility of a work-from-home setting celebrated, while the extroverts grew weary from the lack of conversation and interaction.
Despite some early snags, flexible working arrangements are expected to be the norm for the future. Facebook, Twitter, Shopify, and Slack are just some of the big corporations who have announced they will allow employees to work from home indefinitely. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t a decision made only out of the kindness of their hearts.
These highly competitive, billion-dollar companies realized that in order to attract the best talent, they had to provide the best working conditions. The risk of losing high-quality employees and missing out on attracting new talent is too risky.
According to recent statistics, 75% of freelancers earn just as much money working for themselves as they did while employed full time before the pandemic. Many of these new freelancers made the decision to go solo when confronted with employers who refused to provide flexibility for their work arrangements.
Furthermore, companies that allow WFH realize that they may even increase employee productivity by allowing their employees to choose which work setting is most beneficial for them. Of course, the possibility of saving money on rent and operational costs by scaling down large offices is another appealing aspect of the change.
Unfortunately, this change in work culture has been difficult for extroverts and ambiverts, and anyone else who misses the camaraderie, social interaction, and structure a traditional office setting provides.
There are also other reasons that many employees may prefer not to work from home, such as the myriad distractions a home office can present. Many employees, especially those that live in the city, do not have the space or the quiet atmosphere at home that is required for a productive office setting.
Hybrid work arrangements might appeal to these types of people, but many employees just don’t think it’s worth it to commute to their company’s office, which is often little more than a ghost town when they arrive. While flexibility with work is a must for companies in the future, offering employees only two options – commute to the empty office or stay at home – is not going to cut it in the future.
The need for coworking spaces in the future
Coworking spaces fit the bill for this in-between space that will be in demand for the future. Coworking can provide the lively atmosphere that is needed to provide the perfect office environment for many workers. Furthermore, coworking can increase networking opportunities within and across industries, providing an additional benefit.
Even before the pandemic, many large companies such as Microsoft, IBM, Ford, and Verizon were among the large corporations utilizing coworking spaces. Other large companies are scaling back their offices and offering a coworking stipend to employees who prefer not to get all their work done from home.
Giving employees the ability to choose their own work environment rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach can greatly increase employee satisfaction, productivity, and retention. Embracing coworking also frees up your company to focus less on logistical and operational minutiae and more on the work that matters.
Many employees that work from a home struggle with finding a space for client meetings, and many times, a restaurant or cafe just won’t lend the meeting the professional air it requires. Furthermore, many talented employees struggle with utilizing new technology and could benefit from the in-person guidance and the built-in solutions offered by a coworking space.
When employees need to schedule a hybrid meeting, a coworking space can provide a professionally decorated and cleaned conference room that will guarantee privacy as well as the necessary technological tools to complete the meeting virtually.
Automation, IoT, and artificial intelligence in coworking
Technology will continue to shape coworking, and the coworking companies that provide the best technology will have a competitive advantage over those that don’t. Automation in particular can provide the convenience and ease of use that so many coworking spaces desire.
Allowing members to book conference rooms, see occupancy levels in real-time, and make payments online will provide easy, automated ways for coworkers to get work done more easily. Providing touch-free access instead of requiring workers to use keys, fobs, or cards can increase sanitary levels of the shared space.
Smart buildings are great solutions for coworking spaces. Using automation and IoT, smart buildings can automatically adjust temperatures when they dip below a certain level and incorporate motion-sensor lighting to save on energy costs. Smart buildings were predicted to help coworking spaces more efficiently track the use of energy and maximize environmentally friendly practices. IoT technology can help increase operational efficiency by diagnosing problems in real-time without the need for human intervention.
Artificial intelligence plays a large role in these smart buildings, taking raw data and feeding them into algorithms that then trigger decisions. IoT and artificial intelligence in coworking can allow employees at coworking spaces to focus more energy on aspects of the coworking culture such as networking events, community building, customer service, sales, and lead generation.
Coworking spaces must also provide secure internet connection and other technology such as printing services that protect the sensitive data of the wide range of different people using it.
Why coworking is here to stay
Coworking will continue to grow in the years to come, in spite of the pandemic as well as because of it. With labor shortages and the increasing difficulty of attracting new talent, companies must provide flexibility to their employees if they want to maximize employee satisfaction and retention.
Many are choosing to work from home, but there are many more who prefer the vibrant social atmosphere of a real office, particularly if it’s a diversity-based coworking space so they can work in an environment that best suits their needs.
The need for autonomy and flexibility in our work life has never been clearer than it is now. Coworking spaces will fill the gap between WFH isolation and long commutes to empty offices. By embracing artificial intelligence and IoT, coworking spaces can automate many of the little tasks and operational obstacles that come with running a traditional office, freeing employees to focus solely on their work.