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Summary:

Think coworking spaces, and most of us will populate our mental picture with freelance designers and developers. But with the idea of remote work gaining traction as a legitimate business strategy for those who favor suits over piercings, is this picture of coworking space regulars accurate?

Who uses co-working spaces

Think coworking spaces, and most of us will populate our mental picture with freelance designers and developers in Converse, chunky glasses and the odd tattoo. But with the idea of remote work gaining traction outside the cafes of the Mission or Williamsburg as a legitimate business strategy for those who favor suits over piercings, is this traditional picture of coworking space regulars still accurate?

To find out we spoke with Sam Rosen, founder of Chicago co-working space the COOP and also the creator of Desktime, a site that helps match those looking for space to work with available desks. He reports that over the last several years the COOP is seeing a greater variety of users.

It’s still predominately designers and developers and people who work on the Internet, but over the last two years we’ve had a really interesting blend of people — people who are students studying for their master’s or their doctorate and just need a good place to study; people in the pharmaceutical industry; people who are in finance and micro-finance; and we’ve had consultants from, like, PriceWaterhouseCoopers who are constantly telecommuting. So it does seem as though more and more those people are opening up to the idea.

The idea that the demographic profile of co-working spaces is changing is supported my Jeremy Neuner, the CEO of NextSpace, which runs four coworking spaces in California. He believes that aside from the traditional contractors and folks whose companies’ liberal work-at-home policies save them a long commute, corporate web workers whose companies supply their memberships at coworking spaces will play a growing role in the movement.

What we’re increasingly finding are companies who will buy NextSpace memberships for their employees. This is really where we think the exciting part and the future of growth is, because there’s lots of companies who are downsizing their real estate portfolios. They basically say, ‘hey, we built these huge corporate campuses that are empty half the time. Why are we spending a bazillion dollars keeping these things up and running?’ So companies more and more are designing their corporate campuses to meet, maybe at most, 50 percent of their employee head count, and they’re telling their employees to do their work someplace else.

For those big companies it’s down to two things. It’s a lowering of real estate and infrastructure costs. That’s the easy one to quantify. The part that’s less easy o quantify is when employees have been kicked off the corporate campus but have a place like NextSpace to call home — when they have that supportive community in which to work — they’re happier, they’re more productive, they’re more innovative. And that’s harder to quantify, obviously, but companies are starting to see the benefits there as well.

As Rosen says, “now that anyone can work with their laptop, and their phone and the internet, it becomes less of a question of where can I work, and it becomes a question of who do I want to work with and where do I want to spend my time.” Apparently this is increasingly applying to corporate types as well.

Have you seen a change in the types of folks coming through the door at your local coworking space?

Image courtesy of Flickr user Kenski1970

  1. I was wondering when the trend towards more of the finance/consultant type of people would join coworking. I was a market researcher and consultant before I started Creative Density Coworking in Denver and I’m the only non designer/developer/writer here. It is a lot of fun and I learn so much because everyone has a different discipline than myself, and I think a lot of the other business consultants in the world would also benefit. Plus, I think all of traditional coworkers in the world could also learn a lot about strategy and finance with more ‘suits’ around. They would also have the potential to reach out to a whole client base because the new ‘suit’ members would have different connections. (although I doubt people would wear suits)

    As a space owner and a strong believer in coworking this has the potential to grow the overall coworking movement and help more plays be profitable. It is just important for the community managers and members of the coworking spaces to create a strong culture with the new types of members that fosters collaboration and openness. The good thing is that ‘suits’ like most of the same things and way of working as most coworkers today. They just don’t get the chance to be that way in a cube farm.

    Craig Baute

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    1. This transition is only a matter of time – our 4 year old coworking community may not have a lot of “suits”, but it’s certainly not representative of the “freelance designers and developers in Converse, chunky glasses and the odd tattoo”, other than myself who happens to be a founder.

      When our membership diversified, the richness of our coworking experience exploded and our growth followed suit. It makes sense to start focused, but keep community diversity in mind from the get-go as well.

      “Coworking for ________” is boring and misses the point. More on why here: http://dangerouslyawesome.com/2010/11/why-monocultures-suck/

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  2. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.

    Beyond the superficial elements of “suits vs. piercings”, there’s the important element of attitude and culture.

    I firmly believe that most American business strategy is fundamentally broken, and so long as we navigate the transition from being “hipster designer hangouts” to established members of business ecosystems, coworking plays a huge part in the healing of business culture.

    I wrote an essay last week about how coworking isn’t solving a “cubicle problem”, but instead, guiding a re-emergence of old and well established business principles rooted in relationships.

    http://dangerouslyawesome.com/2011/07/i-dont-think-were-solving-a-cubicle-problem/

    The key here is for coworking culture to stand its ground and not revert back to these broken business priorities. Coworking is the thing that corporate America needs, not the other way around, and coworking space founders absolutely need to remember that.

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  3. Nice piece, Jessica. Thanks for the recent coverage on coworking!

    When we started CoCo in the Twin Cities (that’s in Minnesota for those of you on the coasts), most of our members came from what we consider our natural market, coders and creatives. What coworkers we did get from big companies were usually remote workers. We know a number of cube dwellers who have tried to get permission to cowork, but most often they’ve been told no.

    What has surprised us is the number of local Fortune 500s that have approached us out of more strategic interest. Usually they were executives in the innovation or product development areas of the company. That makes sense, as these are the people charged with looking outside the four walls of the corporation for new ideas.

    Now that we’ve opened a more grandiose space in Minneapolis, we’ve begun to see corporate interest that includes the notion of housing workgroups within our space or leasing adjacent space within our building and then buying a membership that gives the workgroup access to our space for socializing, meeting and educational events.

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  4. Coming soon to coworking spaces: Fewer tattoos, more suits? http://t.co/vwNJjI2E #vancouver #coworking

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  5. RT @thehubzette Coming soon to coworking spaces: Fewer tattoos, more suits? http://t.co/IkalajNu #vancouver #coworking

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