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Summary:

Remote work has boomed during the recession as job seekers look beyond traditional office-based gigs and companies embrace any opportunity to cut costs. That boom in nontraditional work has fed enthusiasm for coworking spaces. But will this enthusiasm outlast the tough economic times?

will an economic recovery kill coworking

According to sources including the Telework Research Network and FlexJobs.com, remote work has boomed during the recession as job seekers look beyond traditional office-based gigs and companies embrace any opportunity to cut costs. That boom in nontraditional work, along with high levels of interest in entrepreneurship, has fed enthusiasm for coworking spaces. But will this enthusiasm outlast the tough economic times?

This question was recently posed in Fortune by Elaine Pofeldt, who offered some skepticism that coworking would continue to flourish if better economic times returned:

Of course, no one knows how long the party will continue for coworking spaces. The trend has been fueled, in part, by an economy where corporate jobs for the young are scarce. A survey of coworking spaces by Emergent Research in 2010 found that their desks and sofas are mostly filled by well-educated male techies who are under 40, with 55% working for small companies and 44% of them freelancers or sole proprietors.

She also quotes fellow skeptic Paul V. Carter, a senior vice president at flexible office space provider OfficeLinks, who said: “Do members of Generation Y and Millennials really want to be independent contractors when Google offers them a permanent position? How much do they like this lifestyle? I suspect it’s not as much as people think.”

But owners and managers of coworking spaces we spoke to think there are several good reasons a better business environment won’t put a damper on their movement. Noelle Stary, co-founder of Launchpad Creatives in New Jersey, for one, feels that the damage has been done and workers will no longer want to rely on big companies like they once did, even if the economy comes back.

“People are learning to brand themselves,” she says. “People seem to know that one big business is not going to keep them employed long term. So if people are looking to stay fresh and want to explore their entrepreneurial side these coworking spaces also offer late hours and weekends for the person trying to get another business off the ground while being employed full time.”

And Sam Rosen of The COOP in Chicago is also feeling confident that, while some very large spaces may face difficulties in boom times, his space can withstand an uptick in the economy. For one, it’s busier than it has every been, with interest also at an all time high. Plus, this interest doesn’t seem to be coming from economic desperation (or, at least at Rosen’s space, mainly from the Millennials Carter mentions in Fortune). The workers flooding the COOP aren’t driven their by financial necessity, Rosen reports, but by their desire for a better way to work.

“I get the feeling that coworking has become a lifestyle for people and a way of getting work done. I think that movement is growing and will continue to grow as the economy grows,” he says. “People are tired of working in cubicles and workspaces that don’t inspire them, so until that problem is fixed in big corporations, I think there will continue to be an exodus to more equipped, modular spaces.”

Craig Baute, owner of Creative Density Coworking in Denver, agrees that coworking is a genuine lifestyle choice rather than an option of last resort and feels that that technology and demographics are driving interest in this lifestyle. These strong fundamentals should support the growth of movement even after the economy improves, he believes. “Coworking is a movement driven mostly by technology, not the recession. If costs were the main factor than people would be working at home and possibly the coffee shop as cheaper alternatives.”

“According to the Global Coworking Survey 75 percent of coworkers have a college degree. The unemployment rate for college graduates is below 5 percent, far from the national average. Coworkers are also younger, under 40, and very comfortable with technology,” Baute points out, proving that coworking’s core demographic isn’t the one most affected by recession.

What do you think the fate of coworking spaces will be when the economy finally heats up again?

Image courtesy of Flickr user jonny goldstein.

  1. The advantage of Coworking in a rural community is that the desk jobs aren’t here. And most people don’t want to be a slave to a corporation, when they can be a successful entrepreneur and achieve a healthier work/live balance.

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  2. With the price of gas what it is today, it gets harder and harder to commute to a traditional office job. There are so many aspects of an office environment I miss (and so many I don’t miss).

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  3. I think there’s a typo here, shouldn’t it be ‘co-working’ instead of ‘cowering’ :) ““I get the feeling that cowering has become a lifestyle for…”
    (feel free to delete this comment, I couldn’t find any way to contact the author).
    @getvetter

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    1. You’re right, Duncan, thanks for the heads-up! It’s been fixed.

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  4. Hi, that’s my photo at the top. It’s licensed with a Creative Commons-Attribution License. That means you may us it, but only if you give me attribution (i.e. a photo credit). So, use my photo all you want, but please give me attribution. Thanks!

    —Jonny Goldstein

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    1. There’s a credit at the bottom of the post that links to your Flickr page: Image courtesy of Flickr user jonny goldstein.

      If you prefer another format just reply and I’ll change it. Thanks for the great image.

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  5. Whoops, missed the photo credit at the bottom. Didn’t mean to hate!

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    1. Just to make sure – you all good :-)

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      1. Whoops on the whoops, should have read below before I replied but glad all is sorted.

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  6. Definitely agree with Sam Rosen’s point that coworking is an option for people looking for a better way to work– and that desire for change will weather any economic downturn and boom. I think coworking spaces are here to stay!

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  7. The Fortune piece raises a good question. Is coworking a purely opportunistic business model and at risk should the economy improve?

    It’s fair to say that a good number of coworking spaces are being run more as hobbies than businesses, thanks to an abundance of newly minted independent workers as well as depressed real estate prices.

    Disclosure: I run two coworking spaces in Minnesota. If new freelancers and cheap rent were all that we had going for us, we’d be in trouble. We definitely view ourselves as a business. We pay market rates so that we can be in the right space and we charge a premium for our memberships because we believe they deliver value. As a result, we don’t have too many economic refugees as members. Rather, we have people who are committed entrepreneurs, veteran freelancers with many years in the game, as well as corporate nomads who have “jobs” but have the freedom to work where they choose.

    If this last segment keeps growing (fueled perhaps by more companies embracing telecommuting as they compress their real estate holdings) then the demand for coworking may not necessarily be dampened by an economic upturn.

    But will there be a classic upturn with return to business and hiring and officing as usual? That is a big question mark in my mind.

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  8. Will good economic tidings kill coworking? http://t.co/dAgMpKIa

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