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?