The Myth of Co-working in Co-working Spaces
In the latest decade, a new working form—co-working, has become popular in startup communities as well as Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The number of co-working spaces increases rapidly and it has been forecast by digital media company, deskmag, that about 19,000 spaces and 1.7 million people will be working in these
spaces around the world by the end of 2018.
Why co-working space?
You may want to ask: what is so fashionable about co-working spaces? Before answering this question, it is essential to know the definition of co-working spaces. Although the concept is still new and has not been well defined, two types of co-working spaces can now be recognised. First, pure co-working spaces that provide office spaces for startups and enterprises to rent, such as Wework. Second, co-working spaces blended with business incubators or accelerators, giving entrepreneurship mentoring or training programmes, such as Cambridge’s ideaSpace or TechHub.
The value of co-working spaces has been known for its flexibility and potential cooperation with other tenants. For early-stage startups or SMEs, rent a couple of desk in a co-working space can largely reduce their cost as well as bring them potential business partners or customers. For example, an annual fee to rent a hot desk at TechHub is 500GBP. People who join TechHub can meet other TechHub members, work and grow with the members. For some free co-working spaces like Campus London and RocketSpace, people can meet their cofounders and paying customers.
How does co-working space work?
In recent years, scholars and industry experts have kept discussing the value and operation of co-working spaces. New positions have been created to fulfil the needs to facilitate interactions and cooperation among tenants, for example, community manager or ecosystem community manager. Some people think that members in a co-working space will ‘co-work’ spontaneously when they work together. However, the value of co-working spaces cannot be developed if the members just work together but do not actually 'co-work'. Hence, some scholars have indicated that it is the co-working space organisers’ responsibility to broker interactions between members. Nevertheless, in many cases, those organisers are not knowledgeable enough to broker substantial cooperation between their members. What the organisers usually do is to host as many events as possible, such as product showcases, seminars, workshops, or lectures. They facilitate interactions through those events and hope their members can get to know each other and bring business collaboration.
Although this is a good start, the results are not always as excepted. Most of the members still work independently even they physically work in the same space. In this context, what is the difference between co-working spaces and traditional office buildings? The value of co-working should not merely be an opportunity to meet up but for information and resource exchange. So what should an active co-working space look like? And how can a co-working space be organised to increase its value of ‘co-working’? Although there is no single best answer at this moment, we can discern it through observing the practices conducted by one of the biggest startup communities in London - Campus London (the Campus), hosted by the technology giant Google. The Campus shows an interesting approach of how physical space and digital technologies are arranged and utilised for promoting co-working. Read our next blog to hear more about this.