Advances in technology have made it possible for many white-collar knowledge workers to do their jobs from virtually anywhere. But anywhere still means somewhere, and finding the right place is not always easy.
Some people try working out of a home office but end up feeling too lonely. Others experiment with coffee shops or hotel lobbies but find too many distractions. Now many people are turning toward coworking spaces — shared open office facilities where they hope to find the right balance of community and autonomy.
To understand the reasons for the popularity of this new way of working, our research team visited and interviewed community leaders or founders of two dozen coworking spaces around the United States. One team member also spent six months as a member of a space. We also garnered a broader and more representative perspective on coworking by analyzing the descriptions of a sample of more than 200 coworking spaces in the United States and Europe that were listed in an online directory of coworking facilities. In addition, we interviewed more than 30 people who belong to coworking spaces. These encounters gave us an insiders’ perspective on the experience of coworking and the challenges and opportunities of running coworking spaces.
Besides gaining insights into how people are using these new spaces to work and create new kinds of professional communities, we learned that some large, traditional companies are adopting certain aspects of coworking as part of their overall workplace strategies. Three trends in particular stood out.
1. Companies see sharing space as a way to tap into new ideas.
One of the key benefits cited by people using coworking spaces is the opportunity for serendipitous encounters with people from outside their own team or organization. This is part of the reason the office furniture manufacturer Steelcase participates in a coworking hub in Grand Rapids, Michigan called GRid70 that brings Steelcase’s workers together with employees from other large companies in the area — including Amway, Meijer, and Wolverine Worldwide. Each company has a dedicated space at GRid70, but all share the reception area, open workspaces, conference rooms, and kitchen facilities. “Our belief is that mixing creative teams from different industries will spawn ‘happy accidents’ that inspire innovation, new products, and different ways of thinking,” one Steelcase executive explained.