By Jeff Revoy
Chief Operations Officer
By relative standards, the coworking movement is young. While the popularity of coworking spaces has exploded in the past few years, the industry itself is still developing its identity. Operators are fleshing out what it means to be a successful coworking provider, and that means experimenting with business models and offerings. As a result, coworking trends tend to quickly rise and fall .
Some coworking trends have stuck. Still more are on the upswing. Here’s a look at five of the larger movements defining the coworking industry today and what they mean for the future as the industry congeals.
1. A home for startups
The coworking model naturally lends itself to small startups. Low-cost, on-demand space is perfect for companies that need to keep overhead low (read more on the economic benefits of coworking), yet maintain close-knit operations as the business grows. In many ways, coworking spaces have supplanted traditional business incubators.
At first, startups flocked to coworking companies. Now, the trend has reversed. Coworking spaces are pitching their benefits to startups and incentivizing small businesses to use their facilities as a base of operations. Many now offer on-site consulting services and resources for up-and-coming companies. As startup culture in the United States continues to thrive, so should coworking. The relationship is mutually beneficial.
2. An artistic experience
How do you make work feel less like work and more like a social experience? That’s been the driving question behind many in the coworking industry. Coworking spaces need to combine the feel of a professional environment, with the no-pressure atmosphere of working from home or at a local coffee shop. The solution as of late has been to immerse the space in art. A theme, focus on expression, or emphasis on art bridges the gap between the uniformity of the business world and the eccentricities of individualism.
Today’s popular coworking spaces emphasize a unique, artistic experience. There’s art on the walls, eclectic accents throughout, and the feel of uniqueness all around. It doesn’t need to be an eye-popping design or over-the-top concept—just something to remind frequent patrons they’re not in the workplace of old.
3. Diversity and variety
There a few coworking conglomerates making a name for themselves in this industry—including the likes of WeWork, Knotel, and Impact Hub. But there are numerous smaller players at the local level catering to diverse niches. It’s these small players that have reached the point of opening second or third locations, or chaining into other nearby cities. While they may never reach the scale of WeWork or the like, they serve an important role: variety.
In the same way people prefer their local coffee house to Starbucks or Dunkin, independent coworking spaces have developed ardent followings. They may offer a more experiential theme or a career-specific type of space. Or, they might partner with other local businesses to give back to the community. Regardless of their niche, these spaces have crept into cities big and small and thrived because of their nonconformity.
4. Add-on services
The future of coworking will include a more diverse range of services. Already, many coworking providers have expanded their offerings. Space-as-a-service remains the foundation of the business, but there are other revenue streams built atop it. Examples of this include in-house business coaching, on-site restaurants and coffee bars, and even IT services. In many cases, they operate as standalone businesses to non-members and add-on perks for members.
Coworking spaces are also hedging themselves against the ebb and flow of patronage by executing strategies to bring in new types of customers. A coffee bar attracts customers and makes money even if they don’t occupy a desk. Similarly, someone spending the day working in-house may buy a few coffees, increasing total revenue per customer. That’s the blueprint for just about every add-on service, be it an on-site coffee bar, coaching, or computer repair service.
5. Focus on community
One of the new trends in coworking spaces is community outreach. The goal? To associate the coworking space with the local business community. It’s an effort to get local businesses to purchase memberships for employees and to attract freelancers and mobile workers away from coffee shops and other spaces.
Community orientation takes many forms. It might be a professional mixer or the venue for a local nonprofit board meeting. Affiliation with the local business community may even be as simple as hosting an open house or a “free day” for working professionals. A person may not need the workspace, but instead comes to the facility to attend an entrepreneur seminar. The coworking space collects a fee to host the speaker, with the bonus of potentially acquiring new members. The community concept is picking up a lot of steam.
Coworking continues to change
There are many other emerging trends beyond these five; however, few have had the impact or possess the potential of these promising developments. As coworking continues its rise to prominence as both a business model and an evolution of the workplace, these trends will lend it staying power.
Keep reading: Coworking pros and cons.