How can corporates leverage coworking to drive growth, collaboration, and innovation?

A blend of startups, small businesses, freelancers and others all working under one roof for themselves but not by themselves is an apt way to describe a standard coworking space.

However, this scenario – employees mingling with other businesses, sharing space with other businesses, having conversations and phone calls within earshot of other businesses – would have generally, and until very recently, terrified the average manager or c-level exec.

Security risks, privacy risks, employee time management, and intellectual property theft are just some of the issues that would have made basing a team out of a coworking space impossible.

And while these are genuine concerns, when managed correctly, very real and tangible benefits exist for corporates who utilise coworking.

Corporate Coworking Models

There are three ways corporates can implement coworking into their business strategy:

  1. Private Coworking: Corporates build coworking influenced work areas within their traditional office spaces (for example stylish open spaces and collaboration areas).
  2. Traditional Coworking: Teams working out of third party managed coworking spaces.
  3. Mashup: Corporates leverage coworking influences to augment their business, to innovate, collaborate and network.  Examples include specifically placing a team in an outside coworking space, funding a coworking space, or inviting other businesses into their own space.

For many corporates the mashup option often works best.

Corporate Coworking: How, Why, and the Benefits

Financial Support: One way corporates can embed themselves into the coworking scene is via providing financial support in the way of investing in or sponsorship of a location.

In return for financial support, the corporate secures advantages such as access to the space for their employees and events, the ability to connect on a more personal level with small businesses and startups (and to build a relationship in a relaxed atmosphere), a ‘finger-on-the-pulse’ of startups and the fast moving startup scene, and a greater awareness of developments in the tech world.

Also beneficial is the opportunity to learn about users and get feedback via the built-in audience of real-world product testers.

Supporting a coworking space provides brand recognition in an important demographic.  An example of this is Wix, the cloud-based web development platform, running the New York City Wix Lounge – a coworking space for the community.

One important note: the relationship between the space and the funder must be absolutely transparent.  The relationship should be ‘hands-off’, not overly commercialised and certainly not ‘spammy’.

Expansion Risk Minimisation: Coworking allows companies to minimise risk when testing new markets.  Using a coworking space ensures no long-term office lease, no office fit outs, no investment – no hassle.  Coworking provides a ‘plug ‘n play’ space allowing you to get in and get working. A real estate agency for example could quickly get agents in to test out a new region.

Project Space: Businesses often manage projects and need to send teams to cities or countries in which they have no permanent office for several months or more.  Coworking spaces provide everything these teams need.  Even if there is an office in that city it may be better to derive the additional benefits a coworking space provides.

In a home city too there are good reasons to utilise coworking spaces for specific projects or to even base a team permanently.  Coworking spaces are great for teams seeking a chance to work without office distractions, to find fresh ideas, and the opportunity to rub shoulders with other coworkers to unleash creativity.

Fresh Perspectives: When employees are in coworking spaces there are plentiful opportunities to interact with fellow space users who are not colleagues. This means connecting with people from diverse backgrounds, experiences, and a range of industries who can provide new perspectives and ideas.  This interaction is a powerful aspect of coworking.

Talent: Coworking spaces are great for scoping out freelancers and other entrepreneurial individuals that may be perfect for your next project or outsourced requirement.

Investment Opportunities: Coworking spaces may be the new garages, full of smart, talented, hungry and hustling startups solving big problems that could also be your next winning investment.  Similarly for acquisition opportunities – there may be a startup or small business solving an exact problem your business is dealing with that you may want to buy and bring in-house.  There’s a reason VC’s have taken a keen interest in coworking spaces.

Learn from the Startups: By spending time amongst startups, large slow-moving businesses can learn lean agile practises favored by startups and implement them within their own businesses.  This can propel innovation and growth.

Case Studies

Real world examples of businesses implementing coworking as part of their business strategy:

Zappos  Tony Hsieh, Zappos’ chief executive, developed a coworking space in downtown Las Vegas, and Zappos employees are encouraged to work out of coworking facilities.  When workers are stuck on a tough problem, working outside of the office can help: “Sometimes that change of scenery encourages you to think differently and that’s what we want.”

From HBR: “The first floor of Amazon’s new campus in Seattle is mostly coworking space. Ace Hotel actively markets the lobby of its New York flagship as a workspace. AT&T has created Foundry, a network of research centers in which its engineers work side by side with handpicked start-ups, corporate partners, and third-party developers to bring new products to market faster. Even bankers are doing it: ING Direct built seven cafés (now called Capital One 360 Cafés) where its workers could set up shop and interact with customers who could also use the space for work. Perhaps less surprisingly, and true to form,Airbnb has made one of the conference rooms at its new headquarters bookable (through Airbnb, of course) by anyone in San Francisco, free.”

AT&T built Foundry to connect cutting-edge innovators from the outside community to AT&T’s technologies that they hope will develop new products and services.

At 99spaces we spend a great deal of time thinking about the future of the workspace and the ramifications that its changing nature will have on business and the commercial property industry.  How does your company plan on utilising coworking?

About 99Spaces:

99spaces connects startups, small businesses, and enterprise users directly to owners and operators of flexible workspaces, such as coworking spaces, serviced offices and shared workspaces. We believe workspace leasing should be fast, efficient, and transparent. To find an awesome space to get stuff done, or to share your workspace head to99spaces.co

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