The cowork phenomena has taken hold globally through two key trends: 1) the growth of independent workers who find value in connecting with others and 2) real estate players who find value in space rentals. But the heart of the sustainability will be in the strength of the brands – which are inherently created by the culture of the communities they attract.
Successful co-working spaces are increasingly offering more than desk space.
Speakers at London’s November Worktech conference said a sense of community, identity and access to business information & funding are among the benefits offered in flexible space. However they voiced caution that the currently booming sector could struggle during a downturn.
Head of property for Tech City UK Juliette Morgan said many co-working locations are now offering excellent onsite food, a programme of speakers, exercise classes and a personally controllable environment when it comes to heat and light.
“People in London are not able to afford places to live. They want work to inspire them and relax them as well because they spend so much time there. This isn’t about territory – it’s about somewhere you share,” she said.
WeWork creative director Devin Vermeulen said the company sees itself as a magazine ‘masthead’ with a distinctive brand under which different businesses are the focus. “We are not a real estate company. It’s about a network of creators globally and putting them together and helping them connect.”
“We’re seeing a lot of large companies embedding small teams of people for a satellite office and also to tap into the network of innovation,” he said.
Eric Van der Kleij runs Canary Wharf’s Level 39 Fintech co-working space. Level 39 conducts due diligence on applicants and has received over 1,500 applications for 200 spaces. It now offers graduation space to growing businesses on two further floors in its One Canada Square building.
He said: “We support them at a business level. The investor community like to see the companies about to graduate so we have created a club lounge for investors to wine and dine.”
“What we’ve not experienced in this cycle of the co-working boom is an economic downturn. That will be the real test of the authenticity of our offering. Tenants will be more fluid and able to leave. That’s when the balance of established lease tenants and flexible tenants and the authenticity of our support for those will be crucial. It’s essential to plan for that.”
Morgan was not concerned that the sector would implode in a future downturn. “Rent increases in London are driving the adoption of co-working. I don’t think the trend is going away. Large corporates want to work with small and innovative companies.”