Will co-working transform the ‘office’ for ever or will it end up being only marginal change to an entrenched office culture? Some call it a revolution. Others dismiss it as a millennial fad. At the root of the rapid adoption of co-working is the shift in society’s aspirations from productivity to well-being. Small and large companies are waking up to the fact that short-term productivity is a small gain compared to the long-term benefits of encouraging a work environment of individual well-being and personal autonomy within a diverse, collaborative community. Logging working hours is passé. So is coming to work at 9 and shutting down sharp at 5. Co-working has changed the way we think of ‘work’ and ‘play’. It has struck a blow on rigid workplace hierarchies that, for many generations, held back the flow of ideas across seniority and skillsets. With large companies set to occupy a major share of total co-working space, there is little doubt that co-working is here to stay. In time, it will not remain a disruptive, new concept however. It will become the norm and the benchmark for a customisable workplace.
What is in the future?
1. The boundaries between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ office merge. Startups as well as large companies enjoy equal access to office infrastructure – working from meeting rooms in Bengaluru, desk space in Delhi and training rooms in Gandhinagar is common. Catering, kitchens, lounges, sports and fitness facilities, hot-desking, community areas, shared training facilities and conference rooms become de rigueur for not just the big players but also for small and medium-sized company as well as independent freelancers. Long-term leases become a thing of the past. The flexibility of co-working is the least that employees expect from their employers.
2. The co-working industry has more players catering to niche markets. With growing investor interest in the co-working industry and large companies embracing the concept, the co-working space providers run more profitable, financially stable operations. There is an increase in small local players. Global players emerge and cross over international markets. Competition increases and this leads to consolidation. Co-working space providers differentiate their offerings for niche markets – laboratory as a service, shared production and testing equipment or multi-user design studios become commonplace. The clientele for co-working widens to include industries as diverse as telecom to crafts to banking or real estate.
3. Companies value results over physical co-location and face-to-face time. Due to the ease and affordability of setting up, scaling and winding down offices, companies take their branches to as many places as there is talent. Offices ‘travel’ to talent instead of the other way around. Employees mature and manage their time, furnish results without being ‘monitored’ by a ‘boss’.
4. Co-working spaces become innovation hubs. From these hubs are tackled some of the world’s most pressing problems. Companies invest in locating their teams in shared workspaces where ideas take ground organically, people learn from each other so that inter-domain, inter-organisational exchange evolves truly ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking. Not just those in business but those in education and science and governance and policy also choose to work from co-working spaces.
5. Co-working spaces function as community spaces where people seek human connection to counter the isolation and independence enabled by remote working. With advancement in internet and communication technology, more and more people work independently or as part of a geographically distributed team. While this is convenient and efficient, people crave ‘real’ contact with other people. For this, they flock to co-working places, participate in social and professional events and rejuvenate themselves through the community.