Over the last decade, coworking has gone from being a bohemian solution for a tiny majority to a billion-dollar industry that's present in most countries around the world. If I had to explain what this industry does in one sentence, I would say that: "The coworking industry helps to consume spaces more efficiently."
By viewing space as a dynamic service that adapts to the changing needs of the user at all times, coworking spaces are forced to develop different strategies that allow them to be flexible in order to adapt when the needs of their clients change, while the traditional real estate industry has made stability its defining feature throughout its long history.
1. Reducing cost by generating greater flexibility
They offer more flexibility with hot-desking
If we try to understand how coworking spaces manage to be flexible, beyond the types of membership plans they offer their users, we will find several strategies that will allow you to improve the way you manage space in your company. One of the methods for using space that was very popular in the early days of coworking, and that is now re-emerging with the pandemic, are the hot desk rates (also called "flex" in other markets).
They optimise the use of space to reduce costs per user
By signing up for one of these rates, you won't have an assigned desk but instead every day you choose one of the tables assigned to this membership plan where you'll work that day in exchange for a less expensive rate. This allows the coworking space to offer more affordable rates for those who don't need to have a permanent desk. This is made possible because there are users of the coworking space who don't work here every day and, as such, the space can eliminate a reasonable percentage of permanent desks without the risk of overbooking.
Company offices could reduce their footprint
If we replace permanent desks with flexible workspaces in our company, we could either reduce the total area of space needed and therefore reduce how much we'll be paying for the office, dedicate that area to creating a better workspace, or implement a combination of both of these solutions.
2. Designing spaces for greater productivity
Another factor that may have caught your attention about coworking spaces is that you will practically never see people working at their desks in their advertising:
people are always shown at a networking event, in a training session, in a meeting, at a team building session, etc.
Spaces created for each type of activity
In a conventional workspace we have desks, meeting rooms and common areas. However, an approach based on action-oriented design tries to create different spaces for each activity that an employee must carry out during the day. Some of them will be done at their desk, mainly individual work, while others will be carried out elsewhere, for example, video calls will be taken in a booth, informal team meetings will take place in an area more similar to a lobby of a hotel or cafeteria, if someone needs to have a private conversation they will go to one of the meeting rooms in the coworking space, while if you need to give a presentation on a new product it will be held in the auditorium or in the space's amphitheatre.
Optimising individual spaces to offer more collaboration spaces
Coworking spaces have fully optimised the space dedicated to individual work, increasing their occupation with hot-desking, and have dedicated part of the square meterage they've gained in their offices to creating more attractive common areas and spaces where activities other than individual work can be carried out much more effectively and without disturbing other users.
In a company where the pressure to make every square metre profitable isn't as high, we can eliminate the permanent desks and with all or part of the square metres we gain, we can create different work areas that offer users higher quality.
This way, each employee can choose where to work depending on their specific needs on any given day or at any moment in time, in order to be more productive.
3. Creating communities and fostering collaboration
Without permanent desks, departmental barriers are broken down
As a colleague who was also a coworking pioneer in Spain once said: "Collaboration doesn't happen by magic, people don't walk through the door saying: Life is wonderful, I want to collaborate! Collaboration is the result of people rubbing shoulders every day." How do we make that happen? If we don't have assigned desks, what should happen is that teams begin to mix naturally, this is the first step.
Create a community to encourage collaboration
If we want to speed up the process, it's best to create situations in which people interact naturally, without forcing it. In coworking spaces, you can find all kinds of events whose purpose is to provide the place and time for the people who make up the coworking community to meet (with the pandemic, many of these events have migrated to digital formats). Encourage cross-departmental training, form mixed teams with personnel from different departments, choose topics in which no department has an advantage, promote the development of soft-skills and design the training in such a way as to include times for simply socialising (those times when people are eating and drinking work especially well) and choose a facilitator with experience in community building who understands that apart from the assistants acquiring knowledge, the important thing is to build a relationship structure within the company. Oh! Involving employees in the choice of themes is always a good policy
Offering flexibility makes managing spaces more complex. You have to make sure that each member has a space to work at when they go to the coworking office. To do so, management tools are used that allow users to reserve any space in advance, even a desk. Apart from being able to offer members a quality service, these tools are crucial to managing the business itself: you need to have data on the occupation of the space, since this is an important metric when it comes to making the business profitable.
4. A space management tool allows for flexibility without chaos
If we want to implement a flex-office model, it's essential to use a tool that allows us to optimise the use of the space, monitoring the level of occupation and adjusting the space as needed. At the same time, it will allow employees to reserve the spaces they need to carry out their work in the most efficient way possible, while also knowing who they are going to run into that day in the office. This allows us to guarantee those who are going into the office that they'll be able to find a free desk or an office, without having to go looking around for one that's available.
This is obviously just the starting point, but it's a good place to start, nonetheless. All of these strategies don't produce immediate effects, but they will start to work much sooner than you'd imagine. When? It'll depend on many factors, but what I can assure you is that once the ball is rolling, if you are dedicated to the project, its own inertia will do a large part of the work.