Coworking Spaces Face the Future of Work Head On
While we unravel the effects of the pandemic, our perspective of how and where we work is shifting, opening opportunities to consider what is possible for the future of work. The pandemic is being called “the great accelerator” calling into question all aspects of systematic blemishes, including factors such as how we approach mental health care and the way we do our work. As many of us have transformed our homes to meeting rooms, offices, gyms and board tables, what is clear is that a hybrid model of work, including flexible workspace options, will be a necessary requirement for economic recovery.
Every year on August 9th, International Coworking Day celebrates the impact of the coworking movement. In honour of International Coworking Day, the Coworking Ontario and Coworking Toronto collectives have come together for the launch of this video that demonstrates the benefits of coworking. According to CoworkingResources in March 2020, the number of coworking spaces worldwide is projected to reach almost 20,000 this year and cross over 40,000 by 2024. Coworking statistics show that about 3.1 million people are currently using coworking spaces around the world. In Ontario alone, there are over 250 coworking spaces.
In a Canadian study conducted just two months into the pandemic, more than 60 percent of people who had been forced to work from home said they realized it wasn’t necessary to go to the office everyday to do their job, while 55 percent said their work-life balance had improved. Notably, 85 percent of respondents said that when a return to the office was required, they wanted to work from home more frequently.
Flexibility is the Happy Factor
As the province begins to return to a new sense of normal, keeping employees engaged while improving work-life balance and flexibility will be the name of the game for employers. Will long-term office space commitments be a thing of the past? Will employers turn to a gentler culture where employees’ mental health, child and elder care are balanced with getting the job done? We think so. We believe that coworking spaces, those that foster a culture of community connection and those working toward positive community impact in particular, will be essential in leading the path towards a new way to work. According to Deskmag’s coworking survey, people choose a coworking space based on it having an enjoyable atmosphere (59%), to interact with others (56%), and to build a sense of community around themselves (55%). Other research on the social side of coworking reveals that a whopping 89% of coworkers say they feel happier after joining a coworking space and as many as 83% say it makes them feel less lonely.
Furthermore, demographics play a large role in the future of work. According to Benefits Canada, 48% of millennials and 31% of generation Z report working longer hours compared to pre-coronavirus pandemic times. With approximately 40 percent of respondents across all age groups noting an increase in stress levels as a result of the pandemic, employers are in a position to encourage healthy behaviour. Baby boomers (75 per cent) were most likely to work on a modified schedule allowing them to take care of personal matters, followed by 72 percent of gen-Xers and millennials. A global survey by FlexJobs, which polled more than 2,000 people between March and April 2021, found 68 per cent of women respondents said they prefer working remotely, compared to 57 percent of men. Just two percent of men and women said they’d prefer to work full time in the office. Moving forward, if they’re not allowed to continue working from home post-pandemic, 60 percent of women said they’ll look for a new job, compared to 52 percent of men. A majority (80 percent) of women — compared to 69 percent of men — said remote working options are among the most important factors to consider when evaluating a new job.
Some may think that few things would be more vulnerable to the fallout from a viral pandemic than a shared work space. The idea of a person renting a different desk or space daily or weekly, sitting where another person was the day before, may seem odd to those unfamiliar with the extensive safety protocols many coworking spaces have implemented. In reality, coworking spaces are hyper-aware of what it takes to make a shared work space safe. From adhering to increased cleaning protocols, to workplace safety plans, and continuing to cultivate community digitally, coworking spaces have found many ways to pivot in spite of the on-and-off closures for the past year.
“We continue to have daily inquiries from organizations that want to give up larger brick and mortar spaces to lease flexible office space for anywhere from a few workers up to 25, who would rotate into the desks on different days. Employers are responding to how work culture is changing and embracing our time-tested and proven model of flexible work - for organizations and individuals.” said Loredana Wainwright, operations director at Innovation Works, a shared office space in downtown London, Ontario.
Presently, being an office space for rent alone may not be enough. People are craving connection, which is where a coworking space meets both needs.
There are clear downsides to this pandemic-induced work from home period. Remote workers feel disconnected from corporate culture, personal wellbeing has suffered, and employees feel that they’ve had fewer opportunities to learn, especially through informal mentoring. At the heart of the growing interest in shared work space is their capability to provide that connection with others that people are craving, something that work-from-home doesn’t provide. In a shared space, there are boundless opportunities for collaboration, innovation and the chance encounters that often spark creative solutions and new partnerships.
Sheila Simpson, a community development consultant and co-tenant member of Innovation Works, acknowledges the community that is created when people come together through coworking. “It’s about the relationships among people who are here or welcoming others from the community. That’s what it’s about - people who are there for one another and Innovation Works is just that. There have been times when other people who are co-tenant members here have picked me up when I’ve been having a rough time, and I’ve tried to do the same, and I think that’s what a really good community does.”
The Sweet Spot for a Hybrid Model
While not without flaws, the working-from-home experiment has positively impacted much of the workforce. In July, an Angus Reid study found that 44 percent of workers anticipated returning to a mix of home and office-based work post-pandemic, with a further 20 percent expecting to stay fully remote. This shift in preference to a hybrid model was affirmed by an end-of-year study conducted by online company ClickMeeting which found that 56 percent of Canadians said they enjoyed hybrid work and would prefer a hybrid model of home and office work environments. Coworking spaces are one of the tools organizations can use to meet that demand.
This trend can be seen on a global scale thanks largely to an increase in remote work and self-employment. While the pandemic provided many challenges to shared office spaces, those who are able to stay open will likely witness a substantial post-pandemic increase in demand.
As large companies look to redesign their own offices, they will be less like the traditional workplace and more like what coworking spaces have offered for over a decade. This includes a variety of flexible work spaces to suit the individual and the work to be performed, shared desks for the hybrid office-home workers, dedicated desks, and offices for the full-time remote worker, phone booths and break-out spaces for impromptu collaborative sessions. With an at-the-ready inventory of coworking spaces across the province that already provide all the needed amenities, corporations have already begun signing up for space to support their workforce, reducing commute times, and lowering their overall real estate overhead.
The changing preferences of workers coupled with the desire for cost-efficiencies tells us that workspaces of the future will be different from pre-pandemic. For small to medium size organizations to rebuild and recover, embracing a hybrid work model while shifting policies to a more human-centered approach will help to ensure continued profitability in these changing times. Have multiple locations for your business? Coworking spaces offer flexibility and “passports” to work in other locations in other cities.
“Coworking spaces are a clear choice for organizations looking to accelerate growth while caring for employee wellbeing. We are seeing that 2-3 days in the office is the ‘sweet’ spot” states Wainwright. “As more organizations embrace this approach to work, I am confident that we will see gains towards both economic and emotional healing for communities and organizations alike. The time is now.”
To watch the full video, click here.