I’ve read two interesting articles this week that both reference the need for a ‘third place’ away from home and your workspace. One was from Norman Foster who is currently working on a work hub and retreat in Switzerland.   The discourse has taken me back to a blog that I wrote in 2016 entitled ‘What is Coworking?”.   The idea of a shared office five years on is more established however, flexible office space still contributes only 4-8% of the total commercial office market across the UK.  Some of the themes below are still relevant and I’ve updated some of the venues for 2021.

As many of us have worked from home now for a prolonged period it feels like a good time to extol the benefits of changing your work venue.  We are missing the social benefits of integrating  and working with coworkers and colleagues through the week.  I’ve been asked frequently to explain the movement that’s empowering entrepreneurs and small businesses across the UK.

Coworking offices provide a workspace under flexible terms with monthly membership fees and no long term contracts. Members ‘hotdesk’ by plugging in a laptop and taking advantage of the broadband, office facilities, coffee and great atmosphere. Alternatively businesses can rent a private office within the space and benefit from their team operating in a collaborative environment.

Nearly 30 years ago Ray Oldenburg (1) referenced a ‘third place’ beyond the home and office where people enjoyed working informally, hanging out and mixing with others. A casual environment without the formalities of the work place and the distractions or isolation of being at home. Technological advancements have enabled many to work away from established offices and coworking spaces have met a need and democratised the work place.

Large offices groups including IWG, Bruntwood and We Work offer thousands of workers the chance to dip in and out of work and collaborate with others. Coworking offices accelerate business and help encourage collaboration by enabling small companies or freelancers to mix. If you need a copywriter, PA or branding expert then there could be one sat metres from you.

The origins of coworking are widely debated, here’s my take. The Victorians around 150 years ago introduced tea rooms which were alternatives to gin palaces or public houses and acted as informal chambers of commerce. A lot of deals were struck between the gentry in such establishments and you could propose that they have been surpassed by gentlemen’s clubs, pubs and cafes as informal venues for business meetings.

With City office rents becoming prohibitive a need became apparent to share work space. By sharing costs businesses could afford the large commitments and overheads to rent the space required to impress clients and operate in amenable central locations. The financial crash in the last decade enabled some to acquire cheaper commercial leases and set up viable flexible offices. This is largely how Wework started in New York after 2008 and despite the company’s troubles today it has 800 offices globally in over 70 cities.

Many remote workers want to work together in a collaborative and supportive enironment hence the start of many spaces that are less commercially minded. The Impact Hub in London and Europe is socially beneficial and supports non profits and charities. Female only spaces are more apparent now in large cities along with sector specific shared offices.  Regional, independent coworking spaces support local business and host networking meetings. Offices such as altspace provide a relaxed setting for remote workers to congregate and mix.  This social value is unique and can help companies grow and make important connections.

(1) Ray Goldenburg – The Great Good Place 1989