Lifestyle

Co-working Is a Lifestyle – and the Corporates Are Playing Catch-up

Political earthquakes and celebrity deaths may be the main events in 2016 round-ups, but in the business world a humbler fact merits our attention: 2016 was the year co-working came of age.

Co-working spaces used to be just for freelancers, entrepreneurs and digital nomads. Little wonder these locations have mushroomed as temporary or project-based work increasingly becomes the norm. In Australia, “contingent” workers – anyone not in a full-time capacity – account for more than 30 percent of the labour force, according to consultancy firm Archer, and that number is expected to reach more than 40 percent by 2020.

But something is different about the co-working industry. At the Melbourne branch of Hub Australia, the country’s largest co-working space provider, clients include the national postal service – or, more precisely, its innovation team. Australia Post’s aim: to connect with growing businesses by hosting learning sessions and offering Hub members exclusive discounts on express postage.

Facilities at the location include a gym, media room, relaxation room, café, and offices designed to accommodate from one to 20 people.

A variety of desks are provided at co-working space Hub Southern Cross. (Credit: Hub Australia)
A variety of desks are provided at co-working space Hub Southern Cross. (Credit: Hub Australia)

“Small businesses these days expect more from their co-working space – and rightly so,” said Brad Krauskopf, CEO of Third Spaces Group, Hub Australia’s parent. He names first-rate amenities and professional facilities that support company growth among the must-offers in the industry today.

Such an obligation creates a virtuous circle. “You start servicing your customers better, and then the community becomes more vibrant. Successful businesses need to connect with other business, so more trade happens between those members.” In terms of industry standards, Krauskopf believes co-working came a long way in 2016.

Flexible and Fun

The lines between corporate and co-working spaces are becoming more than a little blurred. Through its subsidiary, CoActiv8, Third Spaces Group helps corporate, government and property group clients set up and manage their own work hubs. Tech companies have been offering flexible workspaces with facilities for socialising, playing games and relaxing for years – now, increasingly, the larger corporates are following suit.

One reason for creating flexible workspaces is to remain “agile” during uncertain times. “Most of the companies we work with can’t predict headcount six months – let alone 12 months – down the track,” said Dinesh Acharya, director and head of workplace strategy for JLL, a global real estate services firm. “You don’t know how much space you’re going to need a year or two from now. And if you don’t have the right space, if it’s not configured in the right way, if you don’t have the ability to manage growth, the result can be significant downtime and lost productivity.”

A cafe barista serves coffee and light snacks at co-working space Hub Southern Cross. (Credit: Hub Australia)
A cafe barista serves coffee and light snacks at co-working space Hub Southern Cross. (Credit: Hub Australia)

But does playing together actually help people work better together? Acharya thinks so: “Social spaces allow you to have more real conversations, as opposed to sitting across a table in a formal setting, trying to define where your client, or team member or colleague, is coming from.”

He added that recreation also pays dividends by fostering closer relationships between colleagues: “Research shows that if you’ve got friends within an organisation, you’re more inclined to stick with that company.”

Curated Spaces

For a sociable workplace to actually function, the right conditions need to be in place. Acharya named proximity, privacy and permission as three essential prerequisites: “You’re not going to be playing table tennis if you’re next to someone’s desk, or if you feel like people are watching you.”

As for the third ‘p’: “The culture of the organisation needs to allow people to socialise, and that isn’t always the case.” But according to Acharya, there are other ways to activate a social workplace: providing amenities like food and drink, media or information, and also “curating the space” with events that bring people together.

JLL envisages a future in which office space is booked as fast as an Uber, natural landscapes are experienced in virtual reality and the workforce is 40 percent robot. (Credit: JLL Australia)
JLL envisages a future in which office space is booked as fast as an Uber, natural landscapes are experienced in virtual reality and the workforce is 40 percent robot. (Credit: JLL Australia)

Regular events are a vital component of working life at Hub Australia, and are focused in three areas: business, social, and health and wellness. As examples, Krauskopf mentioned a recent pitch night for young entrepreneurs in Adelaide, and Hub’s regular Lunch N’ Learns, where members share their experiences: “One of the things that makes people love going in to work is the social aspect, so it’s very important in co-working to be providing that.” Big Christmas lunches all took place at the three Hub locations in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.

Co-working may have begun as a means to enable freelancers to work anywhere, but the industry has matured into a torchbearer for people-first workplace design and practices. It turns out you only need to make your employees the customers to get an office that people actually want to work in.

Hero image: Florian David / Credit: AFP.

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