In case you’ve been living under a rock, WeWork, once touted as one of the world’s most valuable startups, is in trouble. From a spectacularly bungled IPO to the ouster of its capricious, cash-burning cofounder and CEO Adam Neumann, the workspace-sharing company is making major headlines. And by all accounts, it’s been a biblical, billions-upon-billions fall from grace. To many people, WeWork is synonymous with coworking spaces.
But here’s a critical distinction: coworking is not only here to stay, it’s on the rise. It was a burgeoning industry well before WeWork, and by any reliable measure, it continues to grow and evolve. In other words, when it comes to coworking, WeWork was following a trend, not creating one.
So what is coworking’s secret sauce? No matter how you slice it, there are four fundamental forces at play.
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Whether it’s companies requiring options for remote workers and teams, small businesses or startups seeking more flexible, cost-effective office space, or solopreneurs transcending home offices, coworking spaces are a sweet spot economically. There are little to no procurement and ongoing management costs (nor all the associated headaches) and, especially for solopreneurs, some advantageous, unambiguous tax incentives, too.
Unlike corporate water coolers, where inanities can and do abound, coworking spaces offer some unique, often serendipitous opportunities to ideate, solve problems, network, and share knowledge with others.
This is especially true for people who hesitate to reach out to people outside their workspace with questions or musings, but will easily converse and collaborate with cohorts while coworking. Additionally, such collaborations are commonly richer and more creative because they’re likely to be with people in different industries, companies, or lines of work.
For many remote workers, working from home is the default. But there are downsides. The prickliest problem is the gray space that lurks between work and home, professional and personal.
When at work, the inevitable distractions — partners, kids, pets, housekeepers, deliveries, etc. — hurt remote workers’ focus and productivity, not to mention their privacy and decorum on videoconferences. And when they’re at home, and ostensibly off the clock, a simple email ding or the proverbial “just one more thing” at their desk can turn remote workers’ quiet, quality time alone or with loved ones into a fool’s errand.
Consequently, companies who employ remote workers and teams are discovering that coworking spaces are a smart solution for their people — and profits.
According to Merriam-Webster, “co” (as in coworking) means “with, together, or jointly.” Thus, it can’t be overstated that a key part of coworking is community — a virtual paradox of working alone together.
Working at home, at offsite spots such as libraries or coffeehouses, or in impersonal corporate spaces is a lonely business. In fact, many people say that, most days, their sole interactions are with their digital devices — hardly a warm, nurturing community.
Coworking, on the other hand, not only prioritizes work, but also human connection — a basic, hardwired need for any sentient being. In coworking spaces, there are countless, continuous ways to connect with others. Meals. Celebrations. Conversations. Alliances. Invites. The list goes on and on. And if you’re an introvert? No worries. You call the shots — and there’s no shortage of quiet places.
And lest it go unsaid, in today’s hypercompetitive business and work worlds, all four of these forces fuel the ultimate imperative: personal productivity.
So, while the future of WeWork is uncertain, one thing is for sure: remote workers and teams are here to stay — and on the rise.
Charlie Gilkey is an author, entrepreneur, philosopher, Army veteran, and renowned productivity expert. Founder of Productive Flourishing, Gilkey helps professional creatives, leaders, and changemakers take meaningful action on work that matters. His new book is Start Finishing: How to Go from Idea to Done. Learn more at startfinishingbook.com.