3

Fun or Function: Does Coworking Need a Reality Check?

Millennials have begun reimagining the workplace to better fit their needs. One way this generation is bucking tradition is by coworking, a relatively recent phenomenon that allows freelancers and entrepreneurs to enjoy the benefits of working in a fully-stocked group office, without surrendering the benefits of being an independent worker.

It’s a wonderful, mutualistic relationship at first glance: coworking startups are finding success by offering their communities a fun, affordable, and collaborative space to work (and usually, a host of incredible amenities).

But there’s a problem brewing just under the surface of the coworking world, and it has to do with productivity and long-term sustainability. 

At their best, these spaces are alive with synergy and the collaboration of strangers who become colleagues. 

At their worst, coworking spaces can be well-meaning but distracting productivity killers. Countless perks (hello, bocce ball court), interesting people, and the constant bustle of creative minds at work can make it tough to stay on-task.

The New Workspace or The Latest Hangout?

These are exactly the kinds of problems that are having critics asking if coworking spaces are becoming more of a hangout destination than a space to actually get things done.

First, it’s important to consider that all spaces are not equal. Regus is known for primarily catering to executives, while WeWork focuses on creative individuals offering their services on a freelance basis, or on founders building companies. Jay Suites is an amalgamation of both, preferring to offer coworking spaces and meeting rooms to people across the board.

Differences aside, all coworking spaces are filled with customers who have tasks that need to be completed. So how do these distinctly different spaces ensure their customers a distraction-free, productivity-geared environment?

Many don't, and if that doesn’t change, the long-term sustainability of the coworking industry could be bleak.

Amenities, Productivity, or Both?

If a freelancer finds a great coworking space with amazing amenities and a great group of people, it’s love at first sight. But look further down the road: if little distractions prevent this person from doing their best work each day, they’ll notice the drop in productivity and could become discouraged.

They might even point the finger at coworking: “You made me do this, with your limitless almond lattes and never-ending parade of interesting entrepreneurs! I knew I should’ve just stayed home!”

One way Michael Rutledge, VP of Business Development at a successful group of coworking spaces across New York City, addresses this problem is by offering private, soundproof suites to those who need to put their nose to the grindstone. 

He notes, “a lot of coworking spaces focus on the thrill of amenities. But when it comes down to it, work still needs to be completed. We offer the same amenities as many other places, but we also place focus on productivity and helping make sure our customers succeed in their endeavors.”

It’s true that established companies like WeWork have forecasted growing, continued interest in coworking (and resulting boosts in their own profits), but not everyone is equally optimistic. Without a renewed focus on productivity and the work part of coworking, amenity-centered spaces face an uncertain future.

What are your thoughts on the future of coworking? How do you see the industry adapting to fit shifting consumer needs? Let us know in the discussion.