A few years ago when the idea of cowork spaces first surfaced, no one could have foreseen how rapidly the ways in which we work would change, and the kind of impact this would have on how, when and where we work.
Then, the target market was start-ups, freelancers and entrepreneurs starting their business journeys. And it still is, to a large extent. But there is a seismic shift taking place in which corporates are increasingly turning to alternative office solutions as a means of housing their workforces. This is compounded by the needs of the tech-savvy Millennial generation who have different demands and expectations of their employers than the desk-bound Boomer or Gen-Xer.
Millennials, who are now entering management positions, want mobility and flexibility, to be able to work anywhere, at any time. There is an increase in 'telecommuting' with staff working from home or from cowork spaces and virtual offices. Global research and consulting firm, Frost & Sullivan, believe that in future, employees will work efficiently from anywhere as connected and converged workspaces will boost innovation and productivity, but also reduce operational expenses.
A recent whitepaper, Securing workspaces for tomorrow, produced for Dimension Data reckons "... close to 80 percent of knowledge workers globally work remotely at least one day per week. By 2020, up to 1.55 billion workers will be responsible for work that does not confine them to a desk. Enterprises that are not adapting to the changing expectations and failing to offer a flexible, autonomous and creative work environment risk difficulties in attracting and retaining next-generation talent".
And, it added, "As enterprises increasingly aspire to create future workspaces and harness the benefits of a mobile workforce that leverage cloud platforms, there's a greater need than ever to implement appropriate measures to secure data, infrastructures, applications, and users wherever they may reside". The researchers pointed out that this shift required better communication and enabling collaboration both internally and externally. "Escalating office space costs are also stimulating greater use of on-demand models and online marketplaces, while coworking spaces continue providing collaboration opportunities", the Didata report said.
This has certainly been our experience. A few years ago we spent some time abroad looking at cowork space models ahead of upping our game from simply supplying hot desks in our storage facilities for certain clients needing business services to developing stand-alone high-end workspaces in the more expensive areas of Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Durban (with Cape Town and Ballito coming soon).
A strong IT department and technicians who build personal relationships with clients is vital, as is using the best equipment helps avoid down time and prevent inadequate devices from failing. High-speed fibre optic lines are essential.
Then, the mind boggled to see big corporate companies taking space in these revolutionary 'offices'. Now, it's become the norm not just overseas but increasingly here in South Africa too. In fact, a recent report, the Global Co-working Survey, found that "things are strongly looking up for members who are company employees". In other words, it's becoming increasingly common for corporates to outsource departments to co-working spaces. Sometimes it makes more sense for travelling staffers to work closer to home. When a company has business abroad, or a project for a fixed term (such as film productions, for example), it's far more sensible to use co-work or serviced spaces as their satellite offices (we experience this a lot at The Workspace.)
KPMG, for example, has rented space in London's Interchange where its team that works with startups is now situated. It made sense for them to be close to where the innovation and action is happening. Merck, General Electric and even The Guardian newspaper's offices in the US are using cowork spaces. Companies doing fixed term projects often prefer to house contractors in cowork spaces rather than outlay a fortune for a fixed term office rental. And those needing space for remote workers find the cowork solution is more simple and flexible than traditional office lets.
While this trend is great for the cowork industry, it also comes with responsibilities on the part of the operators. Security is so much more than simply ensuring there are strong doors and alarms and good lighting for after dark (many cowork spaces have to be open at all hours to facilitate their members' needs). Personal and professional belongings, information, and documents have to be kept safe – but so does our clients' data. So we have to take IT security very seriously; in fact, it is a key priority for anyone operating a thoroughly professional cowork space. And it will become even more so in the future as cybercrime becomes ever more sophisticated.
It is incumbent on operators of cowork facilities to keep up to date with research to stay relevant and to ensure clients' data is secure at all times. Clients' needs become central and taken into consideration. What industry are they in? What will they use the network for? Having a strong IT department and technicians who build personal relationships with clients is vital, as is using the best equipment helps avoid downtime and prevent inadequate devices from failing. High-speed fibre optic lines are essential.
This fast-paced world of work demands simplicity and flexibility, connectivity and convergence. Time is ticking.