Is the lure of connecting with fellow entrepreneurs and potential business partners behind the rise of co-working spaces? Or is the growing trend simply a reflection of the ‘bleisure’ lifestyles of so many in the start-up scene?
Years ago the idea of being able to work from home was a pie-in-the-sky daydream. Those of us who hated the shackles of the office would fantasise about being able to file from the kitchen table while watching Homes Under The Hammer and eating chocolate digestives.
Then flexible working became all the rage. We all either quit our jobs to start our own companies, convinced the boss that if we worked from home she’d pay less in electricity or went freelance, forming part of the burgeoning freelance economy. Then we all realised how lonely we were and began working in coffee shops just to get some company again. Have you ever tried to conduct a Skype interview with someone grinding coffee in the background?
Enter co-working spaces.
David Galsworthy is CEO and co-founder of Techspace, a co-working space which specialises in catering to technology start-up and scale-up companies. "From when we opened our first premises in London in 2012, we’ve seen a significant growth in demand for flexible, co-working environments. One of the biggest reasons for this is that more and more people are have started their own businesses, with 608,110 start-ups being founded in 2015 alone," he explains.
"I used to love working by myself," says writer and publicist Valerie Potter, "but as I found my informal support group of female freelance music journalists was diminishing, due to them giving up and getting a job and moving abroad, I did start to feel isolated. I really dreaded the onset of winter because I found it very hard to get motivated to get up and dressed." Potter now works part-time for a management company and the rest of the time has a desk in their shared space for her own work. "I’m still very happy to be in the office by myself, especially when I have a lot of work on," she says.
"Co-working can definitely be a cure for cabin fever at home or a respite from the noisy café but it’s some of the hidden benefits of co-working that make it especially appealing," says Danny Bulmer, founder of the Co Up Creative Hub in Slaithwaite, West Yorkshire.
"The sense of ‘I’m not alone in running my own business’ really helps when you’re just starting out," says Bulmer. "We are all social beings and whilst we want to be in a space that allows us to get our head down, we still want to be part of a community. Having a chat in the kitchen, going for a pint after work or working on a project together are all possible even when you’re a sole trader."
Galsworthy agrees: "A really positive by-product of the co-working experience which we’ve seen is that companies love working alongside others who are on a similar trajectory, it creates a sense of community that can also lead to collaboration in a range of work projects."
Trevor Hardy is CEO at trend forecasting consultancy Future Laboratory. He says, "Co-working environments are attractive because they represent an antidote to the burnout, overwork and lack of fulfilment so associated with the office. Offices place physical, mental and emotional taxes on people but forward-looking workplaces will be forces for good. They will help workers be better, stronger, smarter, healthier. And more productive."
Co-working and the convivial and social workplaces that engender it are definitely on the rise, says Hardy. These spaces, he says, represent a growing trend towards office design that recognises what he describes as "“our new 'bleisure' lives – how fluidly we are moving between business and leisure by bringing the comforts and perks associated with working from home into an office environment."