Will co-working end formal business introductions?

Where you go, not who you know - that’s how to win multi-million dollar deals in the 21st century, according to the global co-working community. Co-workers are reportedly reaping the benefits of high-value collaborations thanks to a burgeoning scene of co-working centres. Furnished for successful networking and productivity, these venues mean business.

New York City, Silicon Valley and London are booming with co-working offices. Innovators and entrepreneurs in smaller, growing cities have also begun investing in desk space - a sign that the co-working trend is spreading. Should we be waving goodbye to recommendations and referrals? Is the business world headed for a networking model where fate and shared kitchens can trump formal introductions?

Serendipitous connections

Business can be won by being in the right place at the right time. So, an annual membership to a thriving co-working space is tempting. Co-working could significantly boost your odds of bumping into major industry players, forging a new business partnerships or developing money-spinning projects.

Dallas-based Serendipity Labs CEO, John Arenas, thinks fate plays an important role to play in the new economy.  “The premise for Serendipity Labs Co-working is that our network is a serendipity engine that fosters in person, unexpected introductions, conversations and meetings that can be more valuable than email introductions and business cards,” he says. “This type of spontaneous interaction is an important part of the new economy. Co-working can certainly be a powerful platform than traditional networking and introductions. We’re just at the beginning. The need for serendipitous interaction is only going to grow.

“Serendipitous connections take place, whether simply by meeting at the kitchen counter or through a curated event put together by location staff. These connections allow each member to reach their full potential.”

Ryan D. Matzner, Director of Fuelled, New York, agrees and calls co-working space a low-effort assisted serendipity mechanism. However, when asked if he still introduces people who might be able to work together he answers, “all the time”.

Read more: Can introversion be an entrepreneurial advantage?

Amazing humans in the same room

“Human beings are amazing,” says Rabble Studio Manager, Dan Spain. Rabble will offer a new co-working creative community space in Cardiff and is poised to create a fresh wave of collaborations in a purpose-built venue.

Spain says: “We work towards curating our co-working space with interesting people who have complimentary skillsets. A designer and web developer are more likely to work together than two designers of the same discipline. I guess what I'm saying is that if you put the right people in the same room amazing things can happen.”

Affordable space and more

There’s more to co-working than affordability. Communal, flexible, exclusive, collaborative and generating revenue - just five ways global co-working venues appeal to people looking for desk space and new long-term connections.

Huckletree, in London, witnessed the eruption of the co-working industry. They largely attribute the rise of co-working to the recession, citing the attraction of lower costs and greater flexibility than traditional office space.

Read more: Unusual places to make business connections

“What we've seen over the past couple of years, however, is that people now seek to work from co-working spaces for the less tangible benefits on offer. The community and networking potential, the learning opportunities, the experience of working from a well-designed space,” a spokesperson says. “We don't encourage [people] to collaborate. We introduce them, and they do the work from there. ​Our job is to design the space layout to encourage such serendipitous encounters.​” 

Allia Future Business, in Peterborough, is another example of pioneering space offering an alternative to the standard, commercial way of working. Gareth Jones, manager of the centre, says: “Co-working puts people in a community of likeminded people who are all enterprising and keen to build sustainable, growing, ventures and I believe this is probably the single-most important aspect that makes co-working so attractive.”

Growing beneficial relationships

Jaaga Startup could be India's oldest co-working community, founded in 2009. They claim that every entrepreneur has emerged stronger from co-working at their venue. Success stories include a start-up collaborative that pooled robotics, 3D printing and IoT technology to launch new gardening products and boost consumer reach.

A spokesperson says: “These kinds of quid-pro-quo collaborations can only really happen with trust and that grows naturally in a co-working community. In the first 5 years of our journey we let serendipity lead the way and there were collaborations. However, we felt and have come to believe that planning for collaborations works much better.”

The group has developed internal networks, eats together, and hosts weekly co-worker-led skill-based talks, fortnightly review meetings and monthly informal happy hours. 

But, they say that formal business introductions are not dying out. “Co-working, start-ups and freelancing are only the latest iteration in our civilisation's attempt to define efficient ways of conducting business and finding value,” the spokesperson explains. “There is still a place for traditional methods of innovating, for instance, and formal business introductions/courses can help understand that. However, learning by doing is the new mantra and I wouldn't be surprised to find most formal programs adapt to this paradigm.”

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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