The way people work has changed dramatically through coworking.
Today, younger workers don’t covet a corner office with a closed door and a view, said Tony Freeth with Medusa Business, a technology provider to coworking spaces.
“A huge demographic change is taking place,” Freeth said. “For workers under 35, they see being assigned a private office as a punishment.”
Freeth travelled from Scotland to attend Austin’s Global Coworking Unconference Conference Thursday at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center. He attended a European coworking conference in Berlin last November. He said Austin and Berlin are leading the world in discussions about coworking.
About 250 people from 18 countries attended the daylong event, according to Liz Elam, its organizer, who also runs Link Coworking in Austin.
Coworking spaces provide workers with shared desks, conference rooms and other work areas.
The industry, which is still in its infancy, has undergone tremendous growth. The number of co-working spaces has nearly doubled each year since 2006 to 1,300 worldwide, according to Deskmag, which follows the industry. It released a report Thursday showing coworking spaces are projected to grow to 2,150 this year. In fact, two in three coworking spaces plan to expand this year.
The vast majority of coworking spaces are run as for profit businesses and cost about $58,000 in the U.S. to start up and about $60,000 in Europe. And on average, 40 percent of all coworking spaces are profitable. And 72 percent become profitable after two years.
The coworking spaces come in all kinds of varieties. Some focus on a particular industry while others appeal to a broad range of workers. And the coworking operators don’t always agree on best practices.
For example, in a panel on coworking design, Benjamin Dyett, who runs Grind in New York, said he doesn’t designate desks for its members.
“We want everyone to come in everyday and sit next to someone new,” Dyett said.
But Jerome Chang, who runs Blankspaces, provides a much more structured environment.
“People want dedicated spaces,” he said.
Sonya Dufner, director of workplace strategy for the New York offices of Gensler, an architecture firm, said there are people who chose a private workspace.
“It’s about providing people with choices,” she said.
But Dyett disagreed.
“That’s not the business I’m in,” he said.
They all agreed that coworking revolves around the community that the business serves.
“For me, coworking is an office space and community is one of the services I provide,” said Sidi Gomes with C3, social space designer.
The coworking concept has also spread to large corporations, said Dufner.
“People are working differently,” she said.
Corporations see the cost-savings benefits from coworking, Dufner said In a corporate environment, a worker gets about 150 square feet per person. But in a coworking environment, they get about 75 to 80 square feet, Dufner said.
To design a coworking space, Chang advised people to find a space that they love and to sit in it, observe everything and take notes.
Cubicles and panels are dead when it comes to designing coworking spaces, according to the panel. Instead, designers use selective storage units and shelving to separate workspaces.
Benching is also in, Chang said. Workbenches that allow for greater collaboration in the workplace is a huge trend, he said.
“If you know of a space that you really love go find out how they built the space,” Dufner said.
Designing a coworking space requires a mix of art and science, said Mark Gilbreath, the founder and CEO of LiquidSpace.
Some coworking spaces spend thousands of dollars on fancy high-end furniture while others outfit their spaces with thrift store finds. It’s important to listen to the community and tailor the space to their needs, according to the panel.
“I’m about really strong infrastructure,” Chang said. “And then I let the community organically develop.”
A pioneer in the coworking movement, Chang, a licensed architect, opened his first coworking space, targeted at creative professionals in Los Angeles, four years ago. He has since expanded and opened another coworking space in Santa Monica. Both have 100 members.
The coworking movement, which features collaborative workspaces with open spaces, has also caught on in the corporate world, Chang said. In particular, Zappos recently redesigned its workspace with wide open spaces in which its CEO and Founder Tony Hsieh sits in the middle of the space instead of in a corner office.
“Many workplaces are allowing their employees choice,” Chang said. “People come in to work everyday and they get to choose where they want to work.”
Steelcase’s headquarters in Grand Rapids, Michigan promotes coworking, Chang said. Many people work out of Steelcase’s giant café, he said.
“Only a few people have dedicated workspace,” he said.
Today, a lot of work involves social interactions and chance meetings, Chang said.
“A huge myth existed about work that people are only productive when they closed their door, put their head down and worked,” Chang said. “But business development can take place over coffee. Being social is part of your work. You exchange ideas and get feedback through those interactions.”
Craig McAnsh, who runs Mojo Coworking in Asheville, NC, has seen the shift in the way people work firsthand. He opened his coworking space 11 months ago and now plans to expand from 1,700 square feet into a 5,000 square foot space.
“In a small community, coworking has to be about serving many needs,” McAnsh said. “There’s definitely a demand for it. We’ve got entrepreneurs, writers, small agencies and people who just use it for the conference room.”
Mojo has about 30 members who work out of a mixed-use development in the historic part of town. McAnsh isn’t attending SXSW. He travelled to Austin just to attend the coworking conference.
“I’m looking to get as many of the latest ideas and trends that I can and learn how to incorporate those into my business,” McAnsh said. “I find the white space conversations are the most beneficial.”
Chelsea McClain, all purpose superhero with Office Nomads in Seattle, also travelled to Austin specifically for the coworking conference.
Office Nomads, which has 100 members, has been around for 5 years and some dub it “the granddaddy of coworking” in Seattle.
“We’re doing better than ever,” McClain said. “There’s a lot of coworking spaces in Seattle now. There’s a lot of interest in it.”
While the natural inclination might be to grow bigger and expand, Office Nomads recently decided not to expand.
“I think coworking questions the naturalness of that,” McClain said. “More money, more space. There’s a lot of people that don’t’ think coworking should be about that. The culture of our community is not about making as much money as possible.”
Office Nomads is a for profit business and it is profitable, McClain said.
“People can get space anywhere,” McClain said. “Coworking is about community. The elements of community are about physical human interaction and talking about ideas around the water cooler.”
Diversity is also a benefit, said McClain, who used to be a burlesque dancer working out of Digital Nomads before she joined their staff.
“We’re extremely diverse,” she said. “We’ve got ornithologists, deep sea explorers, writers, entrepreneurs and more. The cross pollination of ideas is really fascinating.”