How coworking spaces are breaking the glass ceiling and attracting more than just startup and freelance talents.
Coworking first made its mark on the world as a disruptive force offering a creative haven for freelancers and small businesses. It offered less-established professionals the opportunity to be based in a fixed-location, be part of a greater community, and thrive in an environment where flexibility and collaboration were two of its greatest pillars. What we did not see at the time, though, was a large presence of corporates in coworking spaces. While entrepreneurs chose to settle in the new spaces popping up all over town, corporates stay put. But now, similar to any other evolving phenomena, the nature of coworking is fast evolving, attracting new and different customers along the business spectrum. And as that happens, more and more corporations are realizing that coworking spaces are a hotbed of innovation with the potential to catalyze change in the future.
“Over the past few years, coworking has evolved from a niche market to a full and global alternative to traditional offices,” says Dan Zakai, CEO and founder of MINDSPACE, a fastgrowing international provider of shared office spaces with roots in Tel Aviv. MINDSPACE made international strides by expanding to the German market – beyond the confines of Berlin and Hamburg – with one goal in mind: To promote a lifestyle, rather than a place of work. To stay in line with this philosophy, strict emphasis is placed on the space design process and on the provision of added-value services to members. “Our uniqueness is the fact that we offer our members not just a place to work, but a whole lifestyle, with a vibrant community,” he says. Community Managers are the driving force behind every community, making every space feel like a second home. With locations in Tel Aviv, Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich (and more en route) MINDSPACE is proving that coworking, rather than being a passing fad, is here to stay.
Time has seen the target market of coworking spaces broaden greatly. The exponential growth and popularity of shared office spaces have forced managers to think outside-the-box when recruiting members, and upsell competitors by providing new, tailormade solutions for inbound customers. Catering a shared office space to corporates, for example, is a phenomenon making waves only recently. “Our target group has broadened in a way that makes coworking relevant not only for startups and freelancers, but for companies of all sizes from various sectors,” notes Zakai. “We have witnessed a change where, initially,the majority of our members were startups and freelancers, but today, we host the likes of Coca Cola, Barclays, Tech Stars, M&C Saatchi, Hespa Bank and Volkswagen in our space.” This leads us to a discussion of: Why are corporates attracted to coworking spaces to begin with? And how does the product offered to corporates differ from that of the startup or young entrepreneur?
Large corporates are fast realizing the potential that lies in the community of each coworking space: Populated by teams of entrepreneurs, young startups, and talented freelancers, coworking spaces are hotbeds of creativity and innovation just waiting to be tapped. For any corporate looking to integrate innovation into its traditional practice, promote out-ofthe-box thinking, attract youthful talent, or setup an accelerator program that will fast-track development in its area of interest, choosing coworking is a no-brainer. A corporation cannot continue to survive and maintain its competitive edge in this day and age without integrating some element of innovation into its practice. Coworking provides a base for doing so by exposing corporates to some of the most innovative and creative minds of our times. As for attracting youthful talent - being based in a coworking space, despite belonging to a greater organization, dilutes the impression that you are working for a large company. So for the millennial, often deterred by the prospect of losing his creative freedom to the ‘constraints of the greater organization,’ being based in a coworking space is a happy medium.
So how are corporates making strides in the coworking sphere? There is no single right formula. But their presence is strongly felt. There are those who set up scouting teams to lay the foundation for partnerships with breakthrough startups. Some move whole departments and take up several floors of particularly large coworking spaces, taking on the approach of “separate yet together”. This, while strategically bringing a corporate much closer to the beating heart of innovation, still allows it to maintain a sense of privacy and distinct organizational culture. Accelerator programs sponsored by corporates are another means to an end, as are innovation hubs that are put in place to increase corporate interaction with new technologies and developments. The bottom line is, though, that regardless of the route a corporate takes in establishing its presence in the coworking world, innovation is being (highly) sought out.
MINDSPACE, on its part, offers a ‘Suites’ solution for corporates, described as a large customizable space that can be tailored to customer preferences, and lets you enjoy the benefits of coworking while maintaining your privacy and day-to-day company operations and culture. Such a space is made up of two areas: an open-space layout where desks can be shuffled and organized as needed, and a closed-off room that can be used as the company’s private meeting room or CEO office. The solution gives corporates the best of both worlds in the form of a plug-and-play solution that lets them both stay connected, and disconnected when needed. Networking, happy hour events and workshops are available for the taking, without compromising on the need for privacy.
“Coworking has become a movement,” says Zakai. “Nearly every city has a market for it, and it is really exciting to see this market developing.” But is this only a Western trend? Or is coworking taking over in the East, as well?
Patrick Neikes is based in Mindspace Hamburg yet works consistently with the East. Charged with business development for Star Rapid, a Zhongshan, China-based provider of highquality prototyping, rapid tooling, and low-volume manufacturing, Neikes is the company’s sole representative in Hamburg. He chose to cowork for the obvious benefit of “not being isolated in a home-office environment, in which working alone becomes one’s new standard.”
While corporate coworking is thriving in the West, it seems that the East is still catching up. Neikes describes the entrepreneurial spirit and creative thought as developing amongst Asian youngsters. “I have personally met Chinese friends with a rebellious and ambitious mindset, who challenge the traditional wisdom of the elderly,” he says. It is a step he considers “significant” in contributing to a fast growth. Yet it is still far from reaching full potential.
Neikes brings up an interesting point on the topic of corporate coworking: “It seems that with today’s management wisdom, innovation works better if it is located on an isolated island – far away from existing hierarchies and decision making bureaucracies,” he says. He brings to the table a perfect analogy. Let us, for a minute, refer to innovation as a “treasure”, corporates as “treasure hunters”, and coworking spaces as “isolated islands”. The “treasure hunters” need to find a way to conquer the “isolated islands” if they wish to win over the “treasure”. So if corporates wish to keep up with innovation and the changing times, they must conquer the likes of coworking spaces, and place themselves in the beating-heart of a community that fosters collaboration and entrepreneurialism.