Uniting the suits and the beards: Co-working’s rise

 
John Duckworth
World Beard And Moustache Championships 2015
Having a few hipsters in your office could do wonders for innovation (Source: Getty)

Co-working the latest trend in ultra-hip working practices, has now hit the mainstream. The word conjures up images of bearded, flannel-shirted hipsters working on iMacs in Scandinavian inspired “spaces”. Yet more and more corporates are now adopting it, with the likes of Microsoft, Philips and several mainstream retail and investment banks creating specialised working environments.

So does this mean your office is soon going to be invaded by a start-up crowd? The answer may be yes. But fear not. Co-working provides a number of benefits for any forward looking company.

What is it really?

Let’s start with the basics. There’s co-working and then there’s co-working. It comes in many shapes and sizes, each with different characteristics. For example, some businesses are implementing internal forms of co-working, to help increase internal collaboration, with the creation of “hubs” where people from different departments can work together.

Then, there is the specialised co-working office (think WeWork and Central Working) – an offshoot of the serviced office – which (generally) puts freelancers and start-ups not only in the same building but sometimes even on the same desk, giving them the chance to meet like-minded people, discuss ideas and trade advice.

Read more: Corporate co-working: How big firms can benefit

Increasingly, we are also starting to see larger firms open up their offices to start-ups and entrepreneurs. These internal co-working spaces are an interesting development and one driven by companies looking to extract maximum value from their office space.

With the ever-increasing cost of commercial rents in London, this type of co-working gives firms a chance to recoup some of that cash by leasing out spare desks and office space to other businesses. It’s important that firms don’t get too carried away with this concept, however. A balance needs to be struck between the desire to offset rent and the well-being of staff. An overcrowded office is not a happy one.

Benefits and challenges

Co-working provides less tangible benefits too. An influx of entrepreneurially-minded individuals into a corporate space can help inspire innovation with the sharing of knowledge and ideas. For start-ups, this means access to experienced business people and a network of new contacts – both of which can serve to push their company to the next level. However, careful consideration does need to be given to the cultural fit, as bringing a group of entrepreneurs into a corporate setting could be a bit of a shock to the system.

There are, of course, challenges to co-working. Data protection, intellectual property and the discussion of business sensitive matters are a concern for corporates and start-ups alike. Practical steps to mitigate this include the use of different WiFi networks for employees and co-workers, as well as private, closed office space where sensitive matters can be freely discussed without fear of being overheard.

Co-working is here to stay and offers benefits to businesses, both big and small. As firms look to increase productivity, innovate and search for efficiencies, co-working should be looked at as a serious option. Getting it right is not always straightforward but the benefits are myriad.

The flannel shirts and the suits should no longer see each other as species from different planets, eyeing each other warily on the Tube. They have much to learn from one another and co-working is a great way to start.

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