Coworking as a mode of working has grown very rapidly over the last five years, to the extent that it may well be called an industry now. Most of the coworking operators that exist today have been in the business for 2-3 years. If one has about 5-6 years of experience, one is seen as mature. Alex Hillman, who has been around for more than 12 years in the business, by the same logic, is like a dinosaur in the business.
In this short video Alex mentions that the current trend of enterprises moving to coworking spaces is like a fashion statement A lot of things have changed and yet some things have not changed. Let us look at two aspects:
A. Changed: The nature of work has changed radically, is still changing and faster every other day
B. Unchanged: What remains unchanged is the importance of aligning the corporate culture with the enterprises’ business vision.
Let us talk about A. What has changed at the workplace due to the infusion of technology at the workplace is common knowledge. New words have been introduced to our business vocabulary like agile working, remote working, activity-based working, robotization, gender sensitivity, flexi-timing, innovation, entrepreneurship, incubation and so on. The sub-culture around such terms are common across most large and small enterprises. Larger enterprises see merit in adopting the practices of startups and behaving like startups to be more agile and business savvy in a new world. One of the multiple advantages, for a large enterprise, of working from a co-working space is the perceived rub-off of a common culture of being cool, agile and up to date on how work gets done out there, these days. There is a perceived value in docking onto the common innovative culture that a coworking culture breeds. So it is not surprising to come across a bootstrapped social innovation startup rubbing shoulders with an e-commerce unicorn with billions of dollars in revenue in a co-working space.
Let us look at it from the B viewpoint now. In terms of a business vision and goals, there is a huge difference between the unicorn and the startup. The individual business ethos will be very different. The current core will be very different. The resultant and inherent culture is likely to be very different. When co-working spaces host a multitude of such cross-cultural enterprises, a common culture evolves. Subscribing to such a common culture is likely to do more harm than good; to a ‘certain segment of workers’ from within an enterprise, not to all.
Let me broadly divide the ‘work’ within an enterprise into two broad categories of Design and Delivery. Let us say that Design is about R&D, business development, branding and management. Delivery is about execution and delivery of the product or service. Design is unique for every enterprise (at least it is supposed to be that way for business success), whereas Delivery is process driven and has common elements. Design is more right brained (emotional) and Delivery is more left brained (logical). For example, many enterprises in India doing ‘back-end’ work, run Delivery for enterprises focused on Design, based in the USA and Europe.
Delivery oriented enterprises may find it relatively easier to adjust to coworking spaces, given the commonalities of the ‘Delivery formula’. This may even work in ‘left-brained’ co-working spaces, which are commoditized, and nothing short of a real estate model. However a Design oriented team is unlikely to gain much from such a coworking solution. In fact, it may be detrimental. It is very difficult for such enterprises to retain its uniqueness (which is at the core of business success) in a commoditized coworking model. The only way such teams can flourish are from spaces that will allow its unique corporate culture to align with its business goals and ethos. That means a coworking space that is really really service oriented. Now, the moot question is, does such a coworking center exist? Many of the big coworking centers grew on the backbone of service and the growth of communities. But in the rush to become bigger and bigger, I suspect that they may not be listening enough to the communities’ needs and wants.
The challenge here is that the number of ‘left-brained’, logical jobs and tasks are reducing drastically as robotization takes over rapidly, and one sees a steep growth of ‘right-brained’, creative jobs. Over the coming months, for coworking players, the merit of ‘not forgetting to listen to the community’s voices’ will get highlighted as Service (I mean real customized service, not lip service) will take precedence over a commodity offering. As for enterprises, the need to augment its unique culture through its personalized workplace, is likely to see prominence. So, like Alex says, yes, it can be seen as a fashion statement if enterprises are relocating to coworking centers without introspection. Look before you leap!