A few months ago, a meme was passed around among independent coworking operators showing many of the large chain spaces using the exact same marketing tag line in their efforts to differentiate. We chuckled derisively as we scrolled through nearly identical splash pages with one company after another explaining how they were “more than just a coworking space.”
Every business owner loves to poke fun at larger competitors, but for many coworking space operators, this article probably touched a nerve of self consciousness too. The coworking landscape has changed dramatically and there is no longer even consensus regarding the definition of coworking, so how do we as operators accurately articulate the value we provide?
It’s easy to see how these larger shared space operators ended up using such similar tactics to define their value proposition. Not only do they feel pressure to position themselves to their customers, but also to the investors that fund (subsidize?) their operations. Putting aside the question of whether coworking companies can ever achieve the minimum 10x return demands of VC firms, these investors are demanding reassurance that their money isn’t going to one of dozens of WeWork imitators. Claiming differentiation is a lot easier than actually achieving it though, and it appears that some companies have adopted the strategy of repeating the mantra until it comes true.
Independent operators, on the other hand, don’t face pressure to appease investors, and our spaces are naturally differentiated from the WeWorks of the world by virtue of being independent. More often than not, indie spaces are born from passion projects and the atmosphere, community, and vibe is unique because the space itself and the people behind it are. That being said, we still often find ourselves needing to justify our existence to the world.
Even as awareness of coworking has grown, most of us have explained what we do to someone at a party, only to receive a response like “So you re-lease office space at a higher price than you pay?” or “Why wouldn’t the landlord just do that themselves?”
So when we feel the pressure to explain that we’re “more than just a coworking space”, what we really mean in many cases is that we’re more than just arbitragers of commercial real estate.
No one would assume that running a great hotel is as simple as putting comfortable beds and nice shampoo in some rooms. Most people wouldn’t claim that a great bar experience is created simply through providing good spirits and expensive furniture. Yet, maybe because of the still fledgling state of the coworking industry, there is a common misconception that what we do can be reduced to leasing space, adding desks, and counting the profits.
In reality, successful coworking spaces have complex and arduous operational components, require ongoing community building and nurturing, and intentional efforts toward improving member experience and the physical and psychological work environment through design and iteration. In short, striving to be a great coworking space is an admirable goal in itself, and one that if done right, can have a lasting impact on the community within (members, staff, customers) and outside of the physical confines of the space (its neighborhood, the local economy, etc).
So what can we provide?
Independent coworking spaces have the opportunity to foster creativity, encourage human connection, and create economic growth. As society and the economy have evolved, transactions and social interactions have moved into the virtual world, and opportunities for daily human contact have all but vanished for many people. As companies have become distributed and work has gone remote, meaningful companionship with coworkers has been lost.
As the pace and complexity of life has accelerated, so to has the desire to achieve time efficiencies. A day running errands is replaced by a few keystrokes. We recapture hours, but in turn we lose even the most basic moments of socialization. We skim Google for methods of grilling salmon and miss the chance to talk to the fish monger at the supermarket. We share neighborhood gossip on Nextdoor but we don’t attend the block party because of an overloaded schedule. We order coffee and lunch on apps, skip the line and miss the point of sale chatter. A trade-off for convenience is often increased isolation.
Crossfit experienced a surge in popularity, not just because of the efficacy of its workouts, but because of the camaraderie the format created between gym members. In a world with fewer opportunities for face-to-face connections, coworking spaces can do the same for the modern workplace, acting as one of the final outposts for diverse thinkers, creators, and doers to come together under one roof.
And through the power of shared economies, the individual members and small teams that make up the primary coworking user base can pool their resources and gain access to the beautiful, flexible, thoughtfully designed workspaces and amenities that were previously reserved for enterprise level budgets.
While other coworking companies wrestle with what they are and what they aren’t, we’ll continue to focus on providing top notch workspace that allows our members to grow and thrive. We believe we can add value by bringing together a community of people from disparate backgrounds, united by a desire to create impact. Whether discussing a project at work, politics, or hobbies, the coworking space serves as the platform for interaction with new people and exposure to new ideas. Our members expand their skillsets by surrounding themselves with people who are experts in areas they are not. We’ll continue to improve the physical spaces in which this all takes place while remaining focused on the people and organizations within. In other words, we’re just a coworking space, and we think that’s a great thing to be.