If coworking enterprises can survive the current disruption caused by the pandemic – they too have rent and staff to pay, after all – then this sub-sector of the office market may actually benefit from changing work patterns caused by the health crisis.
A recent report, The Human Face of Coworking, produced by the O4 coworking company which is based at the Olivia Business Centre in Gdansk, Poland, found that the principal motives for wanting a base in a coworking centre were the desire to meet other people and businesses along with the benefits of its location.
This represents a change in preferences. Just three years ago a prestige address and a flexible contract were the characteristics that drove the selection of coworking centres. These remain important factors but now take a back seat to human and social considerations, said the report’s author, O4’s managing director Marta Moksa.
Moksa said the shift in attitudes is indicative that Polish companies are moving toward the US and western European models which therefore also makes the report less Poland-specific. However, the survey did reveal that in Poland 54% of coworking occupants are women while the global average is 50%, and the average age of Polish respondents, at 34.5 years, is two years less than the global average.
O4 was mindful that conducting a survey during the pandemic would reflect the effects of the pandemic on work patterns. Among the stronger motivations for selecting co-working space were home-working fatigue, but of equal weight were the design/appearance of coworking space and the full administrative service provided by coworking centre operators.
Working from home is a coworking centre’s main rival
Moksa said that the pandemic period has demonstrated O4’s long-held belief that the main competitor for a coworking operation is not other coworking space, but people’s homes. That it is also not a straightforward segment of the property market is also illustrated by the finding that estate agents are only instrumental in 3% of coworking lettings – 39.5% originated through word-of-mouth from friends, 24% were employer-led and social media accounted for 18.5%.
If firms decide that the hub-and-spoke model is a solution to the challenge of persuading workers to return to the office after a commuting-free year-and-a-bit, then coworking centres could well have an increasing role. However, the O4 survey did find that there are perceived drawbacks to coworking centres.
A fairly low proportion of respondents (28%) found that coworking space influenced the development of their businesses which the report concludes is definitely a challenge for coworking operators. Furthermore, 68% cited problems with parking and access, 23% said there are too many distractions and 19% noted that the cost was higher than a standard office.
There are common assumptions about coworking space and the survey does tend to dispel the myth that it is really for start-up operations, as only 4% were less than a year old while about half of businesses in coworking centres had been in business for more than six years. Furthermore, only 15% of co-workers were freelancers.
However, IT is the dominant occupier and while globally 20% of co-workers are in IT, in Poland the proportion is even higher at 27%.