If coworking enterprises can survive the 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 survey, The Human Face of Coworking, produced by the O4 coworking company, which is based at the Olivia Business Centre, 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, says the report’s author, O4’s managing director Marta Moksa.
Moksa says 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%.
“It’s not a huge majority, but it is interesting because if you ask coworking managers they assume that the majority of their clients are men,” says Moksa.
‘The survey revealed that in Poland 54% of coworking occupants are women while the global average is 50%. If you ask coworking managers they assume that the majority of their clients are men.’
Marta Moksa, O4
O4 was mindful that conducting a survey during the health crisis could reflect the effects of the pandemic on work patterns. Among the stronger motivations for selecting coworking space were fatigue resulting from home working, but of equal weight were the design/appearance of coworking space and the full administrative service provided by coworking centre operators.
Moksa says the pandemic has highlighted O4’s long-held belief that the main competitor for a coworking operation is not competitors with the same offer, but people’s homes. That it is also not a straightforward segment of the property market is 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%.
Increasing role for coworking
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 16 months or so, then coworking centres could well have an increasing role. However, the O4 survey also finds that there are perceived drawbacks to coworking centres.
Just over a quarter of respondents (28%) found that coworking space influenced the development of their businesses, while 68% cited problems with parking and access, 23% said there were too many distractions and 19% noted that the cost was higher than a standard office.
The survey does tend to dispel the myth that it is really for start-up operations, as only 4% of respondents were less than a year old while about half of businesses in coworking centres had been in business for more than six years.
Another myth the report disproves is that self-employed or freelance workers provide the backbone of demand. In fact, the number of such individuals that utilise coworking accommodation is in decline. “Only about 15% of members are freelancers. Over 80% are small teams, or big teams, or team members,” Moksa says.
However, IT is the dominant occupier and while globally 20% of coworkers are in IT, in Poland the proportion is even higher, at 27%.