We live in a world wherein the workplace is evolving with changing times and norms . In these changing times, there has been a significant rise in digital work habits especially over the last two decades. As a generation, we’re moving towards a shift in work cultures wherein a good number of industries are operating remotely through the work from home option or even permanently remote options. The plus side in this transition is that people spend less time commuting and hence more time is available to spend on meeting their close ones or on leading healthier lifestyles. These options weren’t available in the past wherein long commute times and long hours in the office were the norm. In the current day, digital nomads ultimately hope to establish a complementary relationship between their work and personal lives.
A consequence of this need for a new kind of workspace resulted in the formation of coworking spaces. The origins of the first coworking space can be traced back to 1999 when a “flexible office space” with the possibility to cancel on short notice was launched by a software company called 42 West 24. However, coworking spaces gained traction and really took off in San Francisco, USA in 2005 when Brad Neuberg, a programmer, hoped to create a space where people with similar values could work individually and yet be part of a community.
Coworking spaces are community-based shared workspaces which provide necessary amenities and operate on values of “collaboration, openness, community, accessibility, creativity and sustainability”. These spaces offer their users (for the most part independently employed, consultants, freelancers or digital nomads) access to office infrastructure at flexible working hours and the possibility to associate with different colleagues professionally and socially. Coworking spaces differ from other shared workspaces mainly in terms of flexibility, short-term rental of desks (per hour, per day, per week, per month or per year), continuously changing social composition and the focus on community.
Since 2005, these spaces are proliferating around the world at a rapid pace. Back in 2008, there were just 160 spaces while there are about 29,000 locations around the world in 2022. Embracing coworking spaces has proved to increase user morale and therefore, productivity and success of workers in a company. Even tech giants such as Google and Facebook promote innovation and entrepreneurship by investing in corporate coworking spaces.
Coworking spaces have proliferated around us and represent a ‘new model of work’ in a ‘collaborative and sharing’ economy. An economic impact report by WeWork (a major coworking space provider) describes the central role of WeWork in enhancing a sense of community, productivity, accelerating organization growth and savings over commercial real estate. Research suggests that users of coworking spaces perceive their work as meaningful, have more control over their jobs and feel a sense of belonging within their coworking communities. In an attempt to foster networking, community and collaboration, space operators conceptualize their spaces in an environmentally friendly manner, devise a common area and organize several activities such as events, debates, conferences and technology exhibitions. Therefore, the goals of these work environments are to enhance productivity, innovativeness and collaboration while diminishing costs and environmental impact.
Now, how do digital nomads actually benefit?
Digital nomads stand to gain five benefits that a typical coworking space can provide. They can be classified and described as below:
A business model is the story of how value is created, delivered, and captured. Coworking spaces are modeled so that their users have the ability to interact with peers, receive feedback, build trust through partnerships and collaborate effectively to contribute positively to the business model of the coworking space and that of the user’s business. In addition, users have access to affordable office spaces in particularly expensive parts of mega-cities.
Efficiency-centered business models are designed for better efficiency through reduced costs derived by limiting elements of the product delivered and by devising clear governance mechanisms while Novelty centered business models are designed through novelty as the focus by creating new products and new ways of linking activities and actors by maintaining a flexible governance style. Digital nomads stand to gain in either of these. The startup digital nomads can choose efficiency centered workspaces while the established ones can choose to work at a novelty centered coworking space.
Coworking spaces can be thought of as a development that is driven by the digital technological evolution. This is evident not only by the flexible work proliferation but also includes the application of technological solutions in IT systems and architecture to design spaces that are coherent with megatrends and needs of any modern business especially start-ups.
Previously, workspaces were designed for efficiency and productivity of employees by effectively housing the technology and tools necessary with unintentional positives such as cultural alignment, idea generation and fellowship that built a sense of trust and teamwork amongst employees. In the current day, however, the whole point of coworking can be traced to enhancing these unintentional positives by deliberately building a space to deliver the same.
Companies that invest in intuitive collaborative technology have better adoption rates if they provide their employees with an experience that is familiar to their personal use of technology. These collaborative tools are relevant for coworking spaces looking to improve user interactions. However, companies need to be mindful while deciding the role of technology in the work-life balance of its employees.
Now, maintaining and renewing search and match mechanisms through technological initiatives and offline meetups play a critical role in the success of a coworking space. Different coworking space operators use different platforms to enhance social interaction by allowing access to user skills, needs and areas of interest. In fact, some platforms include a digital ‘check-in’ to allow shared encounters and create a sense of awareness among users and also offline meetups are encouraged through shared lunches and other networking events.
Technology has not only facilitated the development of coworking spaces but also helped build all areas of a coworking business such as office design and better worker productivity. The benefits of technology at a coworking center provide a silver lining to any digital nomad looking to leverage the technology and benefit from being in the right space at the right time.
Location of a coworking space plays a crucial role in attracting users to a coworking space. While users of coworking spaces typically select spaces based on price and convenient location from home, there is a growing trend towards applying selection criteria to filter users wherein the space operators act as gatekeepers to the community of the space. The nature of the coworking space and the user experiences of coworking are defined by location, local culture and associated demands.
Industries in a cluster gain from the increased face-to-face interactions by fostering innovation and knowledge transfer. Indeed, creative hubs such as clusters are often described as spaces of diversity, innovation, dynamic economic growth, tolerance and self-realization. The rationale of clustering or co-location lies in the ‘potential’ of interaction’ while reducing costs. Coworking spaces are usually located within close proximity to ‘larger clusters of creative economic activity’. Through coworking spaces, digital nomads can gain access to valuable office space with possibilities for innovation and fundraising at prime locations in the city at a fraction of the price. In this way, there is hardly any downside for the digital nomad!
The success of a coworking space business can be strongly related to the design of the workspace. Therefore, it is necessary for a company to invest in appropriate workspace strategies to create suitable work environments that can meet the organization’s needs for the present and the future.
The elements of the physical workspace can alter the productivity, perceptions and behavior of users. The physical design of the space including the creatively designed space, open floor layout, social areas and glass walls promote collaboration by influencing the movement of people and interactions between them. The vital characteristics for choosing a coworking space include the accessibility and the happiness that the atmosphere/ interior design provided. The challenges include creating a sense of privacy, managing conflicts between users, and controlling noise factors. Interestingly, working at home is portrayed as less productive because of its ‘distractions’. In the case of a digital nomad who is predetermined to work away from home, it is imperative that the physical environment supports his goals. A coffee shop is just not as professional as a good coworking space. It is a no brainer that you as a digital nomad would stand to gain a lot given the work environments that are available at a fraction of the cost!
As the work habits of employees, freelancers and entrepreneurs turn nomadic, it is evident that they experience an increased isolation, freedom, lack of collaboration and faded lines between work and play. In fact, socially isolated entrepreneurs experience stress, anxiety and depression. This isolation at work reduces the opportunity for collaboration which is considered as essential for creativity and innovation. However, as social beings, people favor social interaction over isolation.
The origin of coworking spaces can be explained as a response to these “lone eagles” by creating a ‘third place’ in order to solve this isolation and boredom. “Open-mindedness, participation and sharing” constitute the major values for coworking spaces and these values make it possible for the formation of weak ties. These third places are enabling innovation through an environment that facilitates spontaneous interaction and collaboration between users such as entrepreneurs and employees in organizations. In fact, meeting new people may play an important role in making decisions and even outcomes by sharing skills, sharing resources and acquiring information. Indeed, coworking spaces are conceptualized to construct and maintain network ties for users to benefit from flexibility and social factors. The users tend to cocreate a favorable community with more opportunities instead of the rigid and imposing corporate community.
Digital nomads have so much to gain through ideas discussed under these 5 topics. It is important to note, however, that the privacy seeking digital nomad may be uncomfortable in such work environments and may prefer to work at home or take up private offices. Overall, the benefits of coworking spaces for digital nomads far outweigh the cost involved!
Karthik Magaji is the co-founder of a boutique coworking space in Bangalore. He is on a mission to make premium coworking spaces more wonderful and affordable. During his free time, he enjoys traveling, reading and writing.