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tuesday, may 28 , 2019
Spending time at GCUC in lovely Denver has been immediately informative but in ways that I had not previously considered.
*This article initially appeared on GCUC
I had rocked up expecting to talk about data, the future of the sector, and when (not if) the recession was coming. But instead the conversations have centered more on values, the positive impact of coworking on worker Wellness and, in short, making clients happy.
Now this is revelatory.
So many of the discussion points in the wider market are “What is coworking?” “When is it going to end?” “Why is it even here?!” – the property sector has massively missed the point. The GCUC community is mostly made up of independent operators running well established businesses with high occupancy levels. The thing they have in common is that they are REALLY working to understand their clients. And, most critically, what makes them happy.
Now these are conversations that have never really happened elsewhere in the property market. Yes, there are endless discussions around productivity and staff retention, and burgeoning chat about wellness. But actually, making customers happy?
And this would seem to be the source of the long-term health of the coworking market. The focus on their client base, the desire to exceed expectations and to run a service is far removed from the traditional CRE relationships with the client.
I watched Angel Kwiatiwski moderate in the Women To Watch panel having also read a great blog by her in which she outlined the positive benefits of her coworking centre.1
In this piece she references a WSJ article that really set out the alleged drama of users of coworking space bemoaning the noise and intrusiveness of some of these spaces. In short, it seemed like a hatchet job but also aligns with much of the suspicion of coworking that many in the commercial real estate market harbor – that coworking is a fad, that private spaces are ultimately better, and that as companies mature they will automatically default to a leased, private office.
But this stigma is misleading and misguided. Independent operators make up around 75% of the total number of coworking spaces – something which is very rarely reported on. This is an SME-based sector with relatively few substantial, global players. And the vast majority of these indie players really subscribe to a set of values based around creating a positive experience for their clients – in short, making them happy.2 There are even pieces about evoking trust between coworking members a simple premise, if you trust the community you will be happier, stay longer, and ultimately spend more money.3
A recent book published by Nicholas Christakis, the Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science at Yale University, and it outlines some important but often overlooked elements of human interaction.4 In ‘Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society’, the professor assesses the human capacity for good, for co—operation, mutual learning and benefit. He believes that for too long this element of evolution has been overlooked in favor of the more negative traits of humanity. And in reading elements of the book, I was reminded very much of the GCUC conversations and the way the community component of coworking functions.
Of course, the coworking operators in Denver were setting out to make a profit too but they also recognized that in order to achieve this, their primary goal had to make their client base happy. Not just satisfied with their working environment but actively engaged and benefiting from it. This does beg the question, why do more organizations not actively seek to try this approach to workspace. For too long the “working dead” have shuffled to a workplace that has actively discouraged them and produced a negative experience. But this went almost unquestioned, as if there was simply no other way to design and implement working environments.
There are now many workplaces – many of them coworking centres – that seek to engage, improve and enhance. But more fundamentally they actually encourage the notion that the workplace can be a happy environment. And this may be the biggest step towards raising the bar for wellness and mental health than any other initiative out there at the moment!
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