London is one of the leading coworking capitals in Europe and the number of shared coworking spaces has gone up considerably over the past 5 years. In 2011, the city had only 16 spaces, amounting to 530 desks (source: DeskMag).
Since then, among many other factors, the global financial crisis has hit smaller business harder and put the movement back on track. These days, it is believed that the capital may have up to 800 coworking venues, catering for all sorts of professional backgrounds and budgets.
As its appeal has transcended the start-up sphere as more and more large corporations start introducing their own internal coworking models – we caught up with Alexei Schwab, Head of Programme at Future of London (an independent policy network connecting the Capital’s regeneration, housing, infrastructure and economic development professionals) to (try) find out what the future may hold for this industry.
Cowork Hub: Alexei, coworking is definitely on the rise right now. In your view, what has been a major change over the past 10 years?
Alexei Schwab: From the coworking spaces owners’/managers’ perspective I can see a growing demand for longer leasing contracts, ideally for a minimum of 5 years or so. As the property market seems to be picking up, coworking spaces owners are looking for more stability and security regarding their contracts and temporary spaces are less attractive.
Cowork Hub: What else has been a driving force towards paving the way for the next generation of shared coworking venues?
Alexei Schwab: I would say that as the competition is growing, coworking managers are collecting data on a more serious basis. They are more interested in finding out how to better anticipate their clients’ needs than they were in the past, from how fast the internet should be to why a co-worker may choose to join a space. They are definitely trying to build a more effective profile of the coworking community.
Cowork Hub: That brings us to the one million pound question: what is it that really matters the most when joining a coworking space?
Alexei Schwab: Believe it or not, it mainly comes down to basic requirements like good internet and local transport. Internet speed and stability are vital for modern businesses, and having good transport links is important for people to be able to get to meetings in other parts of town.
Cowork Hub: Well, having a reliable internet connection doesn’t come as a surprise to us really as we take that very seriously here at Cowork Hub. Let’s move on to something that is equally close to our heart: sense of belonging/community. That seems to be the motherhood of shared coworking spaces, but, it’s seems easier said than done, right?
Alexei Schwab: Many venues try very hard to achieve that, but it is definitely a challenge as building effective relationships takes a lot of effort and marketing research, something that isn’t necessarily easy for smaller coworking spaces. Good ways to promote community are organising external events, members’ get-togethers, getting involved with the local community and building one-to-one relationships with members, but these can often take second place to operational pressures.
Also, because the coworking industry itself is quite young, it makes it harder to achieve that enduring connection with the locals when your business has only been around, let’s say, for 2 to 5 years.
Cowork Hub: Well, that’s definitely something to look forward to, but, will this rising industry really make it that long? Will there still be demand in the near future?
Alexei Schwab: I do think that demand will grow, especially as freelancing is becoming more popular and major companies are seeing the benefits of being located alongside smaller businesses. It goes without saying that benefits such as having all the office logistics taken care of so that you can focus on your business will still have appeal in the future!
If you would like to hear more about this topic, on February 21st, Future of London will release its research on working spaces, especially shared coworking venues. Check their website for updates.
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