Examining the Sustainability of Coworking

Coworking In The Long-Term

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It’s with good reason that both tenants and journalists are optimistic about coworking. There’s no end to the positive press coverage that the major urban coworking spaces receive, and that’s not a surprise: who wouldn’t be impressed by their decisive, playful rejection of traditional corporate hierarchy? Step into a WeWork and it feels like a cross between an office and a central building on a college campus. With convenient amenities, bright minds, and a fun social vibe, the concept of coworking spaces has won the hearts of many an aspiring entrepreneur.

But the owners of these spaces will have to rely on more than first impressions if they want to retain customers.

The problem with flashy amenities and little luxuries is that they don’t address the customer’s core needs. People don’t rent office space to relax or to feel like they’re in a hotel; they do it to work. A journalist sent to cover a space or a prospective tenant taking a tour might be impressed at first glance, but they have not yet seen how well they would work in an environment like that. Of course, the news articles will come out as glowing reviews because the places seem like good environments to work in—but are they really?

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The ultimate test an office space has to pass is whether it actually makes its occupants more productive. It’s easy to argue that unhappy workers are unproductive workers, but the same could be said about workers who’re surrounded by distractions all day. If coworking space tenants find that their productivity has decreased despite the fun they’re having, they may be less inclined to keep paying for the space. Eventually, the novelty will wear off and they’ll return to seeking the more efficient work space. If their coworking space isn’t efficient, it’s likely that they’ll move elsewhere.

And why shouldn’t they? Both entrepreneurs and freelancers need to get work done; it wouldn’t be cost effective to pay for a coworking space and treat it as a bar, instead of just going to a real bar after work. Coworking space providers need to realize that they’re solving a deeper consumer need than the desire for a fun place to work.

This isn’t to say that they aren’t doing a good job. Looking at the sheer variety of coworking spaces available in the U.S., from creativity-driven studios to offices that cater to late-stage startups, it’s clear that plenty of workers feel at home with shared office space. The space providers wouldn’t be in business if the tenants weren’t satisfied on some level.

But to ensure long-term profitability, coworking space providers will have to keep it this way. If they slip up and let press coverage outweigh the importance of solid fundamentals, they could soon find themselves with tenants jumping ship after two months when they realize that they’re paying for a glorified hotel.