This is a guest article by William van den Broek, the co-founder of the coworking space Mutinerie, Paris, France.
The coworking history is already rich and we now see that the movement has moved out of the margins where it first appeared. Many coworking spaces are experimenting with new directions. So what is the future of coworking spaces? Will new spaces open up, using the same name or via one franchise network? Or perhaps the majority will move into a bigger space. Will some develop new services for the external community? Then of course, one has to ask: where will coworking spaces find the money to fund their growth? There is no obvious answer to theses questions.
Five different strategies to consider
Our own coworking space in France is beginning to face these same questions. We would like to share our reflections and analyse the main issue, which we believe is to understand to what to extent coworking focuses on the community rather than on the space, and how that could be easily replicated. Each community has its own balance resulting from the blend of individuals populating the space. This alchemy rapidly becomes the identity of the space and its “brand” on the whole. Because each space is unique, the model cannot be replicated, or at least not like any fast food chain. There is no precedent allowing us to exactly know in which direction coworking should move. The directions that we have found are mostly inspired by past examples or completely different contexts.
Even by observing monasteries, the Kibboutzim, artists' residencies or workers cooperatives from the XIX century, we realize that we still rely on different contexts that are far from our strange XXI century. Despite the precious inspiration we got from our ancestors, we have to bet on our discernment and consider the major changes happening within our time.
To gain a more objective overview, here are some hypothesis about the evolution of coworking in the coming years. They are voluntarily extreme and the reality will obviously look more like a mix of different trends rather than one direction towards a unique model. However, from these ideas, we could potentially underline some structural trends that are shaping the coworking movement worldwide.
1. The Starbucks strategy
In this configuration the coworking market did prove itself. Companies such as Google, Cisco or Orange, become highly interested in coworking. They embark on the trend by opening a large amount of spaces, which are often less intimate and communal, but posess the basic functionalities. Some of them are opening alongside other existing spaces and result in slashing the prices. Older spaces cannot keep up and the ones that can overcome a cash deficit during the following three years, generally end up surviving.
2. The merge between companies and coworking
As many companies don’t develop fast enough, margins become undermined, talents leave and they finally end up with a surplus of properties. But they know that coworking is a path to innovation, and they decide to offer part of their properties to freelancers workers, free of charge. In this case, coworking becomes an extension of the company and federates a community of young and passionate talents around it.
3. The emergence of a main operator
A coworking operator emerges as a reference and adopts a successful development strategy. He or she opens multiple spaces and succeeds to combine community and efficiency by creating operational synergies. The number of spaces increases, but the amount of managers decreases. This scenario corresponds to a relatively classic evolution of any other kind of market.