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Is Shared Office Space Really the Holy Grail for Productivity?

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As the demand for flexible workspace intensifies and coworking continues its meteoric rise from what was originally deemed a “fad” to a stand-alone industry sector in its own right, Gary Melton, Managing Director at Novo, looks at whether shared office space is the answer to greater efficiency, profit and productivity, and whether or not coworking is right for everybody. 

I am always sceptical over things that are overtly popular.  Call it stubbornness, call it ignorance, call it what you like – but I often find myself having an aversion to things that most people can’t get enough of – Game of Thrones and Michael Mcintyre instantly spring to mind.

Hence when I hear exaggerated statistics being thrown around the place such as 142% of people using coworking spaces are more engaged and motivated, with a further 231% reportedly enjoying the “best day of their lives” in a coworking space – I find myself trying to battle the tide and gather reasons not to like it.  I mean who wants cost effective office space solutions with beautifully designed communal spaces, micro roasted coffee, craft beers on draft and fresh fruit on demand anyway?

Weighing up the positives and negatives

Ok cards on the table. There is something really quite liberating about the thought of a co-working set up, leaving the traditional office environment behind while not having to suffer the distraction, loneliness or lack of networking opportunity associated with home working. On the surface there certainly seems to be a lot to like.

Effectiveness and satisfaction – Whilst businesses/individuals/entrepreneurs are all working independently on their own projects, occupants can still benefit from the energy and vibe that can only be generated as a collective.  This “independent collaboration” may be just the thing to help drive you on and according to the statistics, 84% of people who use coworking spaces are more engaged and motivated, 83% of users of coworking and other forms of flexible space claim to have benefited from these new work environments, while 89% of people who co-work are reportedly “happier”.

Networking opportunities – Working in a traditional office space limits your direct networking to those also working for the same business.  Working alone or at home almost completely eliminates your networking potential.  Co-working can put you in the vicinity of individuals and businesses offering a vast and diverse range of services, skills and solutions which you would otherwise have little exposure to.  This has the potential to lead to all kinds of business opportunities, relationships, information sharing etc.

Freedom/Flexibility – Finding a suitable space is one thing. Powering that office from an infrastructure, logistics and financial perspective is a different kettle of fish. Business rates, water, electricity, wi-fi, telephone systems, cleaning, furniture – the list is endless. Co-working space goes a long way to solving many of these problems, incorporating a rental space on flexible terms/durations with all the infrastructure thrown in and a fixed monthly premium.

Potential Pitfalls  

If you collate most of the statistics around productivity and happiness in co-working spaces you would be forgiven for packing up your desk and getting an Uber to the nearest hotspot and plugging in to their mainframe.

However, with my sceptical mind firmly in overdrive I have to question whether – despite all the apparent positives – co working space is indeed the pinnacle for business productivity and progression.

Could co-working lead to diminished productivity?

For all the positive statistics and figures around increased productivity, I would argue that in some situations the co-working dynamic could have the exact opposite effect.  Co-working spaces can be crowded and noisy and I wonder how distracting this could be when you are trying to knuckle down and get on with some serious work.  That’s not to say it doesn’t happen in a traditional office space (I have written and re-written the last sentence about 23 times due to getting distracted in my office) but it does make me think the statistics around increased productivity may be somewhat inflated.

Privacy problems, Data Protection and Cyber Security

Would you let a direct competitor walk in to your office and start looking around and listening in to your conversations? Absolutely not. Security and privacy concerns must be one of the main concerns when considering moving in to a co-working environment. For companies dealing with high volumes of confidential information it must be a logistical nightmare. Likewise for those dealing with intellectual property, ideas, sales information or other sensitive data – especially if they are sharing the space with a direct competitor or a business competing in a conflicting or related sector.

Annoying neighbours

There is always ‘that’ person who wants to be your friend. The kind of person who won’t give you a minute’s breathing space and always appears just as you are about to enjoy a moment’s silence or take the first bite of your sandwich at lunchtime. True – this can happen in a traditional office space as well but in this environment I think you accept it whereas for me, half the appeal of working in a shared office space with ‘strangers’ would be to avoid these exact kind of encounters.

Conclusion

This whole piece is leading inevitably towards a classic “sitting on the fence” scenario with the conclusion being that it does of course depend on what kind of individual you are and what sort of business you are running as to whether shared office space is going to work for you and if indeed productivity sees a spike as a result.

And annoyingly while this is probably the truth, rather than leaving this article perching on the edge of a cliff like the bus at the end of the Italian Job, I would rather put my neck on the block and either drive back on to safe land or let the damn thing fall to the ground.

So for me, I don’t think a shared office space works. I can’t reel off an endless list of reasons why, but I think the main sticking point for me is the worry I would have about culture or more specifically feeling like you have to embrace an existing culture within a shared space and somehow fold it in to the way the business works rather than creating your own.  Perhaps I am wrong. Maybe several subcultures can exist under the one umbrella?