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The Rise Of Co-Working Spaces: Do They Improve Productivity?

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Small Business
Apr 11, 2018

Do co-working spaces have the secret sauce for productivity down pat?

That seems to be the case. Based on a study conducted by Harvard Business Review, individuals working out of co-working spaces reported levels of productivity that averages around six on a seven-point scale - at least a point higher than the average reported by employees working in traditional offices.

So what is it about co-working spaces that help individuals and businesses thrive? And beyond the advantages, what are the obstacles to productivity that co-working members may encounter?

The pros:

Ample opportunities for networking and relationship building

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One of the biggest draws for SMEs seeking out co-working spaces is the networking opportunities and sense of community that it brings.

Working among a group of self-starters, freelancers and businesses means you're constantly surrounded by individuals with a wide variety of skill sets - some of which may be a perfect complement to your business needs. And even if you don't wind up striking up an official work collaboration, it doesn't hurt to have like-minded individuals to discuss ideas and share business insights with.

And increasingly, coworking spaces are offering access to stakeholders like investors, venture capitalists, mentors and professionals you might not typically brush shoulders with at networking events. One example is workspace provider JustCo - in its recent collaboration with PwC Venture Hub, the workspace is offering startups with much-valued access to expertise from PwC.

Eileen Wee, marketing communications manager at JustCo says: "The partnership with PwC Venture Hub is such that PwC will provide professional services, facilitate drop-in clinics, speakers for events and other collaborations to JustCo members within the venture ecosystem, to help them expand into their key markets."

Fosters a sense of community

It's not just all work and no play. From its décor to events calendar, workspaces strive to foster a sense of community among its members - one that extends beyond work collaborations or relationships.

Fun, informal events - like private viewing of artworks or dining experiences complete with storytelling - are a regular feature on The Working Capitol's event calendar. And at JustCo, amenities like a foosball table, ping pong table and open pantry help create an inviting atmosphere that encourages mingling.  This sense of community is particularly helpful for small teams seeking out an engaging work environment, as these teams often find it a challenge to build up their own culture in a private office space.

Enhances creativity

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The diversity of individuals and businesses working together in a coworking space creates an environment that facilitates creative thinking.

Having worked out of The Working Capitol, Lorenzo Petrillo, director of LOPELAB- a design studio specialising in street design and activation, explained that the "community and spaces have been important for our growth. Inspiration came from other members, partnerships and collaborations, events and activities organised together outside the working environment."

Established businesses stand to gain from being in a collaborative environment too. Working alongside start-ups keeps these businesses informed on upcoming industry trends and provides them with insights on new platforms where they can offer their services, as well as new market segments they can reach out to. Saranta Gattie, co-founder of The Working Capitol states, "Access to ideas, conversations and people is always available and there's a benefit to being surrounded by like-minded, energised entrepreneurs and go-getters who bring in a fresh perspective.

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Your creativity levels are impacted by the way your day is designed or structured too - and that's something that workspaces like The Great Room Offices seek to improve for its members. 

Its marketing manager, Chew Wan Qian shares: "We're dedicated to changing the way people feel about going to work, and it's our mission to banish the 'Monday blues'." The workspace does this through providing a complimentary breakfast spread, music, barista services and evening snacks every Monday to help its members start and end their work day on a positive note. 

Full-service support for your office logistics needs

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Having office logistics well taken care of leaves you with more time to focus on your most pressing business needs. And the best of workspaces offer more than just the essentials - these spaces match up well against the fanciest of corporate offices, providing features like well-stocked pantries, in-office workouts and personalised assistance from friendly community managers.

At The Great Room, members may opt for a shoulder massage session or weekly Tuesday yoga session to relieve the stresses of a hectic workday. Child-minding services offered at Trehaus, coupled with its adult-only work zones create a conducive work environment for busy parents. And at Sparkkspace - a coworking space dedicated to creatives - the nitty-gritty details of a photoshoot, like the logistics, equipment rental and model and stylist hires are settled well beforehand, leaving photographers with more time and energy to focus on their shoots.

The cons:

Lack of privacy

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The same design elements that promote a collaborative work environment - like open layouts, lounge areas and communal work benches - can have adverse impacts on a company's privacy. Members immersed in a work discussion may be unwittingly broadcasting sensitive or proprietary client information across the workspace. Or occasionally, you may wind up being the reluctant listener of overly loud phone conversations or brainstorming sessions from your fellow coworkers.oli

Keeping these factors in mind, workspaces like The Working Capitol have paid careful attention to the design of its interiors. Ben Gattie, Co-Founder and CEO at The Working Capitol states: "We set out to create spaces that inspire, motivate and empower people to do their best work. Stemming from The Working Capitol's in-house research on optimal working environments, custom-designed areas for collaboration, as well as quiet spaces and private meeting rooms are accessible to members."

Olivia Coléon, Founder of The Vibe Project, a music and atmosphere curation agency for social spaces and brands, has worked out of coworking spaces all around the world - from Singapore, to Bali, Malaysia, Portugal and New York City. 

She shares a tried-and-tested tip for tuning out distractions: "One method I have found to help me focus is putting on my headphones. Headphones typically signify, 'I'm busy'. Putting together playlists that help you achieve what you need to do in that moment - for example, a 'Concentration' playlist or a 'Creative' playlist can work wonders when you really need to zero into what you're doing and let others know you're hard at work."

Breeds an unhealthy sense of competition

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In an article for The New York Times, Rebekah Campbell, founder and chief executive of Posse shares about the unhealthy competition she experienced when she worked out of a coworking space shared among over 200 companies.

Fellow start-up competitors operating within her industry tried to poach her team members with lucrative job offers, while other entrepreneurs sought for media contacts after witnessing Posse's press coverage. While these incidents are specific to Campbell's experience and may not be the norm across well-populated workspaces, her article shines light on potential problems that business owners could encounter in a highly competitive environment.

Tips and takeaways: How can businesses assess co-working spaces for a good fit?

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Pinpoint your needs and end goals

The key to assessing if coworking spaces are a good fit for your business is to identify your end goals. List out questions that will help point you towards the right direction, such as: "Who are we as a company? Where is our business in its lifecycle? What are our short-term and long-term goals for building up a company culture? What are we seeking out in a coworking environment?"

Let's take the example of a business in the early stage of its lifecycle looking for an engaging and collaborative environment. Such a company will benefit from working in a coworking space, as it temporarily fills in the organisation's need for a sense of community - until it has the time and resources required to build up its own unique culture. 

Similarly, businesses that are unsure about their future needs, and require a space that offers adequate flexibility for scaling up or down will find a coworking space more suited for their needs compared to private offices with a long-term lease.

Take your time to shop around

Coworking spaces differ in their ambience, services, culture and amenities. "Does the facility have private meeting or office rooms? What sort of events are usually held here, and are these good opportunities for learning or networking? Does this coworking space attract a specific community of entrepreneurs or freelancers?' are questions that will help you evaluate and assess coworking spaces for a good fit.

And don't be in any hurry to sign up for a membership - most spaces offer a free trial, so take your time to shop around and get a feel different workspaces before you decide on one that checks off all the right boxes when it comes to enhancing your company's productivity.

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