Co-working, where different businesses work together in a shared office space, is growing in the UK at a rapid rate. By 2018 it is estimated that the number of members using co-working spaces globally will have reached one million.
When it comes to influencing business performance, workplace strategy can help to reduce cost, increase productivity and act as a catalyst for staff engagement and creativity. Agile workplace and alternative locations, offered by co-working spaces, can help provide flexibility for business growth and change, as well as acting as a tool for attracting and retaining talent.
Firstly, let’s look at why businesses are turning to co-working in ever increasing numbers. Ultimately, co-working reflects a start-up culture and is centred on innovation and collaboration. By grouping together different kinds and sizes of companies, co-working enables the exchange of ideas and experiences, allowing companies to grow and develop. Put simply, both big businesses and start-ups get exposure to new ways of working and a network of new contacts.
Then, we need to look at exactly how co-working is being used. Our recent report, ‘A New Era of Co-working’, showed four different models that businesses can adopt in order to enjoy the full benefits of co-working:
1. Internal collaboration: the creation of an innovation hub exclusively for employees within a company’s own office. This helps to drive internal collaboration and signal to the new generation that the company is open to the new ways of working. It is worth noting that this model does create limited exposure to external collaboration though, but, as a result, it does limit the HR issues that may arise.
2. Co-working memberships model: this sees companies and individuals having memberships to access other co-working spaces. This can provide a greater variety of workplaces for employees and allow companies to accommodate fluctuations in workforce numbers. External memberships also provide a range of work settings and help companies to tap into new networks and keep a pulse on market developments without any costly modifications to their existing buildings and potential disruption to the wider company culture. However, HR teams should be alive to the fact that issues like security concerns and proximity to competitors will need to be carefully managed.
3. External co-working space: a collaboration space for employees shared with external organisations/individuals in an external co-working environment. Here coworkers can find themselves surrounded by different types of businesses, allowing for the free exchange of knowledge and ideas. Given the potential here for data loss and breaches of confidentiality/security, any employees using such a space should be fully briefed on procedures, policies and tools to prevent this. Employees’ proximity to competition and extended absence from the office should also be considered by the HR teams when implementing the model.
4. The internal co-working space: this sees firms open up their offices to external firms or entrepreneurs. Not only does this help engender the climate of collaboration, but gives access to talent, knowledge sharing and the opportunity for innovation as well as more control over IT security. The same sorts of privacy challenges also apply – but potentially in a reduced form if the space is within the same building. It is also worth noting that this model is where a clash of cultures between host and coworkers could be most keenly felt, so HR functions must be cognisant of possible challenges here.
Co-working does come with certain challenges that are by no means new to HR teams, but are presented in a slightly different way. Having individuals from different businesses working in one space does lead to a greater potential for data loss than would be expected in a fixed office space. That said, most businesses where employees already work flexibly and/or remotely will already have in place programmes, policies and procedures to adequately manage the challenges of employees working from locations other than the office. With co-working, organisations now need to scale their security framework and these policies across a wider range of locations.
Once recommendations have been made – for example separate servers or private WiFi networks – and a policy developed, the procedural elements must then continue to evolve with the on the ground reality of co-working. As co-working arrangements develop, and the way the employees and company work changes, so too the policy and cyber-security arrangements must adapt.
We can also expect the co-working spaces themselves to evolve in order to reflect and fulfill changing user requirements. Expect to see more private or quiet rooms being integrated into the setup, allowing firms to discuss sensitive matters in a secure environment, without losing the day-to-day benefits that co-working can bring.
With careful consideration of the different models and associated challenges, there’s no reason why businesses of all shapes and sizes can’t reap the benefits that co-working can create.