Written by Dr Seemab Farooqi and Dr Stephen Knox
There are undoubtedly various benefits users can gain from coworking spaces, including the sense of community, social networking, cost reduction, sharing of services, spaces and knowledge, and new business opportunities that are made available.
However, our participants ranked social and community aspects as the two main key benefits attracting users to such spaces. A crucial role of coworking spaces is to create the right environment and allow social interactions and collaborations emerge in a natural form, a point shared by David McBeth from Glasgow Collective. Kendra, business engagement and communications manager at Bright Red Triangle (Edinburgh Napier University), further adding to the debate, shared how post pandemic they facilitated an introduction to create such an environment where new members get to know each other, interact and develop relationships, and have those water cooler chats where they can talk about their challenges and request feedback: “they’re craving that element where they come into the space, and can stop for a moment and take a break and connect with someone. But it’s also we’re seeing a lot of people are understanding the different businesses that are in the space and they’re asking them for specific feedback.” The way in which people interact in those spaces is based on the fact that they might have diverse experiences and come from different backgrounds, but despite that, they still all have one thing common: an entrepreneurial mindset and shared experiences. Simon, Abertay University, further added, elaborating the idea of sharing a “similar mindset’ and why people interact: “because of that shared experience, the things they talk about are different and it’s not like in their social circles. So, then they can talk about the support that they require. They can talk about the challenges they’re facing, and they know they’re doing it with an audience that gets it.” So, what is it specifically about the coworking space that helps create this sense of community? It could be having conversations, making those connections or the networking opportunities, finding a place to not just to work, but to sort of socialize professionally. However, there was a mutual agreement that all of this requires coworking spaces to provide facilitated interactions, otherwise people will question why they should participate if there was no community feel.
Reduced isolation was another major perk for users, a point where all our participants agreed. However, this was linked to increased level of engagement. Kendra and Kirsty further added that increased engagement helps in reducing stress. “I think there’s an element of reduced stress where you’re having a conversation and you’re seeing that people are facing the same challenges and you’re not like face in a silo, so it like builds on that kind of isolation. Otherwise, you would be in your own silo, which is kind of battling with a challenge that kind of reduces the stress.”, a point supported by Kendra.
Coworking spaces acknowledge that their role in facilitating social interaction events boosts engagement. Arranging a mix of social events, both formal and informal, reduces isolation and encourages interactions and building networks. Kirsty, CEO of Circle, also mentioned: “We have monthly socials and I think it just encourages tenants to get to know each other and just have conversations. And I think that helps build relationships.” This highlights the value of pooling of resources through collaborations: “We had an event yesterday actually and a number of our tenants talked about the relationships that they’ve built with organizations for things such as volunteer sharing, work experience and people through different programs collaboratively. If they’d been in isolation, perhaps in different office spaces, they wouldn’t have been able to do this. So that was quite interesting to hear.” Simultaneously, there was a caution offered by our participants with regard to how those relationships need to be developed. Caroline from Social Enterprise, said, “They should come organically through the social interactions and the conversations that you’re having.”
Furthermore, Kendra stated: “I think it’s incredibly important for our space to provide access to resources. Particularly we get a lot of students or people that are just first starting their businesses and are at the ideation phase. So for them to have access to business advice is really important. And a lot of alumni return specifically just for that resource. So they’re actually not needing the co-working physical space element.”
Like we said earlier, coworking spaces help make resources and connections more available, however, the landscape of these spaces, in terms of whether it is run as a social enterprise or as a private space, can be a significant factor to determine just how accessible such resources are. David, who runs a private coworking space, discussed his own experiences and difficulties to house those resources: “If you’re connected to a university or a funded social enterprise or etc., you can do these things. If you’re in private working space, then it’s a bit different landscape, and if you’re a private company, then you don’t get access to those same resources.”
Nonetheless, it’s more about how these resources are brought in and accessed by the users. Simon, further added to the debate: “…the bit about resources is the fact that sometimes it’s not actually about bringing those other organisations in, but about the information that’s shared from within the founders themselves. So, the business advice might not come from the fact that they’ve brought in a funder or something to talk to the group as a collective. It’s actually about the conversations individuals have within the space. It’s more about the experience and creation of a community, rather than bringing in an individual or organisation to talk to them to say, “here’s things that we’re doing.” This brings in the value of serendipitous knowledge and peer networking offered by coworking spaces!
Whether sector specific or generic, it all comes down to what outcome coworking spaces are striving for, for instance, are they trying to grow particular sectors or general business? All of this impacts the way these spaces’ function and the benefits they offer to the users!
Read this insightful infographic with all of the findings above here: