By the end of 2017, around 14,000 coworking spaces will be in operation worldwide and around 1.2 million people will have coworked in one of those spaces.
These projections, cast earlier this year by Deskmag, offer positive news for our industry. They also present challenges for workspace operators; more demand means more competition, more choice, and less supply. Indeed, Deskmag notes that “as options multiply, members are switching to new coworking spaces more often.”
Across the wider flexible workspace market, the BCA’s latest research, focusing on data collected in 2015 and 2016, shows that business centre operators are also identifying coworking opportunities. Competition in the business centre market and high levels of demand from small businesses led to 35% of operators planning to increase their amount of coworking space in 2017.
However, the rise and rise of flexible workspace is evident not just in statistics but also in a seemingly insatiable thirst for knowledge by owners and operators of flexible spaces.
As such, last week’s Coworking Europe conference in Dublin enjoyed a healthy turnout with over 420 delegates and speakers travelling from as far afield as the US, Canada, and Europe, all of whom converged on Dublin for a three-day conference to discuss emerging trends, challenges and opportunities within the coworking sector.
Similar to previous conferences in Milan and Barcelona, the BCA was in attendance to gain valuable insights and learn what’s in store for Europe’s rapidly developing flexible space sector.
Flying the Coworking Flag in Dublin
It’s no coincidence that Dublin was chosen as the host city for the annual Coworking Europe conference. Ireland’s capital has enjoyed a resurgence in flexible space over recent years and 2017 has certainly been a year for the books.
According to new research from JLL, demand for office space in Dublin in the year to date has seen a 22% increase in volume compared to the same period last year. Much of this activity involves large brands taking conventional office leases; Facebook and LinkedIn alone have agreed a total of 320,000 sq ft between them.
Yet flexible space is also having a major -- and growing -- impact on the city. A report published in October 2017 by serviced office brokerage, Click Offices, found that Dublin’s serviced office market has grown 43% in the last two years, accounting for a total of 615,000 sq ft, with a further 37% of growth expected over the next nine months.
Against the backdrop of Dublin’s vibrant flexible space market, what did we learn from this year’s Coworking Europe conference?
The diversity of coworking was a major takeaway, and it was made abundantly clear during the panel discussion, talks, and unconference sessions that coworking and flexible space can be applied to all workspaces, across the entire commercial property sector.
However, as discussed with conference organiser Jean-Yves Huwart, the success to which coworking can be applied to different sectors of commercial property depends largely on its service offering.
“The more research is undertaken around best practice, the better we can apply different types of workspace models for the benefit of employees and managers,” he said.
Whilst some members of the coworking community expressed scepticism of the larger-scale, serviced office providers and associated delivery models, Jean-Yves (and many others) noted that the flexibility of coworking -- its core component -- is what makes it entirely adaptable to different types of workplaces.
“There is room for different workspace models in today’s world,” he commented. “If anything, having this variety is ultimately better for the end users, as they have more choice to fit their needs and preferences.”
Key Takeaway: Are you really meeting your members’ needs?
Much of the event focused on how to best serve workspace members, and how to measure whether or not the spaces are meeting members’ needs and expectations.
Delegates returned to this topic again and again, mainly because it’s so important for the growth and sustainability of flexible spaces, and yet there is no textbook answer nor one-size-fits-all solution.
However, a key takeaway from delegates seemed to be that Community Managers, or Centre Managers, should be visible and open with their members. Even in larger centres, members and clients appreciate an effort from on-site managers to understand their needs, however large or small -- even if their needs are just to be left alone to do their work!
Most delegates agreed that the key components for happy members are visibility of Centre or Community Managers, attention to detail, and a commitment to offering support to members where needed.
Deskmag: From Home-worker to Coworker
We learned at the conference, via statistics from Deskmag, that a large percentage (42%) of coworking members across Europe previously worked from home before joining their space.
The key drivers for those workers making the move from home to an office are human connections and networking, along with the concept of a partnership and support system. Indeed, based on conversations with delegates, the prospect of partnerships forms a key role in attracting and retaining members.
On the topic of attracting and retaining members, numerous challenges were presented during the conference including Brexit. For the UK in particular, whilst this may benefit flexible space operators who are attracting clients in a current state of flux, longer-term uncertainties over Brexit could produce a potential obstacle for UK-based operators.
However, the sentiment amongst many conference presenters and delegates was one of positivity, as the sector shows no signs of slowing down and operators stand ready to face Brexit and tackle any challenges it presents.
As for the future of flexible space, Coworking Europe 2017 reflected a sense of optimism and a commitment to keep the flexible space sector going strong. Delegates were united on their agreement that the industry is building on strong foundations and is now experiencing a new wave of growth -- and that conferences such as this help to sustain that drive by supporting everyone involved.
The conference certainly reflected a sense of community, collaboration, a desire to share knowledge and overcome challenges together, and to share in each other’s achievements and opportunities -- which is perfectly reflective of the spirit and strength of our industry.
Photography: Eric van den Broek for Coworking Europe