The term flexible workspace is used to describe a wide range of office types favoured by tenants for their increased flexibility, reduced costs, and improved collaboration. The concept of flexible workspaces encompasses a number of different approaches that aim to achieve the aforementioned goals, to a greater or lesser extent, and can also be combined with one another depending on the client’s needs.
Coworking is just one of these solutions, and if the varying forms of flexible working are seen on a spectrum, coworking would be at the most flexible end of this scale, since space operators can provide spaces to even a single person for merely a day, or even run a “pay as you go” service. At the less flexible end of the spectrum, we have managed offices, bespoke spaces that fit the requirements of a team and involves longer leasing commitments which, while being shorter than traditional office leases, are much less flexible than those of a private office within a coworking or flexible workspace.
Before I answer this, bear in mind that establishing the differences between coworking and other similar solutions is one of those topics that are often difficult to address. This is down to the fact that it forces me into generalisations and, in doing so, it is possible that some may feel that the specific denomination they use to define the service they provide does not correspond with what I describe here.
I like to define coworking as “a shared workspace where the manager provides value to the community”. I feel that the definition we can see on Wikipedia is a bit too generic and would be more suited as a description of business centres and shared offices (spaces where different professionals and companies share space without the management team trying to generate synergies between the space’s tenants).
The truth is that the complexity of these definitions has grown exponentially in recent years. Not only have new ways of offering flexibility to companies appeared, but many business centre operators, coworking and space owners have also started developing different solutions to please the ever-changing requirements of their tenants and potential customers. As these operators started offering increasing numbers of hybrid services, concepts such as flexible working became more and more common. In my opinion, we should just acknowledge that the majority of space operators continue to manage coworking spaces, who at the same time providing other solutions that fall within the spectrum of flexible working.
Another reason why these definitions have grown so complex is due to the fact that many veterans of the coworking sector feel as though some flexible workspace operators have used the coworking concept in their branding, when in reality they have not been cultivating the core principle of “promoting collaboration between members”, which, in my opinion, is what makes coworking different. It is this promotion of collaboration that makes coworking the favourite among freelancers and startups seeking to maximise networking and opportunities.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have operators who have felt that the term “coworking space” was limiting their target audience, as the general public still associated the term with a space aimed primarily at freelancers and startups. An example of the is the space Coworkrs rebranding to The Bond Collective which, in order to continue its expansion, opted for a branding that maintained the initial spirit while taking the direct, overt link to coworking out of its brand. Cloud Coworking acted similarly, the startup in Barcelona that opted to evolve into Cloudworks, again by removing the category label from its brand.
This controversy is far from being over, and I believe it will continue for a few years. When it ends depends largely on how industry stakeholders define themselves, as that will shape the image that the general public has of what each denomination really is. If asked, I’d stick with the definitions I shared at the beginning of this article: Coworking is a type of flexible workspace that - while increasing flexibility and reducing occupancy costs - focuses mainly on fostering collaboration between members.
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