Office design has experienced nothing short of a revolution in the last 20 years. Cubicle farms are becoming a thing of the past, and while not every idea has worked according to plan--think open offices with workstations crammed in close proximity, or poorly executed hot desking--one thing is increasingly clear: people-centric office spaces do more to help a company's culture, creative spirit, and bottom line than anything else.

But you might not think a coworking space, such as WeWork or Impact Hub, would be so people-focused. You'd be wrong. In fact, major corporations are taking their cues from coworking spaces to reverse engineer what it is about coworking facilities that bring to the table what traditional offices cannot. Some, such as Salesforce, Starbucks, and Bank of America, are outright joining the ranks of entrepreneurs taking the most advantage of coworking space. Why? It gives employees a sense of identity that doesn't interfere with their sense of belonging to the organization.

More Than a Money-Saver

Yes, coworking spaces offer businesses and sole proprietors an office they may not otherwise be able to afford, networking opportunities, and a business base more professional than the coffee shop down the street. But that's not all they offer, and as such, large corporations are taking notice.

Legitimacy, Professionalism, and Credibility

For a new business owner or a freelancer working to build a client base, parking themselves on the living room couch with a laptop and a phone may be the easiest, cheapest (read: free), and most convenient, but it may not always be the most conducive to work, creativity, or day-to-day operations. The act of going somewhere specific to work can help workers mentally step into being the professional that gets the work done and done well.

While coworking spaces offer the amenities of an office--wireless networking, office equipment like phones and printers, and conference space--they also offer a sense of purpose for the nomadic worker. Companies with remote workers, those who telecommute, or smaller satellite locations are using coworking spaces to bring their scattered employees into an environment specifically designed for them. Workers report feeling valued, that the work they do is important enough for the company to invest in membership for them in a coworking facility. For small, remote teams, this legitimizes their position within company ranks and keeps them together as a team. For the companies who employ them, they're saving on the cost of long-term rental agreements and ownership of properties while still providing their outpost workers somewhere to do the job well.

Microsoft gets it. In exchange for giving 300 New York City sales employees access to 30 different WeWork buildings throughout the city, they provided discounts to Office 365 for WeWork networks. As startups and other entrepreneurs build their businesses while utilizing their Office 365 Access, they're coming to rely on the software company for their tech needs, so when they grow to need their own offices, they'll take Office 365 with them. The Microsoft sales team has more than 30 "home bases" to choose from to meet prospective clients. WeWork gets the benefit of a major corporate client, as well as a software amenity they might not have otherwise been able to offer their members. It's a win for everyone.

 

Flexibility, Autonomy, Control

Coworking spaces are typically 24/7 accessible, giving members much more control over their workday and hours. If long hours are necessary under a deadline crunch, employees can stay as long as they need to get the job done. If the work ebbs and flows, an employee experiencing an ebb can take a long lunch break to recharge their batteries or stroll in late after a morning doctor's appointment without the scrutiny typical in a traditional office setting.

This autonomy is one of the ways employees feel most trusted by their employers, but of course, too much of it can cripple productivity. Coworking facilities provide the structure many entrepreneurs and business owners need to maintain the discipline working from home doesn't give. Many coworking members report having a community to work alongside helps them keep motivated, even when that community isn't directly related to their individual jobs. It's the optimal outcome for an independent employee who needs some structure and routine, but doesn't work well being micromanaged or stifled in an environment in which they don't thrive.

Community

Connections are a huge perk of employee identity in coworking spaces. We've all experienced the eye rolls and grumbling at forced teambuilding exercises, but freelancers or business owners are also all too familiar with how lonely it can be working solo outside of an office environment. The beauty of coworking facilities is that while there's an opportunity for socialization, it isn't forced. Not to mention networking for varying companies working under the same roof in complimentary industries makes for a well-rounded work environment and culture.

Employees given the chance to determine their personal level of interaction, and with the opportunity to forge business relationships with people in related fields of work, experience the best of both worlds: a sense of belonging and of bringing good relationships to their working lives and their companies. Working around like-minded individuals can spark creativity and innovation in ways that just aren't possible at home, with only the walls or the cat to brainstorm with.

Culture

Company culture is more than putting in a few pool tables and a café and calling it a company philosophy and cultural compass. Coworking spaces are natural hives of relationship building, where workers of many different companies interact and build a sense of belonging in their shared spaces. By studying that phenomenon, companies can learn from coworking spaces how to build such camaraderie at home in the HQ.

For startups or new businesses that haven't yet found an office home, coworking spaces are the perfect place to begin. Most don't have the funding at first to sink into a creative, multi-dimensional office space they control. How are they supposed to forge a company identity if they don't own the office space in which they reside? Coworking spaces have done a lot of the research on what makes the most out of the office environment for employees and employers alike, and they have fashioned their spaces to accommodate. Small startups can benefit from amenities they wouldn't otherwise be able to afford by getting memberships to coworking facilities.

Company identity and culture spring up from the people, not the ping pong tables, and coworking spaces are made for this. The greatest part is people with memberships, when surveyed, don't feel the coworking space overshadows their sense of belonging to the company for which they actually work. The overall idea is that their work has enough meaning to invest in the membership for them while providing them with the autonomy, trust, and creative tools required for them to do their jobs and do them well. It's a sense of purpose without the constraints of long-term leasing and design restraints that come with traditional offices. And that is enough to give workers an identity while helping them soar as individuals.

Published on: Jun 17, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.