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Coworking’s Sudden Growth Gives Traditional Offices Some Competition

A new study notes that coworking centers have become increasingly common worldwide over the past decade, though the design-friendly spaces tend to attract more freelancers than full companies.

A new study notes that coworking centers have become increasingly common worldwide over the past decade, though the design-friendly spaces tend to attract more freelancers than companies.

For city-dwellers, it seems like a fact of life: The office of yore has given way to the quirky, offbeat vibe of the coworking center.

And if that growth seems sudden, that’s because it is, according to a recent study from the NAIOP Research Foundation. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit, a spinoff of an association that represents commercial real estate developers, says the spaces are quickly becoming an important part of the urban landscape—despite the fact that few existed a decade ago. Some highlights from the study:

Fancy looks, fast growth: Coworking spaces are popular in cities throughout the country, with companies such as Washington, DC’s Cove, Boston’s Workbar, and the multicity WeWork drawing attention for their facilities’ fancy looks, their business models, their focus on incubating businesses, and their twists on the traditional office model. But it wasn’t always this way. In 2006, just 30 coworking centers existed worldwide; by February 2013, that number had skyrocketed to 2,498 globally—with about a third of those in the U.S., according to the study.

What makes a space attractive? Two things: location and community. Described as a hybrid somewhere “between an office and a clubhouse,” the most successful coworking centers have put much work into their design, the study notes. Community-building events are key ways to attract new members. “This mission doubles as marketing for the center, since visitors who attend these events may become future members. The key to success generally is agreed to be the realization that ‘it’s all about the people,'” the study states.

Competition? Not a problem: One tidbit from the study is that the demand for coworking spaces is high enough that the increase in the number of centers doesn’t appear to eat into profits. “Interestingly, the more coworking spaces that are present in an area, the more profitable the spaces are,” the study states, citing New York City, London, and San Francisco as examples.

Anatomy of a coworker: While most coworkers are freelancers (53 percent) or entrepreneurs (14 percent), small companies are also using coworking spaces. Most of these users are less focused on the space and more on atmosphere, social interactions, and networking. And once they find a coworking center they like, they’re unlikely to move: 62 percent of those surveyed for Deskmag‘s 3rd Global Coworking Survey said they have no plans to leave their current space, though they like the fact that they could do so.

For the small associations in our audience: Could you see coworking as an option for your office needs? Let us know your take in the comments.

Boston's Workbar, cited as a key example of innovation in the coworking space. (photo via Workbar's Facebook page)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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