To differentiate from routine commercial real estate offerings, both need to create value but each go about it in a different way.
With a long background in conducting detailed workplace assessments as part of our Empowering Business Wellbeing services, we tend to take a fairly close look at the visible facility (what we can see and touch, or the facility hardware) and the underlying (less visible) elements of a workspace (culture, strategy, demography, human factors, acoustics, messaging architecture). These are important contributors to business value and the business ecosystem that operates within a physical space.
With a current NSW Government Smart Work Hub Pilot actively underway, creating value for NSW communities with the introduction of Smart Work Hubs to act as an intermediate space between Work + Home based workplaces, there is a Corporate Real Estate disruption and renewal pattern at work, seeking to create meaningful solutions to a range of business pressures.
These are what we see and experience as the Top 3 Differences:
- Smart Work Hubs are pitching at larger businesses, but are also viable for SME's: A salt + pepper distribution of SMEs and larger anchor tenants can make for an interesting facility mix of occupants - each of them will have differing needs profiles, which the facility may be able to support but collaboration anti-patterns can also work against them;
- CoWorking spaces are fundamentally more attuned to Freelancers, SMEs and startups, often bolstered by the presence + creation of a services ecosystem that value-adds to the experience, with education, incubation and business accelerator functions to help members outgrow the space quickly. However, those spaces can also exist along a continuum of value-creation, with low end offerings of deskspace only vs higher end offerings of a value creating ecosystem of partner businesses;
- A SmartWorkHub, with its focus on larger anchor tenants will attract occupiers with an established level of value + stability created within their business, creating a corresponding risk of lower levels of service-seeking + innovation. That level of stability also comes with a bigger issue of inertia, as larger firms struggle to come to terms with how to manage remote workforces and embed ways of making remote work visible. Conversely, smaller co-working spaces with higher variability in their occupancy mix and more of a bias to SMEs are more likely to be attuned to and responsive to needs for value creation.
Here's our take on the Top 3 Similarities:
- Both experience occupancy and vacancy management pressures against a background need for inherently flexible spaces. Corporate Real Estate businesses represent an immediate adjacent market that competes for mindshare and $ from the occupants of CoWorking and SmartWorkHubs as alternate places of work. We've worked in a range of spaces over time that have peaked and waned or disappeared altogether in the face of cashflow pressures - spaces that create value, listen|respond and enjoy ongoing patronage from their occupants or have low turnover or good vacancy management processes will enjoy stronger cashflow;
- Both need effective community managers + data - the community manager within either facility has a key role as a PlaceMaker, needing to remain curious, attuned and responsive to the needs of workspace participants. The Community Manager is the person best placed to understand the daily rhythm and pulse of the facility and the community it encloses, backed up with an eye for detail and data. Facility Management as a professional discipline is recognised as well-intentioned but poorly informed (1) with a lack of evidence driven data about Occupancy patterns - it's also part of why Google places such a premium on measuring everything it does in managing their workspaces;
- Both help tackle the problems created by workforce drift from home regions to places where the work is performed, addressing traffic congestion, work-life balance issues and the need for greater levels of workforce flexibility and local economy stimulus. For that focus alone, they deserve to be supported and used.
This is not about managing facilities. This is about enabling communities. And as far as I am concerned, that is an aspiration a world away from our current collective capability; from any perspective. The greatest productivity measure of all? Perhaps it’s the smiles on people’s faces.
Alexi Marmot observed that the Great Place to Work® Institute recognises pride, camaraderie, credibility, respect and fairness as key attributes to the very best workplaces they are aware of. What of the role of physical space then in this complex socio-spatial milieu? Hints toward an answer might lie in the ‘equation’:
workspace + culture = workplace (2)
1. Ian Ellison, providing an Event Review of 2014 IFMA Workplace Strategy Summit, in Work and Place Journal #4, p4; http://workplaceinsight.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Work+Place4mje.pdf
2. Ibid, p5;