Are coworking spaces right for your start up?

Today’s agile start ups are embracing modern coworking spaces. Coworking spaces can be cost-effective, flexible and collaborative. However coworking spaces aren’t for everyone, and it pays to know the pros and cons before you commit.

What are coworking spaces?

Coworking spaces are large, open-plan offices where you can drop by and simply sit down at a desk and work. You share the space with others and most feature communal areas such as kitchens, breakout spaces and meeting rooms. Coworking spaces are typically sold as memberships where you pay for monthly or annual use. Some offer private offices for teams and meeting rooms that can be hired on an hourly basis.

Coworking spaces have flourished in the past decade, seeing record growth since 2017. Flexible coworking offices account for 7.5% of all commercial leases outside of London, and 21% of commercial office space in the capital according to research by Crushman & Wakefield.

What are the pros of coworking spaces?

Membership of a coworking space has lots of benefits for start ups. Flexible plans can keep costs down, and you get access to a range of facilities that may not be possible when leasing an office.

  • Flexible working – many coworking spaces include a range of plans, meaning you can choose the space that best suits you. You can choose different desk options such as a hot desk, a designated desk or private office. Many coworking spaces can accommodate business sizes from solo freelancers to teams of 40 people. Memberships are usually offered on a monthly or annual basis, though some offer day passes. There’s also flexibility in lease length, with the ability to cancel at short notice.
  • Shared amenities – coworking spaces allow you to get to work immediately. Many come ready furnished with desks, chairs, broadband, telephone and employee parking. IT hassles are removed too, thanks to dedicated IT support. Rental can include administrative tasks such as office maintenance, mail sorting and ordering office supplies. Many include snacks and free beverages such as tea and coffee. Common facilities offered include:
    • High-speed wi-fi
    • Free printing and scanning
    • Mail sorting and distribution
    • Private working areas
    • Bookable meeting rooms
    • Onsite security and 24-hour access
    • Kitchens and eating areas
  • Scalability – coworking spaces can quickly scale, adding additional desks and office space as your team grows with minimal hassle.
  • Lower cost – compared to renting a traditional office, coworking spaces can work out cheaper. Membership plans don’t usually require a deposit or upfront fee. You don’t need to sign up to a long lease, which means you’re not tied into a costly lease if your business isn’t performing as well as you’d hoped.
  • Collaboration – coworking offices offer the chance to meet and talk to like-minded small business owners. You may be working alongside other start ups, so you can share ideas, resources, expertise and advice. Coworking spaces often host social and business events such as weekly lunches, networking evenings, business consultation and advisory sessions.

What are the cons of coworking spaces?

Coworking spaces aren’t for everyone. They can be noisy and busy – and it’s easy to get distracted. The community might not suit your business culture, and membership can work out more expensive compared to a traditional office as your team grows.

  • Lack of privacy – coworking spaces are usually an open-plan, shared work environment, which can mean a lack of privacy. Some coworking spaces use glass dividers instead of normal walls, while others lack private areas. It’s possible to rent private offices within coworking spaces, but these typically cost more.
  • Access – coworking spaces may have specific opening hours or might limit access at weekends. As a start up, you’re probably willing to put in long hours to get your business off the starting blocks, so look for coworking offices that offer 24-hour access, seven days a week.
  • Competitors – it’s likely that competitor businesses will be operating in the same coworking space. That means client discussions, business plans and creative ideas could be seen or overheard. Make sure private, commercially sensitive conversations are held in private meeting rooms.
  • Distractions – coworking spaces offer more distractions than private offices. You can’t tell others to keep the noise down. If you need to concentrate on work, look for premises with quiet workspaces away from kitchens, lounges and breakout areas. If your work requires privacy, a private office may be a better solution.
  • Overly busy – popular coworking spaces can get crowded. Desk space can be limited and you might have to work in a dining area or on a sofa while you wait for a desk to become free.
  • Lack of customisation – with a privately leased office you can brand and furnish it the way you want, such as office furniture and lighting. Many coworking offices don’t offer this level of customisation, so you may be stuck with generic decor.
  • Company culture – for any start up, it’s important to cultivate a unique company culture that reflects the spirit of your business. In coworking offices, there’s a danger that your business culture may end up matching the culture of the workplace.
  • Expensive for larger teams – coworking spaces initially offer a cheap way to get up and running, but as your business grows it can work out more expensive. While there’s the flexibility to expand quickly, larger private offices at coworking spaces can prove more costly compared to privately leased offices.

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