The demand of coworking spaces has doubled every year since 2006, when the movement started to get momentum. Currently the estimate is, that there are about 1500 coworking spaces in the world, and my understanding is that the figure will double yearly still few years to come. So far the coworking movement has not raised any relevant discussions about their role in the future innovation landscape. I suppose that this time is emerging soon.

DeskMag just published their coworking survey and the outcome is interesting. Following the questionnaire more than 1500 people from 52 countries responded on October- November 2011 and gave clear indications of the global state of the coworking movement. I find some results of the survey worth of commenting also in the innovation environment context.

Positive results

The benefits the coworkers have experienced according to the survey are following:

  •           social circles increase significantly
  •           business networks grow
  •           huge jumps in productivity are seen
  •           health and private sectors improve
  •           isolation decreases
  •           over one third of coworkers confirmed income increase

Other factors for positive trend

Those above mentioned benefits alone might be the reasons for the rapid growth, but I would like to add some others, which were not clearly described in the survey. At least the following facts could be mentioned here:

  •           freelancer / life style entrepreneurship is expanding
  •           SOME / Internet based businesses are creating great success stories to be followed
  •           start up – boom, like in Finland the success of AaltoES in capitol area but also similar activities in smaller cities like Joensuu ES
  •           the inefficiency of legacy systems – like business incubators, science parks, regional development institutions – to attract talent
  •           Gen Y  entering the market – not trusting the legacy “innoflation bureaucrats”
  •           the importance of social capital is being emphasized, discussed and researched increasingly
  •           nomadic lifestyle and new “work-life integration” approach (vs former “work-life balance”)

Types of coworking spaces

None of these factors is going to fade away soon, so the importance of coworking spaces will continue growing. The forms coworking spaces and the facilitation methodologies and management principles of these spaces will evolve in near future in great deal. At the moment my understanding is, that the coworking spaces can be divided roughly into three categories:

Community driven spaces

  •           bottom up, very local
  •           cost savings and shared infra are the driving forces
  •           based normally on few topics of interests, single community
  •           low diversity –>  low serendipity potential
  •           mainly on renting desks – business
  •           80-90 % of the coworking spaces are  in this category

Event driven spaces

  •           mostly an event space
  •           challenge is to attract interesting events
  •           “empty restaurant” image in daytime?
  •           no sticky knowledge created, the foundation of the critical mass of day-to-day activities is a difficult
  •           serendipity is potentially high but harvesting is difficult

Serendipity driven spaces

  •           specially designed and managed to harness serendipity
  •           sound balance between locals, visitors and visiting groups (events)
  •           high diversity –>  high serendipity potential. also easier to harvest
  •            big enough core tribe enables the creation of  “sticky knowledge”
  •           global approach, extensive use of virtual collaboration platforms
  •           the best examples are netWork Oasis in Finland and Gangplank in USA

More needed

In order to challenge the existing legacy institutions as innovation environments, the coworking spaces should be able to improve in following areas

  •          the connections with research institutions and regional development institutions
  •          the business models creation to support the growth of the startup companies
  •          to attract investors, business angels, venture capitalists (for their customers)
  •          to understand the principles of modern incubation like Lean Start Ups (Reis) – or even the The Start up of Myself (Hoffman)
  •          to create success stories, testimonials

This is the list of future challenges, but to be honest the coworking spaces are superior in many areas – like attracting (young) talent, keeping their motivation high (flow state), being able to create dynamic communities, having potential for increased diversity and serendipity.