The way we work has been in transition since Web 2.0 got its start. Independent and entrepreneurial ventures are more common, and even more traditional businesses like design and CPA firms are realizing the need for flexibility in commercial real estate spaces.
In turn, the market is delivering on that need for alternatives to traditional offices. In the United States and beyond, more and more new flexible workplace services — from coworking to office sharing in all shapes and forms — are cropping up to address the desire for a broader range of options.
The commercial real estate scene and our expectations of it are shifting, that much is clear.
What’s not so clear is just what options are available to those of us who want to see a flexible alternative to a traditional lease or sublease when searching for office spaces.
Many companies that aren’t ready to sign a traditional lease agreement for whatever reason, are often advised by brokers or business mentors to protect their businesses by choosing flexibility over commitment in the form of office sharing or coworking.
The terms “coworking” and “office sharing” are used interchangeably, but this practice hides the fact that these are distinctly different approaches to the workplace, each with its own features to offer.
So, how do you choose between these two types of spaces?
While both are great for allowing you to try out different shared workspace solutions without making costly commitments, it’s best to educate yourself on your options to avoid wasting time.
So, let’s dive into your two most common flexible office space options — office sharing and coworking — and we’ll give you the information you need to identify the key differences.
The first step in understanding anything is to define it.
→ We characterize a coworking space as:
A coworking space is an office that exists for the purpose of housing independent workers or workers from different companies in need of flexible office space.
The key points here are a.) The goal of the coworking space itself is to profit on the workers using the space and b.) the people who share the space are working independently of one another.
In a coworking environment it is possible that every person using a desk in the space may be working independently from anyone else and may have completely different priorities and timelines. In fact, it is quite possible to see new people each day in a coworking space. In addition to desks, coworking spaces offer their members office support and access to a variety of services, facilities, and amenities that can range from unlimited free coffee to exercise rooms on site.
→ Shared office space, although similar in concept to a coworking space, is defined differently as:
A space that is leased to a specific business (a host company), that in turn makes extra space available to others (guest companies) who are in need of flexible, yet professional office space.
The key point to note in this definition is that while the space is owned/leased by one company, as with coworking, that company does not exist for the purpose of making money through office sharing. Rather, growing companies often select properties with more than enough space with an eye toward future growth and then become host companies, collecting monthly rent from their guest company. They may do this in order to gain profit off the extra workspace while waiting for the number of people in their company to grow, or to address unexpectedly slow growth or financial setbacks in the business.
Hosts are typically responsible for establishing the space, it has a stable atmosphere and continuity, and there is space available to share with others at a very affordable rate. The shared workspace provides flexibility for both the host, who can benefit by offsetting leasing costs with office sharing profits, and the “guests”, who can secure the space they want without committing for the long term. This can be a great arrangement for a small start-up that wants the professional and community feel of an established office environment for their people to work in, but also needs flexibility at this early stage in their business.
This ability to avoid taking on a new long-term lease (commercial real estate leases for office spaces are often as lengthy as five or 10 years) is a benefit of both coworking and office sharing. Even if you’re willing to sign a lease, it’s often nearly impossible to find a small space at affordable rates. A coworking or office sharing approach can be an ideal workspace solution for young companies that need to conserve capital for hiring the best talent. It gives time for growth and development.
There are some key differences in how these deals are typically structured.
→ In a coworking situation, tenants (usually called “members”) can often have the option of leasing space hourly or daily, so they aren’t paying full-time rent if they really only need a space part-time. Some coworking spaces include seminar rooms on site that can be used for one-time events, access to meeting rooms that you can sign up to use, special services like wi-fi and mail handling, community events, and of course desks and workstations that people use on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. There is tremendous variation as the nearly 2,000 coworking sites worldwide, which are typically located in city centers and large suburbs, strive to meet their clients’ needs in a location that suits them.
→ Generally speaking, you can expect more structured terms in an office sharing arrangement. For example, you may be expected to agree to a full year of occupancy, as opposed to a month to month arrangement. This type of space is geared toward allowing you to develop your company culture in an office “home” and grow the business, all without locking you into a long-term lease agreement. Office sharing provides a range of options in terms of space – if your company needs private offices and workspaces, those are available. You can choose the neighborhood and the office culture that suits you (though naturally the cost of rent will vary based on the desirability of the address). The office sharing arrangement has benefits for both businesses, including a more consistent work environment.
→ The key difference in the work environment between coworking and office sharing spaces is the level of customization. In a coworking space, it’s typically up to you or your businesses to fit into the culture and dynamic already established by the coworking organization, especially since it is not a very private environment. If you find a space that has a vibe that works for your business, then you’re in luck. But if you find a space that needs tweaking, you’ll likely be disappointed.
→ With office sharing, on the other hand, you’ll be able to customize your workspace as much as your host company will allow. And in many scenarios, your host will WANT you to be as comfortable as possible in the space, and therefore will let you make the space your own. Often guest companies display their logo on the entryway or even bring in their own art and office furniture.
The main manifestation of this difference is in how well your company is able to cultivate culture in the space. In a coworking environment, many companies find that it’s difficult to maintain a culture apart from the coworking space. At a certain point, you really need to establish your own work dynamic. When you reach this point, office sharing will likely be your best bet.
The modern workplace is changing fast...
Are you keeping up?