Is it time to take pointers from co-working's success?
As trendy, upscale co-working spaces spread to cities across the U.S., traditional companies are looking to mirror their hospitable vibe.
Remember when casual Friday was a big deal? The influence of smaller, less formalized businesses crept into larger organizations, and many eventually came to expect the perk.
Today, co-working spaces are having the same influence, some say. After all, employees often have experience with co-working; some have used the spaces during periods of contract work, or while traveling. Others have worked for startups that got their footing in a co-working space.
Zenefits, for example, has used co-working space while expanding. "For our business this year alone, it has allowed us to quickly set up in a new market, extend our headquarters area workspace in the Bay Area and provide us with built-in lease flexibility," Rebecca Ambriz, chief of staff at Zenefits, told HR Dive via email.
But what happens when employees who are used to flexibility, gourmet coffee and comfy, dog-friendly common areas interview elsewhere?
The best of both worlds
It's possible to have the best of both words, according to Joe Du Bey, CEO and co-founder at workplace management platform Eden. First, look at whether you can offer flexibility which, to some workers, is more valuable than cash. Co-working spaces have that same vibe, Du Bey said, "and big and small companies are looking at the model and trying to take something from it to increase their employee value proposition."
Co-working organizations may also offer creative collaboration areas that include lounge seating, cafe seating, phone booths and patios, Ambriz noted. "They also consistently create opportunities for their customers to network and build relationships over food and beverages," she said. which traditional businesses can easily adopt.
Feeding body …
And then, of course, there are the meals and snacks, Du Bey noted. If employers can make it work, those perks can have a huge impact on a company's employee value proposition.
Food is a central theme in co-working spaces, meaning those with experience there may well miss it if it's gone. And catered meals may not cost as much as you'd expect, Du Bey said: "Businesses gain efficiency when people aren't away from their desk for an hour every day." But employers should note that food is getting an upgrade at co-working spaces, including artisanal cold brew and health snack options.
Job seekers take note of these things, according to Melissa Buckley, office experience coordinator for Handshake. "Our kitchen is the first thing that candidates walk past when they come into our office, so it was important to make a good first impression," she told HR Dive via email.
… and soul
Zenefits is in the midst of an expansion, so their facilities team polled employees to find out what they wanted in the new space. Zenefits looked at options to optimize the space, Ambriz said, including "lighting, quiet space, access to phone rooms, natural light, living elements (plants), collaboration areas equipped (with whiteboards galore!) and an exceptional video conferencing system to connect our people across five offices and three countries."
To make belonging easier, Ambriz said, "we take advantage of light, movable furniture and soft seating to repurpose larger meeting rooms to accommodate anything from CPR training, to learning about Sikhism, to roundtable discussions on tough topics like immigration and #MeToo, to meditation, yoga and sharing favorite hobbies."
For Buckley, a priority is to make sure the environment is welcoming to people of all backgrounds and identities. Handshake partnered with Eden to help design its offices and ensure those offices reflect the inclusive culture the company is building. "Our Eden partners have helped put up decorations to bring our mission and values to life throughout the space," Buckley said, "and they come in every few months to add seasonal decorations. These details really help us show candidates what life at Handshake is like, and helps them feel like they belong here."
The upgrade when going traditional
With low unemployment and stiff competition from local tech companies, businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area may offer everything from all-day meals to napping rooms, dry cleaning services, masseuses and more. "Nothing beats a big company when it comes to perks," Ann King, co-founder of CV Partners, said in an email to HR Dive, "but it does depend on where you are in the country."
In larger markets like San Francisco, employees are wined and dined with perks like happy hour and onsite beer taps. "In other areas, businesses don't have to provide those perks, so adding them could be enticing to candidates," King said.
But not every element of a co-working space is an advantage, King said. "Networking and chatting is nice in co-working spaces, but collaborating with people who do what you do ... is an important selling point for traditional offices." There's often more support at other organizations, she added. "A large company with good funding behind it will provide better access to candidates, admins and perks."
Another consideration is that the amenities provided in a co-working environment aren't really free; you are paying for them in your lease agreement. "In a large company, those costs are absorbed by the company, not part of your rental fee," King said.
When traditional offices provide amenities, they can offer the feel of a co-working space rather than compete with one, Du Bey said. The best takeaway from co-working spaces, he added, is that they treat employees like customers. That model can be translated to any business, Du Bey said.
Finding the balance
According to Statista, there were over 4,000 co-working spaces in the U.S. in 2017, and that number is expected to increase by a rate of about 65% by 2022. The statistics resource also says over 1 million people worked in co-working spaces worldwide in 2017.
In some co-working spaces, the environment is communal. That brings a sense of connection to renters who may have been previously working alone at home. The newest spaces are more hybrid, offering some communal space and spaces for privacy.
This is another trend traditional workspaces can adopt; the cubicle farm is disappearing, making way for a more open-concept space. But employees still occasionally need a break from the static to focus or meet privately. Co-working spaces quickly adapted to those needs, and traditional offices can do the same.
Co-working spaces "level the playing field for both agile young companies like ours and larger, more traditional businesses to easily build more flexibility into their office options," Ambriz said. Buckley had similar comments about the concept: "We have doubled in size over the last year so I'd say it's working."