We always talk about how wonderful flexible coworking spaces are on so many levels. However, today, I'll be concentrating on addressing some of the most common concerns that individuals face when deciding whether to work in a flexible workspace or send their team to one.
Rather than following the somewhat clichéd approach of listing the typical concerns like privacy, security, noise and distractions... I'm going to take a more practical approach and guide you through how to select the ideal shared workspaces, including what to consider and what to avoid!
The perfect flexible workspace for you (or your team) may not exist, but rest assured, there is one that comes pretty close. In this category, the list is going to be long so get ready:
- Few shared resources
- Lack of control over physical space
- Insufficient branding
- Cultural differences
Privacy is a significant concern when it comes to working in flexible workspaces, as well as hotel lobbies, coffee shops or connecting to a public network in an airport.
Choosing a flexible workspace that offers a sufficient number of booths and meeting rooms that meet your needs is important! Selecting a space with good sectorisation (allowing users to access different parts of the space based on their subscription) and access control for visitors as well as day pass users will give you that extra peace of mind.
If you work in an open area and require privacy for your screen, you can always look for a corner that shields your screen from prying eyes. Some operators also offer small private offices, suitable for one person in some cases.
If you work in a private office within a flexible workspace, it will feel much more like a traditional office where you can be a bit more relaxed about what you leave on your desk. However, if you don't have access to secure storage for your documents or laptop, it's still wise to be cautious. While people generally may not take a keen interest in your activities, being responsible with confidential information never hurts.
We should also think about security at the digital level. Choosing a space with a secure network is a decision within your control: Inquire about network security, and if you are not an expert in the subject, engage someone from your IT department or consider using a VPN service. The reality is, in 2023, there is no excuse not to find a coworking space with a basic setup that allows you to work securely and confidentially.
Choosing a space that suits you is important, both on a personal and professional level. If you have opted for a space that hosts numerous events throughout the workday and have trouble concentrating, it may not be the right choice. Neither is choosing an area located right next to the busy pass-through area. If you have picked a space with such painful problems: you can only manage it with your colleagues.
There is a lot of discussion about noise, but based on my experience, for fixed-desk users, spaces fall into two categories: those where the predominant space is quiet and the others where it is noisy. You can choose whichever you like best, personally, I lean towards the ones that are quiet.
Have you ever been to a workspace, where conversations are kept to a minimum to avoid disturbing other users? Calls are handled in booths and meetings are held in meeting rooms, while less formal or non-confidential conversations occur in common spaces?
These spaces are not libraries where silence is absolute, they are just simply shared by a group of individuals who understand that their noise can impact others. Whether you prefer one type of space over another, it's important to note that the space should offer options like booths and meeting rooms. Individual workstations or noise-free zones where similar rules to those of a library should also be available for those who require a completely quiet environment to work.
In these spaces, some individuals engage in continuous conversations, even within the silent area, but they do so in such hushed tones that it would not disturb anyone. How do they achieve this? Well, they manage it by using the right peripherals, such as microphones (which may not be the most extravagant but are positioned very close to their mouths).
The same holds for distractions: Some spaces have more distractions within the work area due to their internal dynamics, while others maintain a quieter atmosphere, with social activity concentrated in the common areas. Your choice of subscription rate will significantly impact your exposure to distractions. Hot desk rate users are more likely to be exposed to distractions, as they are usually situated in common areas. If you are easily distracted, look for an operator that offers work areas with fewer distractions (preferably away from the hustle and bustle of a canteen!).
Comfortable chairs are often expensive, making it challenging for spaces with very low rates to provide them. When selecting a workspace, look for one with good furniture but keep in mind that the investment they can afford is directly tied to the rate you pay. If you can’t find an ideal option in your area, consider asking the space if they’d be willing to offer an upgrade on your chair, in exchange for a longer commitment (or pay several months in advance). They may not agree but there's no harm in trying, after all, if you don’t ask you don’t get! Fortunately though, standards have risen a lot in recent years and in most markets, it is easy to find spaces with adequate furniture and a well-designed environment. Don't ignore the smaller spaces, sometimes they offer better value for money than the larger, multinational spaces. Sometimes you can, for the same price or even less, opt for a rate that provides you with more comfort.
Think about comfort not only in terms of furniture but also in terms of natural light, common area availability, nice meeting rooms, outdoor terraces and more! Another common concern is not having enough resources, such as meeting rooms, board rooms, booths, and kitchenette access. The reality is that this concern has a limited basis. Unlike traditional corporate space, flexible spaces often use these resources to generate extra income. They should be the first ones interested in having plenty of such spaces for members and external clients to book, thereby generating additional revenue.
Nevertheless, there may indeed be a favourite time/s for meeting in every market. If you insist on scheduling a meeting during high-demand periods, you will need to plan ahead, as even well-managed spaces may only have a limited number of available rooms. Some venues even use dynamic pricing, where room prices fluctuate based on demand, making meeting rooms more appealing at all hours. If all of this is not enough for you, you will find some other solutions below.
When it comes to changes in the conditions of the space and the potential uncertainty they may bring, I believe working together with workspaces that have transparent policies can minimise the risks. When I collaborate with a space provider, I always emphasise the importance of transparency in promotions and conditions. In this industry, as in any other, there are varying standards, but as a client, there are always key signs to look out for and questions you should ask: How long will this promotion last? What will be the price after the promotion period ends? What is the renewal policy? Are there any extra charges in my contract? Can you provide a list of extras and their costs? And so on. As with many aspects of life, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is! And may not hold up in the long run.
On the other hand, I think it would be irresponsible if I didn't remind you of this: you gravitate towards the best solution offered by the flexible workspaces with greater flexibility, with the goal of minimising the commitment to a specific space so that you feel less tied down.
However, it's essential to understand that flexibility is a two-way street: a short contract remains a short contract, and when it is up for renewal, the space provider may implement different policies. If you desire more certainty and consistent conditions, consider signing a longer-term contract that not only provides you with security but also allows you to maintain the flexibility you need. I have never seen an operator refuse to sign a longer contract as it offers them extra security as well. Finding the balance that suits you best is the key.
One of the things I was surprised to discover was that there are people who may be concerned about cultural differences within a flexible workspace. I have never thought of this as an issue, but it is true that what some individuals may consider to be perfectly normal behaviour in their culture, may not actually be well-received in another.
Establishing rules that are in harmony with the environment and culture of the space that you are in is essential to prevent different sensibilities from being stretched to the breaking point. Clear and well-defined rules, effective communication, assertiveness and proactive engagement by the space managers are all key to fostering a diverse community that functions harmoniously. Such a diverse community is often far more intriguing than a uniform one.
While it is technically still considered a "customised tariff", it is worth addressing this as a separate point. If I have not yet convinced you about the security and privacy of a flexible workspace or you’d rather avoid the process of logging into the space to make a reservation, and instead, you simply want an office where "everything is done your way" but managed by only one stakeholder rather than dealing with numerous suppliers - I have good news for you, as flexible workspaces have already anticipated this need!
If you are looking more for "my space, my rules" you can find flexible workspaces that offer you the option of creating a space tailored to your specific requirements with the exact conditions that you ask for. For example, do you want 10 desks within 100 square meters? No problem. Do you need a meeting room for 6 and 2 booths? No problem. And maybe in some cases, you can even get a totally private outdoor space if that is what’s important to you.
These customised spaces (as well as their resources), to which only your team has access, also offer you the possibility of modifying their look & feel and branding. Is there anything negative about customised spaces? You should know however that they are usually associated with longer commitments and/or will require you to pay for the renovation and the corresponding modifications as well as to revert them once you leave (to avoid a conflict on the day the contract ends).
This type of agreement offers you the best of both worlds: your staff is able to move in a private space, using your own resources while having access to the flexible workspace community and general resources through a single entry point. This is the ultimate portfolio optimisation tool if you want to maintain an independent and private space that is exclusively for your team. Why? Well because you can, for example, forego the need for a board room which accommodates 20 people in your custom space, which you only require twice a month. Thus, saving you the cost of maintaining empty square footage. With this strategy you can also optimise the space according to your needs whilst keeping essential resources at your fingertips. Convenient isn’t it?
This arrangement can even eliminate the privacy concerns related to casual conversation in the canteen, as you have the option to provide a dedicated kitchenette for your staff if you deem it necessary.
The next level up is to have a flexible workspace operator manage your own office – it is the same as you have been doing probably for at least the last decade in your HQ or regional office, but all outsourced.
Your space, your rules - both solutions completely eliminate the fear of lack of control over the physical space, inability to reconfigure the space or insufficient branding. Remember: your space, your rules.
Let's talk about the elephant in the room: pricing.
Everything comes at a price: a space in the most prestigious address of your city, in an iconic building where the best companies are located with an interior worthy of a design magazine and an array of common areas equipped with the best technology money can buy! It won't be cheap though: Think about how much all of this would cost you if you had to create an office with these features, all on your own.
There is often a lack of connection between costs and expectations. Operators are not magicians, they use their experience, synergies and capacity to optimise to reduce costs and avoid your need for heavy capital investments when it comes to replicating such a space. This phenomenon occurs more frequently in countries where the culture of paying for services is not so deeply rooted, and you may find it paradoxical if in your country it is totally different and/or you deal with markets where the cost of real estate is significantly lower than in your market.
I do not have a solution for this problem. What I can tell you is that if you already have a fully equipped office with a contract in force which does not generate management problems, it will be difficult for you to change. But I ask you a couple of things:
- When calculating costs, be sure to consider all expenses, including taxes, insurance, and other, very often, overlooked expenses associated with maintaining a workspace.
- Count the actual hours of the person/s that are in charge of managing it, the cost of them as well as the opportunity cost that this extra task entails.
- When you visit a space, do not compare the square meters offered in that office vs. your current office. To make a fair assessment do this instead: 1) count the square meters of your private office and 2) add the square meters of shared space that you will use
Look for a space that is realistic with your budget and prioritise what is most important to you: Location, facilities, community, resource availability, cultural match, etc. Reorder them according to your needs.
Flexible workspaces are a great solution which provides flexibility and in the vast majority of cases any fears you may have or problems you anticipate are solved by choosing a space that fits your requirements in an objective manner: choosing the space in the corner that otherwise doesn't fit you at all is never a good strategy. Communicating any potential problems or concerns to space managers and see what attitude they show or what solutions they propose is always good practice. I hope you see you working, flexible!
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