Learn how to Build a Co-Working Space and get maximum returns from your commercial real estate development.
Co-working spaces are shared work environments where startups, freelancers, and small teams come together to co-locate, network and collaborate. They are often multidisciplinary communities and bring a wide variety of stakeholders together such as:
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How to Build an Iconic, Non-Generic Co-working Space
Co-working space is an important new category of real estate which is growing fast. It is ideal for the increasing numbers of tenants that prefer flexible, short-term, office spaces that enable easy expansion and contraction across multiple locations.
What’s more, co-working spaces are important real estate activation tools. They can be a valuable amenity for attracting and retaining new tenants for more traditional real estate offerings. This is because they create a pipeline of growing tenants who need larger and longer-term space after they outgrow their co-working units.
Over the last 15 years, co-working spaces or serviced offices have proliferated across cities in response to growing demand. Their creators turn traditional long-leased real estate into flexible, short-term, multiple-company office spaces with an appeal to modern ways of working and socialising.
However, we’ve only seen the first iterations of co-working. And it’s already clear that there are pitfalls in generic spaces operated by over-leveraged operators who are more invested in occupancy than providing value to the occupants.
Nevertheless, co-working version 1.0 has offered benefits to commercial real estate. In particular, the creation of dynamic, talented, tech-savvy communities often draw in larger tenants to developments. co-working also offers added amenities to a development, such as events spaces, content, meeting rooms and a more open community.
The most compelling reasons to create a co-working or serviced office offering are now wide-reaching and urgent. For starters, the global pandemic has radically reduced demand for traditional office space. To add to this, expectations of what value “the office” will deliver to our staff and businesses are also changing.
Nowadays, businesses need easily accessible, invigorating spaces that employees want to be in. They need these spaces to be closer to homes and leisure amenities, and operated with health and safety considerations at the forefront. In addition, the most interesting co-working spaces also deliver value-added content, community events, and business services over and above the space.
How to build a differentiated co-working space
The most visionary developers and landlords are creating in-house co-working and serviced office offerings to embrace this disruptive trend in real estate innovation. And by doing it themselves, rather than outsourcing to an external operator, they own the relationships with tenants and can respond directly to their requirements.
With this in mind, and as experts in the design, activation and operations of co-working spaces, Cockerton + Co have created a best-class how-to guide for creating a differentiated co-working space offering.
Brightly coloured branding and beer taps alone do not make a co-working space flourish. And with the vast supply of serviced office space operators, and the new remote working trends, you’ll need to create unique selling propositions to attract and retain tenants.
An authentic identity stems from local resources: research institutions, universities, artist studios, tech entrepreneurs, historical events and industrial activities. Understanding the historical and existing character of the surrounding environment is an important part of creating a long-lasting and meaningful new message.
As an example, we can look at Cockerton + Co’s past projects: Plexal in London’s Olympic park, and Level39 in Canary Wharf. The Olympic park was where the limits of human performance were tested, and Canary Wharf was the first ‘future city’ in London. These became the foundations on which we built an authentic proposition.
Next, we look to the future of that area. What developments are planned? Do we anticipate the movement of particular communities coming to this location? What will this location signify in 5-10 years?
Looking back to historical references and forward to future developments is an important part of constructing a compelling and believable narrative that draws communities to your location. Once this narrative is established, you’ll then have the basis to build a suite of relevant activities, programmes and services to enhance this offering.
People attract people, and as humans, we seek belonging and connection to tribes we identify with. By being specific about the identity you want to adopt for your space—e.g. the epicentre of FINTECH innovation—you can then curate the community who values this identity the most and refine the space and experience to suit them.
Cultivate a diverse community of stakeholder types, around a particular sector or social mission. For example, bring together investors, students, government officials, freelancers and startups, all with a shared interest. This is how the serendipity of innovation clusters happens.
Establish your community using a founding group of early adopters and potential future advocates. Incentivising them with heavy discounts to try / test your offering will help you refine it over time.
Once your community is establishing itself, celebrate your community by featuring their business success. After all, the success of your tenants is YOUR success. Promote their businesses, advertise the jobs they are creating, and give them PR opportunities. This will associate your office space with the achievement, innovation and growth experienced by your tenant base. And that association is the best form of advertising there is!
Lastly, don’t be afraid to say no to some potential members. You don’t want a highly competitive community, nor a community that sees no value in mingling with peers. Hold members accountable to standards of conduct in your space. Ecosystems are delicate, and it’s true that bad apples can negatively impact the entire barrel. Find people who will enrich and give back to the community.
Integrating property technology (proptech) can help you operate your space and the community within it. Access controls, easy meeting room bookings systems, digital event calendars, payments systems and community networking are all important functions that can be streamlined and improved with the latest tech.
Think about using proptech to track how people use the space, so you can augment your services and spaces to adjust to human preferences overtime.
Whenever possible, it’s important to engage local suppliers and talent in the building and operations of your space. From carpenters to caterers and the team you recruit to run the space, the community starts (and grows) with the people you employ to bring it to life.
Consult with the local community throughout the process. They will provide insight into what will resonate with the market, from food to furnishings. Such insights are invaluable in your efforts to create a relevant and socially-accepted offering.
Building partnerships with complementary businesses can help bring credibility to your new development and grow awareness of your brand. Relationships with industry bodies might support engagement with your target tenant, so why not provide them with discounted space?
Relationships with software providers might enable you to negotiate a bulk discount on products for your community; another potential selling point. The more networked your space and services are, the more visible and relevant they are likely to be.
Make sure the physical space caters to a wide variety of individuals. Innovation hubs need seperate spaces for quiet coding, collaboration, and social gatherings, amongst other considerations.
Be creative in how you signal that everyone is welcome. Make provisions for women who are breastfeeding and for differently-abled learners. Steer away from generic, cookie cutter design aesthetics and choose a look and feel that reflects your authentic identity and the community you’re trying to attract.
The best way to add value to your co-working space (and thus attract more premium rents) is to create a suite of services that cater to the community needs. More than space, people value the additional benefits you can bring to their business. For example, cost-effective professional services, leadership courses and accelerator programmes that support start-ups can be extremely valuable.
Content is Queen – so design inspiring events, create learning opportunities, and fill news feeds with ideas, connections, and features that matter. It really is the software that is the reason members stay within innovation spaces.
It’s important that as you fill the space, you continue to listen to the members. Stay connected to the early champions of your proposition and leverage the success stories of hero members running interesting companies.
Make sure to survey members, have a suggestion box, and just take time to get to know members’ businesses. Your team can then respond to what they are struggling with through better content or space modifications, and you can continue to differentiate your offering from local competitors. Ensure you refresh the space with the latest work-tech, e.g. meditation pods or sound-proof phone booths.
Need help building your own Coworking Space?
Want to build a co-working space that’s relevant, magnetic, and commercially sustainable? Contact Cockerton + Co to design an authentic offering which anchors a new development or repositions an asset towards the future of work. We can help you design, build, and operate a co-working space with impact.