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ABC News Interview: Unpacking Coworking Trends for 2019

11 minute read
by Alex Hillman

Are 30% of jobs really going to be done from coworking spaces? How do corporate employees fit into the coworking scene? What kinds of people get the most out of coworking?

I answered these questions (and more) in this interview for an ABC News’ series about careers and workforce “Building it Better Together”.

The interview is hella long (I can’t believe they basically published the full transcript!) so here are some of my favorite takeaways and quotes.

Stop with the Barbie dreamhouse workspaces

I think it’s a common mistake as people see these sort of, you know, very exciting looking offices, the sort of dream office, and it kind of sparks this almost dollhouse mentality.

This is why so many workspaces are designed to impress, but when the shine wears off…

The reality is, a lot of the folks that end up joining communities like ours don’t need an office at all. They have a home office, or a dining room table, or even a coffee shop. So, our competition is not another office.

Is coworking a generational thing?

I think a couple of big things have changed. One, is more and more people are able to work wherever they like. Work and place have been decoupled. So, people are starting to rethink ‘Well, if I can choose where I work, why wouldn’t I choose a place that I like? If I can choose the people I work around, why wouldn’t I choose people that I like?’

This is pure privilege. But. Even then, there’s a HUGE missing piece of education to help people choose the best work environments for them. I almost view it as a kind of literacy that’s needed. Without it, we make habitual choices that aren’t necessarily best for us of our work.

I also think it’s a lot of folks are kind of disenfranchised with the idea of a path that was either told they would have access to: you know, you go to school, you go to college, you get a degree, you get a job, you keep that job for 30 years and you retire. That hasn’t been true in a while. And so people are realizing, ‘I need to carve my own path.’

When people are first choosing a path, a career path that they actually want, I think it’s pretty common to find yourself alone and isolated, and your friends and your family saying like, ‘That’s crazy. Why don’t you just go get a normal job?’ Whereas you walk into this room and everyone’s like, ‘Cool, welcome home.’

When I talk about loneliness it’s not just a lack of people. It’s easy to surround yourself with bodies. The hard part is finding folks who support you enthusiastically, and without judgement.

I think it has a lot to do with like, belief and mindset, and things like curiosity, than any particular industry or skill set. Are you a curious person who likes to learn, wants to grow, wants to ask questions, wants to be inspired in your work? Are you someone who believes that you can be in control if you maybe learn some skills, you learn some new abilities?

If you find yourself as the kind of person who is curious about the people around you and want to know what they’re working on and are willing to be open and share what you’re working on or what you’re interested in, I think you can find a lot of value in a coworking space.”

Seriously. If you’re nice and curious, but you aren’t met with this in your workspace, seek alternatives.

Designing for collaboration

People tend to approach things, especially in business and career, in a very transactional way. It’s like, if I do this, I will get that. We try and almost slow things down a little bit and say, let’s focus less on the transaction and focus more on the connection, focus more on the relationship.

So once people trust each other, then they’ll open up, then they’ll share their thoughts, then they’ll share their ideas, then they’ll listen to each other a bit more.

Again for the people in the back: trust is the foundation of collaboration. Relationships take time and effort. Design for this.

For all the talk about collaboration and innovation – and I think that this is a very collaborative and innovative place and people to be around – those things are the result, not the thing you do. The thing you do is you build trust and you build connections.

All that is predicated on trust. So the way to create that serendipity, I think that the natural resource, the raw material, is thinking about how trust is formed in any community, especially in a professional community, and a business community. People know that trust is super important but the way they act doesn’t match. So we try and sort of sculpt and shape experiences that remind people and guide people towards building that trust, reinforcing that trust, and then kind of let the magic happen.”

On Competition

The reality is, I think, we have two kinds of competition. One is people not knowing that we exist. More people don’t know that coworking exists, than do.

I can’t stress this enough: 13 years in I’m still showing people coworking for the first time. And I’m not complaining!

95% of my success can be attributed to my willingness to repeat myself. Every day is somebody’s first day of coworking.

The word coworking is about as specific as the word restaurant. And if you think about if I were to say “I’m going to take you to a restaurant,’ you’d want to know, well, what kind of food? How should I dress? What kind of experience? What music is going to be playing? Should I be bringing a bottle of wine? For all these questions we have language and jargon around restaurants to describe that experience. You know what you’re getting.

With coworking, it’s a young industry. We just haven’t really defined that. I don’t think the market has been around long enough to define it. I don’t think it’s the operators that are going to define it. I think it’s the people that join these spaces.

This analogy continues to be the best.

“Industry analysis says coworking has been growing 23% every year since 2010. And they expect 30% of all jobs will be in a coworking space by 2030.”

I mean, the growth is undeniable. And it’s not just a national trend. It’s a global trend too.

So I spent time working with operators, independent operators, like ourselves, sometimes even medium size, multi-location operators in other cities and other countries.

And the only common theme is more places are opening, more places are opening, more places are opening. However, there’s not a lot of data on places closing.

My estimate is that MOST coworking spaces don’t stay open past 2 years.

And also what are the economic outputs, right? Are the members there not just are they happy, but are they growing professionally? Are they continuing to get the benefit? What is the ongoing benefit of joining that coworking space? How long do people stick around?

I think you have to extract the megacities from the equation and say, Where is coworking actually helping people create economic growth for themselves, for their employees, for their coworkers for the neighborhood?

I think we should be paying attention to not just what’s being called coworking, but what is the impact of coworking? I think that is largely still under realized. Because a lot of coworking spaces are just short term rental options.

We did some math with some local econ experts and estimated that our per capita LOCAL economic impact is between 3-12x that of a typical employee at a typical employer. That factors in money being spent in the neighborhood before during and after work, as well as member to member commerce.

On “corporate coworking”

About a 30% of jobs will be in coworking spaces – this is another one of those things where I think the corporations have proven time and again, that leaders, a lot of CEOs and business leaders are trend hoppers. Right?

So I think companies that struggle with internal culture or struggle with recruitment and retention will always be looking for whatever the latest trend is an attempt to deploy it to fix their problems, instead of actually fixing their problems. Coworking is no different from that.

1-800-CEO-READS CEOs are always looking for the next silver bullet instead of, you know, actually taking the time to understand their people.

I would be very surprised if this statistic of 30% of jobs are going to be performed in coworking spaces. Even though I do believe it will continue to grow, I think that those trends are very short-term, short-sighted trends and will either be supplanted by whatever the next trend is or simply reversed because they didn’t want to do the long term work anyway.

The corporate deployment of coworking options for their employees looks generally one of two different ways. One is when a company sees coworking as a direct replacement to augment their office. They say, okay, team, now when you want to get out of the office, you can go work at this other office or this other network of offices, and they make the choice for them.

Dan Pink talks about autonomy, mastery and purpose as these three core elements of motivation for modern workers. And in his book, ‘Drive,’ I think employers seeking to understand that often really skip over the autonomy part. They say I want to give you something to do on your own, but I’m going to choose it for you. And it undermines the entire goal.

But I think companies that are savvy enough to say, look, we’ve allocated a certain stipend to your benefits package, if you want to choose a coworking space that is either in your neighborhood, or has a community that you want to be a part of, we’ll pay for some or all of that. I see that as a growing trend and a very positive thing.

We actively refuse exclusive deals. It sends a strong message, and helps ensure that employees who end up at Indy Hall are there because they want to be.

It is more work for teams to be successful in a coworking environment, without a doubt. And it requires actual cultural work and change. For the teams that want to invest in it, 100% of the time they get results. That’s not an ‘if you do, you might;’ it’s ‘if you do, you will.’

But a lot of people don’t want to do the work or the work is not a top priority.
One of the things I always say is if culture is not your number one priority, it’s not a priority.


On Open Floorplans

I agree in most corporations open floor plans are an absolute nightmare.

If you already don’t like your coworkers being put in a place where you have to look at them and interact with them all day long is terrible.

But as you can see, there’s a room full of people, there’s hundreds of people in this one location alone, who choose to be here, for very good reason.

And it’s not because of the open floor plan. But it’s because of the fact that the open floor plan and the culture here actually support one another.

Also, we’ve invested heavily into acoustic design. Our current space is consistently lauded as “surprisingly quiet” even when it’s quite busy. It’s not silent and we don’t try to be. But we designed for acoustic comfort, all the way down to our flooring material!

PS that polished concrete floor LOOKS cool but it’s killing your people. I know because we lived with it for 7 years. Never again.

If you’re going to introduce an open floor plan or coworking to your company, but you’re not going to do the work to overhaul the culture to develop the trust that is a mandatory prerequisite in order for this to not be a nightmare, of course, people are going to revolt.

Big thanks to Matt Simansky at 6ABC for arranging this interview, and talking to our members about their experience (they had brilliant stuff to say, I’m hoping to get those transcripts too!)

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Hey, thanks for reading!

Alex Hillman I am always thinking about the intersection of people, relationships, trust and business. I founded Indy Hall in 2006, making us one of oldest fully independent coworking communities in the world. This site is packed with the lessons and examples I’ve learned along the way. You can find me on Twitter, too! 🐦 Say hi.