What is Coworking? Some Statistics

This month, Ivan Stevanovic reports an impressive list of statistics about Coworking [2].  (Important Caveat:  many of these statistics are from proprietary sources, and most are based on somewhat opaque methodology.  The reports are plausible, even though the empirical support is weak.)

Some of the stats are the usual:  there are almost 19,000 coworking spaces world-wide, and 30,000 “flexible office spaces”.  The latter appear to be a term for workspace that is similar to a coworking space, except not necessarily exclusively used by coworking. The latter would be a building suitable for coworking, but not necessarily used for that purpose.

Note that 50,000 workspaces worldwide is not a very large number.  That is a tiny number of the total buildings and workspaces in the world.

There are estimated three million coworkers world wide, according to the GCUC’s survey.  As I have noted earlier, there is room for argument about the definition of “coworker”, so this number has to be taken with care.  (Again: there are a billion workers in the world, so this is a tiny, tiny fraction.)

Some of the stats are no surprise to those who have read my definitive book on Coworking [1].  Coworkers work in digital industries, especially IT and media.  The workers are younger than the overall population of workers, and more male, though the proportion of women is increasing.

As I have discussed many times, coworkers like coworking for many reasons.  Coworking is a “respite from our isolation”, a tonic for loneliness, and a network of like-minded professionals. In short, it’s the community.

Stevanovic offers some stats about the state of the business.  Many workspaces are serving both coworkers and corporate workers.  I’m sure this has always been the case, though coworking was pioneered by and for freelancers.

Stevanovic reports the somewhat worrying statistic that, world wide, only 42% of coworking spaces are profitable, and 33% break even.  This puts the boosterism in perspective:  there may be more and more workspaces, opening every day, but many of them will close within a few years.  (One reason:  rents are rising.)

“there are currently around 18,700 coworking spaces around the globe. The number is growing daily and is expected to reach nearly 26,000 by 2025.”

The troubling implication is that these workspaces are breaking even or losing money in a strong economy with high employment.  At the next downturn, freelancers will suffer rapid reductions in hours and pay, and many coworking spaces will close.   Perhaps half or more existing spaces might close in a few years of bad times.

So much for the “future of work”.

Overall, these statistics confirm the foundations of coworking (“Community, community, community”, Chapter 3 of [1])  They also suggest that the recent drumbeat of talk about the “industry”, and the debt fueled rise of WeWork is probably a bubble.  WeWork is crashing, and the whole “industry” could crash.

Perhaps the lesson is, focus on the fundamentals, not on “growth”.  Coworking is about creating and sustaining community.  There is no short cut, and giant piles of borrowed money won’t help if you are doing the wrong things for your own people.

  1. Robert E. McGrath, What is Coworking? A look at the multifaceted places where the gig economy happens and workers are happy to find community. 2018, Robert E. McGrath: Urbana. https://whatiscoworkingthebook.com/
  2. Ivan Stevanovic, Coworking Statistics You Need to Know in 2019, in SmallbizGenius. 2019. https://www.smallbizgenius.net/by-the-numbers/coworking-statistics


GCUC on Coworking and Childcare

For several years I have been advocating for coworking spaces to incorporate child care.  It’s the mountain we have to climb, I have said.  This is a difficult thing because you have to be good at two businesses, which generally means finding the right partners. And both businesses are pretty low profit, so you aren’t likely to get rich.

This month the Global Coworking Unconference Conferences (GCUC) blog reports on some of the Coworking Spaces that are offering child care.

In every facebook group, forum, contact form and unconference- Coworking and childcare comes up. While most of us agree that it is needed and the next step in the “co” niche movement- there is a real lack of information around it.”  (From [1])

In three installments (so far), they talk with the operators of five coworking spaces about what they do and the challenges they face [1,2,3].   It’s a small sample, but there is interesting information. These spaces are rare, and in many cases are pioneering this challenging service.

All of the responses indicate that they are responding to their own experiences as working parents (mostly moms).  Coworking is largely worker driven, and is simple and cheap enough that it is possible to experiment.  So, working moms are able to try out solutions to their own challenges.

Reflecting this spirit of experimentation, it is very striking that there doesn’t seem to be “one right way” to set things up.  In this limited sample, we see the kids’ space:

  • In a corner room of the main floor
  • In a separate building (a church)
  • On the ground floor of the house, workers on second floor
  • In another part of the community center
  • In the garage next to the house

Some of the spaces want to staff the child care cooperatively, i.e., by the workers.  But most hire professional caregivers, or contract with a professional child care operation.  This is expensive, especially compared to the relatively low staff costs for a coworking space, and that is a challenge for all of them.

I’ll note that one operation is located in a community center, which has child care.  And another is located in a church, and does child care at a second church.  I think these are very natural alliances, even without the child care.

Actually, I’ve been rather surprised at how few church-based coworking spaces seem to exist.  That seems like a really natural win-win:  there is a ready made community, the church has facilities (including child care), and probably has space available on workdays (and would welcome the income).  Of course, there probably shouldn’t be wild, all night keggers in the church basement, so I guess that might be a minus for some workers.

Finally, I’ll point to one interesting coworking operation that was not interviewed for the GCUC series (at least not yet).  Our local town has the Lodgic Everyday Community,  with “offices, coworking space, drop-in childcare, and all-day dining options”.

This operation was built from the beginning as multiple businesses, including child care from the get go.  In other words, none of the components is a slapped on after thought.

The most interesting thing about this space is that this is not the product of entrepreneurial moms, seeing a need.  It is, in fact, an initiative of the non-profit Moose Lodges, who aim to serve working families and earn income to support their children’s charity activities.  So this is yet another variation on the theme: a twenty first century service organization.

It will be interesting to see how their efforts play out, and if they replicated the operation in other places.

  1. Global Coworking Unconference Conferences, Child Care & Coworking part 1, in GCUC Blog. 2019. https://gcuc.co/child-care-coworking-part-1/
  2. Global Coworking Unconference Conferences, Child Care & Coworking part 2, in GCUC Blog. 2019. https://gcuc.co/child-care-coworking-part-2/
  3. Global Coworking Unconference Conferences, Child Care & Coworking part 3, in GCUC Blog. 2019. https://gcuc.co/child-care-coworking-part-3/


“Legitimizing” Freelance Work

One of the great hazards of freelancing is the isolation of working alone, on your own.  Coworking spaces have become important and successful in no small part because they are a “respite from our isolation” (per Zachary Klass [1])

There are other mental challenges for freelancers.  It’s not quite as bad as “a worker who is his own boss has a fool for an employee”, but there certainly can be a lack of recognition and respect.  We all have experienced some form of imposter syndrome, or just plain self-doubt.  But a freelancer may have no one except themselves who even knows their successes and failures.  That’s rough. (And again, coworking communities can be very helpful.)

Jessica Thiefels writes for the Freelancers Union Blog about another aspect of this psychology, suggesting “5 ways to legitimize your freelance business”  [2].

First of all:  ouch!  Freelance work is legitimately work, but, without the trappings of formal employment it can seem like a hobby even if your livelihood depends on it.  So, yes, freelancers must “Take your freelance business seriously”—noone else will do that for you.

Thiefels’ steps are all pretty logical and probably obvious.  “Legitimate” means first and foremost, creating a formal business entity, along with a “rate sheet” and, of course a “brand”.  In short, act like a business, and you’ll feel like a business, and be taken seriously as a business.

Two other steps are less obvious, but equally reasonable:  insurance, both for you and for the business entity.  Nothing says “grown up” like having insurance, no?

These are two tips.  We can add two more:  join the Union, and join a coworking space. The former will help a lot with the formalities, and the latter will help with the psychology.

  1. Zachary R. Klaas, Coworking & Connectivity in Berlin. University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, 2014. https://www.academia.edu/11486279/Coworking_Connectivity
  2. Jessica Thiefels, 5 ways to legitimize your freelance business, in Freelancers Union blog. 2019. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2019/08/05/5-ways-to-legitimize-your-freelance-business/


What is Coworking? It Can Be For Seniors

This summer Gemma Church discusses Coworking Spaces for Seniors.  What does this mean?

She notes surveys that show that older coworkers are more likely to be consultants and other professionals, while a large proportion of younger coworkers are in “tech” (which I assume means software and web design).

It also seems that younger workers are more likely to be employees of a large corporation, which older workers own their business.

Presumably, independent workers of all ages benefit from opportunities for networking and collaborations.

However, it also seems clear that not all coworking communities are congenial for older workers.

Anna Meyer reports on the Senior Planet chain, a non-profit that offers specialized training, etc [2].  It seems to be aimed to be compensatory, teaching digital tech and business techniques to geezers.

Their motto is “aging with attitude”, and the “attitude” appears to be about “people who were born long before the digital revolution” who want to “stay engaged and active” (including something called “senior style”, whatever that is.)

Senior Planet is also described “a safe place”, where rampant ageism and associated “microaggressions” do not prevail.  (Hey kids, we invented “inclusion”, and have fought for decades now, you think we don’t notice?)

This entire concept also seems that this is making the best of a bad lot, when more people are unable to retire and are forced to work longer.

Personally, I think this “seniors only” approach misses a huge opportunity for coworking:  multigenerational community.  There are many potential advantages for everyone to a coworking community that includes parents with kids, and also “grandparents”, as well as hotshot twenty somethings.

My favorite example might be Canoe Coworking, designed as an indigenous community.  As such, it includes a space for elders who are there both to advise and to be cared for.  Now you’re talking.

  1. Gemma Church, Coworking Spaces for Seniors, in CommercialCafe. 2019. https://www.commercialcafe.com/blog/coworking-spaces-seniors/
  2. Anna Meyer, See inside a coworking space for seniors, in Fast Company. 2019. https://www.fastcompany.com/90344172/see-inside-a-coworking-space-for-seniors


Coworking Space for Medical Practices?

In the past, I have remarked that certain kinds of businesses and professions are poorly served by coworking spaces.  These include anything that needs special equipment or environmental controls or branded space.  I have also remarked that some services that require privacy, such as medical or behavioral clinics.

This summer, I read of a “coworking space for medical practice” [1].  Hmm.    Am I wrong about this?  How does this work?

First of all, the facility is aimed at “private practice”, i.e., a small clinic with one or a few practitioners.  Conventionally, the facility would be owned and managed by the doctors.  The “coworking” space basically takes over the administrative work and expense, and provides (presumably appropriate) shared resources for all the tenants.

The company calls it “a concierge collaborative care environment.”

So, one question is, is this a “coworking space”, in the sense that most people might mean?  Historically most coworking space is not “boutique”, it is very generic.  Also, coworking space is classically shared, open plan workspace, not private “offices and studio space”.

On the other hand, a coworking space certainly is about sharing infrastructure, and offloading administrative responsibility to the operator.  And the operator promises “a comprehensive, fully managed, operating system for medical professionals.” This apparently includes people expert in “high touch customer service and brand building experience.”  (That’s not what a computer operating system is about, so the borrowed term is confusing to me.  But, I  digress.)

In general, the operator of coworking space aims to replace important features of a conventional workplace that are missing for independent workers:  infrastructure, management, networking, a sense of community.  This medical operation is doing the same thing, for a specialized kind of workplace.

So, it looks like I was wrong about coworking for medical practicing: it makes sense, at least in some cases.

In particular, it is clear that this space is aimed at “start ups”, individual or perhaps small groups of newly minted practitioners.  It is also aimed at “office visits”, which require privacy but not a lot of specific facilities (labs, imaging, sterile environment, etc.)

I’ll also point out that these spaces will probably see “churn” like other coworking spaces.  Doctors will move on to other spaces as the practice grows or simply to get a better deal.  From the point of view of the workspace operator, this churn may or may not be any different from conventional leasing.

It appears to me that the business model is predicated on the perceived financial and administrative pain of running such an office, which I certainly am not an expert on.  I can’t judge how this coworking space compares to working at a conventional clinic or other alternative.

It is obvious, though, that a lot of medical practice doesn’t fit this model for various reasons.  This is also a very “boutique” operation—scarcely the coworking space down the street, filled with freelance web designers and whatnot.  So my overall point is not too unreasonable: a lot of medical practice is not suited to the general coworking model.

  1. Natalie Kais, Clinicube Helps More Doctors Open Practice With Coworking Facility Format in PFSK. 2019. https://www.psfk.com/2019/06/clinicube-medical-coworking-space.html