Trends: Just how expensive is a coworking desk?

Part of the attraction of a coworking space is reasonable cost.  Independent workers generally can’t afford to rent conventional office space, so a local coworking space or spaces offer cost-effective alternatives. 

Part of this savings comes from “on-demand” rental, with only-what-you-need pricing.  If you need a desk for one day a week, or for one week a month, you don’t need to pay for unused capacity.  Similarly, other facilities, such as meeting rooms, are available just as needed.

Of course, in the best case, when the worker is part of a community of peers she is getting a lot more than a desk and utilities.

But just what does basic coworking cost? 

This spring, Circleloop reports a compilation of coworking in major cities [1].  These figures reflect local conditions, of course, supply and demand and the availability of competing alternatives.  But they are surprisingly similar across the survey.

It is interesting to see that the most expensive cost per month, Lichtenstein at £464. is not that different from many other cities.  And even the least expensive in the survey, Buenos Aires £37, is not that different.  Mainly, I suspect, these figures track the overall cost of office space in these locations, as well as the general state of the local economy.

Naturally, these figures are a bit hard to interpret precisely.  Are these “hot desks” truly equivalent in all these facilities?  Probably not, at least in the sense that the cities have overall different infrastructure and environment.  For that matter, these are averages with no indication of the variation among different coworking spaces.

In any case, I predict that prices will be quite a bit lower in the next few years.  Vast amounts of commercial office space is empty and looking for users.  There will be opportunities to open or expand coworking and offer very much cheaper rents.  This will mean new coworking spaces, and, I expect, many smaller, boutique-y spaces. 

I hope many will be attached to child care facilities, which will benefit working parents, and possibly provide income for child care facilities.

There will also be a lot of coworking spaces outside city centers, and even—gasp—out here in the corn fields.  We have learned that we can work remotely, but remote workers still need colleagues. 

In short, these statistics are both out of date and probably not representative of several important trends in the near future.


  1. CircleLoop, The Co-Working Index:  Where in the world is the best city to co-work post-Covid?, in Circleloop Blog, May 7, 2021. https://blog.circleloop.com/the-co-working-index

What is Coworking? What will Coworking Become?

Coworking will be popular, but will it be “diverse”?

Pretty much everyone agrees that as we return from pandemic isolation, most office work will be done in “hybrid” spaces, with workers splitting time between in-person and remote working.  The trick will be to figure out how to do this well.

This make for an interesting time for coworking spaces.   Coworking has always been a “hybrid” workplace, and generally aims to be a sweet spot for workers and work:  just the right amount of and kind of in-person working.

The most successful coworking spaces have built communities of workers, or have been built by communities of workers (or both).  The best thing is that there can be multiple “communities” in the same area, so different independent workers may find a good fit.  As I have pointed out, unlike conventional organizations, independent workers therefore may choose their workspace and coworkers.  No wonder people like it!

This does raise an important question, though.  The flip side of multiple communities and “good fit”, is the relative homogeneity of the communities, and the separation between them.  Self-selection may make people happy, but it also leads to fragmentation and segregation.  If being “comfortable” means being around “people like me”, this leads to non-diverse workplaces.

This is not just a hypothetical issue.  There have been serious problems in coworking communities.  Shockingly enough, self-selection alone is not a cure for the problem of getting along with others at work.

So, if coworking spaces have raised this question, what does it say about the future of “hybrid workspaces”.   With some workers in and some out of the office at a given time, and people cycling through the office on different schedules, how does this affect worker relations and decision making?

This month, the Deskpass Blog argues that hybrid work can help foster a diverse workplace [1].

First of all, they hit the nail on the head, “company culture has taken a hit since the pandemic”, because proximity is a huge factor.  And continuing with a “hybrid” model retains this fundamental challenge to creating and maintaining the much talked about “company culture”.

The main point of the post is that there is opportunity here, specifically to foster “diversity” as a base for a strong group culture.  So what are the opportunities?

One positive is that a hybrid workforce “widens your talent pool to different locations, economic backgrounds, cultures and skill sets”.  If you can really recruit anyone from anywhere, then, yeah, that’s certainly as diverse as you can get!

Second, hybrid work makes at least some workers happy.  What a concept!  Happier workers are, besides happier, often more effective, and generally stick around.  (Happy workers are not necessarily “diverse”, however.)

A third point is that hybrid work helps mitigate “location biases”, especially in expensive metro areas.  Reducing the need to live near and commute to work is an opportunity for people who can’t afford the cost of living or long commutes.  

In fact, workers are tending to move out of cities this year, finding a better quality of life, yet still able to work remotely.  So even workers who were managing the pain, geographical flexibility is potentially beneficial.

But, as the article sort of points out, none of this actually matters for “culture” or “diversity” unless the organization focuses on those things.  You can have a completely monocultural hybrid workplace just as easy as not.  And you can certainly have dysfunctional culture in a hybrid work situation. Many would say that a hybrid workforce is dysfunctional by default, because people can’t get to know each other.

But…the Deskpass people do have a point that their “flexible offices”, the corporate version of coworking spaces, can be used to build a diverse and vibrant work group.

So I say, make the most of the geographical flexibility and spread your net wide. 

But I would also say that you need to make the most of the in-person part of the hybrid.  Bringing people into the office, only to have them not talk to each other, or only have boring meetings will be a huge mistake.  It’s a waste of very expensive rent!

Learn from coworking communities.  Use the space for networking, for socializing, and for talking to people other than your closest colleagues.

I know that one of my own tools as a team leader was “going walk about”.  Just walking around and being available to anyone who wanted to talk, show me what they were working on, tell me what they were thinking—this is really valuable.  And you can’t do it remotely. This would be one of the things to do in-person.

Another thing missing from the article was child care.  Families with kids, especially mothers with kids, need child care, period.  Working remotely does not solve the problem—unless they can find “flexible office space” that has child care.  And whatever in-person workspace is available must have child care.  Child care way, way more important—especially for “diversity”—than free coffee or game rooms.


(Thanks to Cat Johnson for the pointer to this article via her newsletter.) 


  1. Deskpass, How Hybrid Work Helps Foster A Diverse Workplace, in
  2. May 6, 2021. https://blog.deskpass.com/hybrid-work/how-hybrid-work-helps-foster-a-diverse-workplace/

What Will Coworking Become? 

The Future of Work: Office of the Future (Some thoughts)

As we go back in to work after the pandemic, everybody, including me, says ‘hybrid’ offices are the next thing. The idea is that offices closed by the pandemic will not reopen as they were.  Basically, some workers will be in the office some of the time, working remote other times. 

This spring, John Seabrooke discusses what office designers are thinking, and how this might actually work [2].  His piece has inspired me to think a bit more about work space “design”.

The main goal of the ‘hybrid’ model is to use the in-person office time for what it is necessary and/or good for, e.g.,:

  • Some meetings, especially with clients and stakeholders
  • Group culture
  • Training of new hires
  • Serendipity

Other activities, including many routine meetings, can be done remotely, or with some workers collocated and others remote.

  • Many solo activities, including research, coding, and writing
  • Routine checkins and team meetings
  • Some conversations and collaborations

What Should We Shoot For?

So, what kinds of things should the office and remote try to optimize?

In my view, an in-person office space should try to maximize (in no particular order):

  • Visibility and equity in decision making
  • Promote group cohesion
    • Positive feelings, especially in public
    • Private channels for negative communication
  • Hi security/privacy
  • Specific facilities, i.e., shop/lab/kennels/etc.,
  • Hospitality (e.g., for clients, customers)

And a remote work experience should emphasize:

  • Productivity (individual and group)
  • Work/life balance
  • Reduced commuting, etc.
  • Reduced cost of office space

What can go wrong?

Well, as Seabrooke makes clear, you can always manage to get the worst of both worlds. : – (

Remote workers can easily become isolated, lonely, and depressed.  Distributed work groups can become unmotivated, disorganized, inequitable, and prone to the special digital hell of what we used to call “flame wars”. 

At the same time, the in-person part of a hybrid work environment is prone to all the woes of any conventional workplace, made worse by low and inconsistent attendance. 

There can be crappy work conditions, bad meetings and that special analog hell of antisocial behavior. And, these days, people sit in office working remotely with headphones on.

I would say that any in person office, but especially partly occupied ‘hybrid’ office is prone to anti-serendipity–i.e., random acts of social disfunction.

What does this tell us about the future of coworking?

I note that the coworking “industry” is whole-heartedly embracing the ‘hybrid’ space concept.  This make sense because this is what coworking has always been about.

Coworking spaces are actually pretty good models for what a ‘hybrid’ office should look like.  And, as I have written, it’s not the layout of the space, or any specific amenities that matter.  What matters is the people and how they get along [1].

And successful coworking communities are generally no larger than 200 people, which stands as a guide for all office design (which Seabrooke notes, too).

A coworking space (at least pre-pandemic) has one interesting feature that designers should pay attention to:  participation is optional.  Unlike corporate offices, workers inhabit coworking spaces that they like, and leave when they don’t like it.  This means that a coworking space succeeds by meeting the needs of its workers, whoever they are. 

There can be (and have been) many different coworking spaces, meeting the needs of different groups of workers.  But each one needs to work hard to recruit and satisfy a community of workers, and this is what successful coworking spaces do well.

In contrast, a company can only have one or a few in person office spaces, and workers generally don’t have a lot of choice about where to work.  And this is a challenge, because everyone is different, and no single office can be perfect for everyone.  (It is quite possible to be awful for everyone, of course.)

So, I would say that an organization needs to understand how its workers work, and what they like, and try to do that. 

There is some circular logic here, because organizations select and shape their workers to their own ways.  So there is tangled feedback of what workers are used to and what workers want.

Worse, people who don’t fit the official or most dominant ‘culture’ face marginalization and can be driven out.  This isn’t good for the workers or the organization, and can easily be flat out illegal when any group is treated unfairly.

Coworking spaces deal with these issues with strong community leadership (see Chapter 5 of my book [1]). In a conventional office, “culture” is promulgated by managers and HR who work for management.  Coworking “culture” is promulgated by leaders who work for the space, which means that the workers are their customers, not their employees.

This seems like a very significant psychological difference to me.  Corporate “culture” is too often something that arrives via email from a boss.  Coworking community culture is something that arrives via personal conversations and introductions.

Hmm.  Which one would you like better?

So, here’s a thought. 

Don’t worry too much about the layout of the office.  Instead, hire people whose job is to make workers happy in the space, and specifically, to get people to like each other.

This role is inspired by coworking ‘community managers’, but can’t be quite the same.  The really tricky bit is to make these people mostly responsible to the workers, not to management.  I.e., this cannot be a classical HR position (concerned with enforcing policies) or line manager (concerned with meeting goals).  This is something different, and it doesn’t even have a name.

Can this be done?  Will it work?

I dunno.

But I think it might be the right way to go.


  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. John Seabrooke, Office Space: The Post-pandemic Future of Open-plan Work, in The New Yorker. 2021, Conde Nast: New York. p. 40-49. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/02/01/has-the-pandemic-transformed-the-office-forever

Designing work space for diversity?  Would coworking be a good tool?

The pandemic has been terrible for commercial real estate.  Worse, it looks like there will be a lot less demand for office space as we come out the other side, especially in city centers where the “prime” properties are.

The coming thing seems to be “flexible work” and “hybrid workplaces”, i.e., a lot more workers working remotely most of the time, and in person offices used less, and always in concert with remote work.  (E.g., see Microsoft’s take on things [1].)

On another front, we are wondering if remote working is better or worse for social equity in the workplace. So far, it looks like there are plusses and minuses.

Overall, no one really knows exactly what comes next.


In this uncertain environment, people who design workspaces are trying to figure out what to do next. 

If there will be fewer offices, and we will be using them differently, how should offices be designed?

Along these lines, I was interested to see what design firm Spacestor (“California Cool, London Design”) means by “Designing For Inclusivity In The Workplace [2]. 

Inclusion and diversity are not only the flavor of the month for businesses, they reflect the defining political issue of our time.

So what does this mean for workspace design?

First of all, I noticed that their current product is not actually office space, but a phone booth for virtual meetings (“Residence Connect”).  Undeniably useful, I suppose, especially if office workers are going to spend a lot of time zooming with remote colleagues.  And I guess we can take this as sort of a ‘mini-office’.

But, what are the key design innovations for “inclusion”?

And what, in fact does “inclusion” mean in this context?

As it happens, this group is mainly interested in accessibility across a broad range of abilities.

“[T]he design of Residence Connect affords an equitable experience for all users, regardless of their abilities”

(From [2])

Hmm.  This is not as ground breaking as one might imagine.  I mean, the ADA is 40 years old in the US, so all office space is supposed to be accessible.

I don’t want to pick on this company or product too much, but I have to say that most of the “innovations” are standard stuff—lighting, color schemes, door handles.  And they mainly address mobility issues. 

This isn’t even particularly inclusive. People with limited vision gain little from fancy lighting, and people with limited hearing benefit little from fancy acoustics.  And, by the way, video conferencing is more and less unusable by people with various sensory abilities.

And, most of all, many of us were thinking about social diversity and inclusivity as well. 

I have to say that, how ever cool the video booth may be, there isn’t much about a one person office that encourages or fosters any kind of social interaction, let alone racial, gender, or any other equity. 

This fact is clearly acknowledged by Spacestor itself, who remark, “true inclusivity is a matter of effective leadership and the organization has to have a true culture of inclusivity and diversity.”

So, in fact, “designing for inclusivity” has relatively little to do with furniture, and everything to do with leadership and behavior.

It looks like Spacestor’s headline is mainly PR, catching attention by referencing an important issue that their produce isn’t really about.  Sigh.


So, what kinds of things would you do to really design for inclusivity in a “hybrid” working environment with lots of remote and rotating in person workers?

Well, this is one place where the experience of coworking spaces might be really, really relevant.

Because, what you might want to do is create community.  And this does not come from office design (see WeWork), it comes from authentic leadership and interpersonal relations.

Now, coworking isn’t guaranteed to create a perfect working environment, and certainly isn’t immune to the usual office hazards of excess testosterone, buddyism, racial a-holery, and so on.  But the good news is that it should be possible to boot up many small coworking spaces, so workers can vote with their feet, to choose their own poison.

And, by the way, it looks like there will be quite a glut of office space as we come out the other side of the pandemic, so it will be economically possible for a lot of people to make their own small, local, coworking spaces.

So—“hybrid workspaces” == coworking spaces?  Or at least, a coworking space is one good way to implement “flexible” work.


  1. Microsoft, The Next Great Disruption Is Hybrid Work—Are We Ready?, in Microsoft Worklab, March 22, 2021. https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/worklab/work-trend-index/hybrid-work
  2. Spacestor, Designing For Inclusivity In The Workplace, in Spacestor, March 5, 2021. https://spacestor.com/insights/industry-trends/designing-for-inclusivity-in-the-workplace/

Fukada on Playfulness At Work

Everyone is willing, wanting, waiting to get back to work.  But we are all wondering what it will be like.

I’ve noticed that even a global pandemic can’t stop the never ending supply of advice about how to improve work and office life.  And the supposed improvements don’t change, even though we can’t even have a person-to-person meeting these days, even if we wanted to.

This month I read a piece by designer Takuo Fukuda,  “The surprising tactic that could help workplaces recover in 2021” [1].

The “tactic” he is talking about is playfulness.

What does he mean by playfulness?

Sometimes this is an actual game.  Sometimes it is just a non-standard, less formal situation, e.g., no “deliverables”, open agenda, brainstorming, etc.

I’m pretty sure that the critical factor is permission:  permission to depart from existing convention, permission to explore ideas without penalty for failure, and so on.

So it could mean lots of things.

Setting aside precisely what “playfulness” means for a moment, he is mainly concerned with the inevitable “disruptive forces” that will force changes, wanted or not.  (Like I said, the discussion isn’t really different than before the pandemic, is it.)


The essence of the argument is, that playfulness can “help engage employees and give them more buy-in to the changes”.  (This sounds suspiciously like tricking people into swallowing the medicine they don’t want, but then I have a real bad attitude about work.)

He makes three main claims.

Playfulness helps overcome a fear of change

“Playfulness lowers the stakes and provides permission to take risks,”

Playfulness encourages creative thinking

“Playfulness opens the door to new experiences that are more sensory and impactful than reading a presentation. This provides a fresh perspective and encourages creative thinking.”

Playfulness unites us

“playful moments foster stronger bonds and a shared sense of accountability.”

Hmm. 

These claims are far from self-evident to me.  Even from my own limited experience, I can think of cases where this kind of “playfulness” had the opposite effects.

“Overcome fear?”  When the fear is justified, e.g., in the face of layoffs, playful meetings can be more a form of denial. 

“Fresh, creative thinking?”  If the playfulness brings out deep problems, it may exacerbate problems.  There also is no guarantee that you can come up with good ideas, especially in limited time, e.g., a single “playful” meeting.

“Unity?”  Games can reveal deep dissent and differences that divide rather than unify.  “Permission” to think and create freely can unleash personal biases, cultural rifts, and all sorts of divisive behavior. (See, for example, the internet.)


Of course, playful meetings, with permission to be creative can be fun.  In fact, I could ask why most meetings aren’t permissioned.  If the answer is, “because we need to get this work done now”, then I think we understand that the enterprise is probably poorly managed.

One thing that struck me the most about Fukada’s claims is that all of this playfulness and permission only works if there is significant trust, especially between management and workers. 

For example, if management has already decided that change is coming and what the changes will be, then having playfull sessions for workers to imagineer “change” is just sugar coating.  Asking for creative ideas is a sick joke unless the ideas will be taken seriously and hae a chance to be implemented.  I.e., workers have to believe that management actually cares about their ideas.

So, ironically, if play is not for real, it is a waste of time or worse, an insult.

Does playfulness create or enhance trust?  In my experience, not in itself.

What matters most of all is what happens after the play.  If the group successfully creates some new ideas (and possible solidarity, etc.), then this must be followed with encouragement and resources, and a real effort to try to make them real.  (And, by the way, this can be quite challenging to do.)

If management ignores the creative ideas, then the playfulness was an insulting waste of time, and probably damaged the organization.

So, I say playfulness + follow through is what is needed. 

Is this going to be especially important in 2021? Not really.

But in 2021-22 we’re all going to be embracing (sometimes literally) the opportunity to actually be together in person. So maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to do some playfulness, for the human contact if nothing else.


  1. Takuo Fukuda, The surprising tactic that could help workplaces recover in 2021, in Fast Company, December 23, 2020. https://www.fastcompany.com/90588625/the-surprising-tactic-that-could-help-workplaces-recover-in-2021