Sensei Liz Elam, founder of Global Coworking UnConference, has posted her annual “Coworking Megatrend Predictions”
Looking back, she gives herself credit for a lot of predictions coming true in 2018. As is often the case, her predictions were generally accurate, though not necessarily in detail. For example, WeWork continued to grow, but a lot of the growth is taking the form of diversifying into other businesses. It’s debatable whether these businesses are “coworking” or not. And, by the way, WeWork is experiencing debt problems, so its growth will almost certainly be followed by contraction.
Anyway, Elam’s 2019 predictions are not all that different than 2018. I.e., more of the same. Her headlines are:
- Real Estate
- Coworking Nomenclature
- Tools for Coworking
“Real Estate” is “the sleeping giant” that has awakened to the concept of on-demand workspaces. It’s pretty obvious that big real estate operations will want to get a big slice of coworking. How well this will work out, is less than clear. (And Elam’s comments are rather Delphic, something about “as the power shifts from the owner to the tenant”.)
“Differentiation” and “Consolidation” are an interesting pair. Big money is building large workplaces and buying up (or killing off) other operations, consolidating ownership. At the same time, Elam correctly notes that a key to coworking success is “niche spaces”. From the point of view of the real estate industry, a “niche” is a matter of clever branding. My own view is that this is the heart and soul of community coworking, and there really are nothing except niches. How you can consolidate and also be authentically community oriented is the great contradiction for Elam’s industrial trends.
Another “sleeping giant” is the design industry, which she notes is showing greater interest in coworking spaces. This goes hand in hand with the entry of big money, of course, and an uncharitable observer might say that designers are simply marketing the same old stuff to a newly trendy market.
Elam has been advocating “Wellness” for quite a while. Here she totally understands that wellness is not really about design (sure, natural light is great, etc.), but more about people. This isn’t limited to coworking, of course, but a thriving coworking community is likely to foster the kind of “CheckYoMate” action that she advocates. (I’ll comment that gigantic, corporate workplaces, and even fancy “luxury” workplaces are generally not so great for this kind of wellness. Low cost, local community workplaces are going to be a lot healthier.)
Elam is Delphic about coworking nomenclature. She has taken a strong stand on this in the past, but in this forum takes the co-opting of the term “coworking” by designers and real estate as a sign of victory for coworking, “an indication of a huge shift and a new emergence in the market where the power shifts to the tenant.” I don’t know who is the “tenant” here, or what this supposed power shift might be.
Finally, Elam points out that there is a minor boom in “tools”, mainly for operating a coworking space. This is a trend I predicted a long time ago, based on my observation that there are a lot of common tasks that could easily be automated. But, putting my software developer hat back on, I’ll say that this looks like an area where it will be hard to make much money off the software. So I’d be very surprised if this area grows very much.
Finally, Elam boasts a “bombshell” prediction: “Coworking will replace the office.”
I’m sure it looks this way from the perspective of the real estate industry (where Elam now sits), but it’s kind of obviously wrong.
OK, I guess if you define “office” narrowly, and by “replace” you mean, “make workers provide their own office space”, then, sure. A lot of companies will Uberize their desk workers, making everyone BYO. (This will include the inevitable “mandatory optional” requirement to rent your desk from a specific coworking space. Not coworking so much as charging workers for their desk.)
But if you take “office” to mean “workplace”, then obviously there will have to be a lot of workspaces that are not “coworking” in any meaningful sense. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: there are broad swaths of workers and work that are not suited to coworking for one reason or another. E.g., Work processes involving atoms rather than bits (think fabrication or lab work), work that involves human interactions (think medical services), work that is proprietary or otherwise highly secured (trade secrets? Record keeping?), or businesses that need a branded space.
Furthermore, I’ll point out the related fact that the number of Freelance and independent workers is small and not growing. So it is far from clear how much coworking will grow.
I have tremendous respect for Sensei Elam, but I think this “bombshell” will surely fizzle.
- Liz Elam, Coworking Megatrend Predictions for 2019 (and a Bombshell), in Liz Elam Articles. 2018. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/coworking-megatrend-predictions-2019-bombshell-liz-elam/