We’re all wondering just what coworking will look like after the pandemic shutdown.
The “flexible office” industry is stepping forward with pitches, including spiffy new jargon.
This fall Kenny Kane writes about “Productivity As A Service”, which he links to the future of coworking .
OK, the “as a service” tag has been popular for a while, riffing off the original breakthrough, “Software as a Service” (i.e., rent, not own).
So what in the world could “productivity as a service” even mean, with or without coworking?
I mean, productivity is a statistic, a number which can be computed for a person or a group. You can’t buy or sell “productivity”, so how can it be rented as a “service”? This makes no logical sense. Or, more to the point, it is making up a new, trendier word for “renting office space”.
What I think Kane is talking about are the features of an office that help workers and groups be more productive. Good connectivity, comfortable work areas, appropriate meeting spaces, etc. These are things that operators do sell to their users, and I think the notion is that operators should be sure to provide the right array of features. He’s thinking that you charge more for features that arguably pay off for the business, i.e., improve results, AKA “productivity”. So you are renting not just space but valuable infrastructure services.
The “as a service” part also suggests that the operator should provide these features as part of a menu that renters can select from. I.e., they are not built to order, they are built in as standard parts of the workspace, though possible with options.
OK, this all makes sense, even if the term “PAAS” is an abuse of the historic sources.
What does this have to do with coworking?
I think Kane’s point is summed up in the section header, “Beyond Coworking: Physical Spaces Designed For Productivity”.
He focusses on the original format of coworking, the open plan shared workspace. As he notes, workers need more than a desk and a chair. Or at least, many workers, some of the time, want other things. Such as a quiet space or private office. So, Kane says, building managers should offer more than just desks-by-the-hour in a big “chatty” room.
“For this reason, we may start to see coworking evolve from chatty social hubs to productivity destinations.”(From )
Kane also notes the important value to workers of having someone else run the office space. As workers and organizations work back from Work At Home, everyone has a new regard for professionally maintained office and infrastructure.
Of course, Kane makes some good points here. I’ve been making the same points for quite a while, long before the pandemic.
However, his implications that flexible office space is the future of coworking is dubious.
For one thing, the idea of coworking emerged out of flexible office rental, so Kane is describing devolution, not evolution. Coworking spaces have always provided a variety of features, including everything Kane describes here.
In fact, what Kane describes here is basically what I call “sprinkling community on rental office space”.
As I have argued for many years, the essential product of coworking is not office space, productive or otherwise, it is community. That is why coworking spaces always have a “chatty social hub” at the core. The social part is what the coworking space is selling. The rest is just infrastructure.
Tellingly, Kane provides for this crucial function in the form of “Designated collaboration rooms to keep noise levels at a minimum.” Let the hippies have their little room, he is saying, while the real workers hunker down alone in quiet, private offices.
Is this the future of coworking? Hardly.
A successful coworking space must be all about building and sustaining community, not about selling “productivity as a service”. This requires community leadership (i.e. talented humans) and plenty of face to face interaction. And, no, there is no such thing as “community as a service”.
Is this PAAS future of rental offices? Maybe, but who cares?
The good news is that you can build a good coworking community on top of many variations of flexible office space. So PAAS may enable coworking operations to build and sustain their communities.
“Community as a Layer on Top of PAAS” There’s an Nth order buzzword!
- Kenny Kane, The Rise Of Productivity As A Service In The Coworking Model, in Forbes – Forbes Biz Council, October13, 2021. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbizcouncil/2021/10/13/the-rise-of-productivity-as-a-service-in-the-coworking-model/