How can coworking spaces really enable innovation at your company?

 Common area at Friends Work Here, a coworking space for creatives in Brooklyn NY

Common area at Friends Work Here, a coworking space for creatives in Brooklyn NY

Coworking is an established trend in both innovation and startup worlds. The idea of establishing working areas where several companies and individuals can work together on different projects is a successful approach, with proven benefits for the companies involved. Just google the term, you will find many good examples for great coworkings all over the world.

Although this approach seems pretty new,  in fact, it is not. History gives us many great examples of this way of creating working spaces. In the 15th century Florence, for instance, there were places called “bottegas”, where painters, sculptors, architects, and engineers gathered for work. At these “bottegas” several kinds of talents and skills competed, collaborated and learned from each other. The result is widely known, as Florence was the main cradle of the Renaissance, one of the most thriving and exciting eras for art, engineering, and science. We think that people such as Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo grew up as geniuses by themselves, but they did not. They became the top-notch innovators of their era because there was a thriving environment, where they learned, networked, and nurtured. And "bottegas" undoubtedly helped a lot to create this kind of surrounding.

Therefore, even if the current coworking trend seems like a brand new idea, it is not. Of course, it is very different from the typical corporate environment, but it borrows, consciously or not, several features from previous experiences. Let´s check them:

  1. Open spaces, which are fundamental for coworking. If you want to create a space where people can speak, learn from each other and get new ideas, you need to remove all the physical barriers that block communication, such as private offices and boxes. Even more, you want people to change their working spot as much as possible so that they can mix every day. This helps to break the individual comfort zone gently, fostering productive interactions. Remember that innovation is about collaboration and teamwork, so open spaces will surely contribute to make this happen.

  2. A place to live and work 24/7. We all need a nice place to give our best. Good coworking spaces try to create an appropriate environment, full of different spots that people can use for being physically rested and mentally focused. This means that you can find a sitting desk shared with more people to network or quiet rooms to focus on a specific task. You can also comfortably sit on a couch with colleagues to discuss some issues in a relaxed manner. And you will find, every day, a kitchen fully stocked with essentials, such as drinks and snacks, and where you can bring your own food to cook. Very different from a regular office! At real coworkings you may feel like being at home, working at your own pace. Of course, you should drop any fixed schedule: some people give their best in the morning, others in the evening or even at night. Just set them free to do it their way.

  3. A place to empower people. A good coworking is not just an open and comfortable space, it also actively promotes collaboration, networking, and action. Through daily, weekly and monthly activities, co-workers can share info, events, and workshops, and they can also find the tools to get things done. They can either hire their coworking mates or get new ideas from some colleagues. They can also manage to organize fantastic events where they can learn and innovate. Just remove any constraints and give people whatever they need to unfold their creativity.

These are, basically, the features that make a coworking work. It is important to understand that these spaces are more than a cheap rented desk. Price is just a tiny part of the equation and in fact, the excellent ones are not cheaper that a regular office. It is not about money, it is about creating the best place to grow businesses through collaboration and innovation.

At this point a question may arise: is it possible for companies to replicate this model? It is, and it has been already done. Companies such as Zappos, Google or Facebook have created offices following the principles mentioned above, with great results: open spaces with no fixed working spots, where people can feel at home at every moment they choose to work, and where they are empowered to find their way to success. In fact, these are working offices where a very particular working culture based on collaboration and creativity can grow and thrive. And this is maybe the key point: working spaces are enablers for a working culture, real assets for your long-term innovation strategy. So, please, design yours wisely!