Coworking Space – Will It Be The End of Corporate HQ?

(Inside view of ANZ Centre. Image from Hassell Studio)

Although I studied and currently work in IT industry, one of my area of interest is architecture and design. Specifically office and commercial building, although some industrial design also from time to time did caught my attention (i.e Apple iPhone, Volvo XC90, Boeing 777-series, Richard Mille’s watches). It’s like while some people spent their free time staring at the photos and videos of the latest Bugatti or Ferrari, I love to see buildings with a masterpiece design and shape. And my celebrity architects of choice? Sir Norman Foster and Zaha Hadid.

However, one particular corporate headquarter building that always caught my attention wasn’t actually designed by either one of them.

It was designed by Hassell Studio. And the building is ANZ Centre, located in Melbourne, Australia. Basically it’s a Global HQ for Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited or ANZ. Even the image of the building is enough for me to curious if there’s any job vacancy there which I can apply. My resume always ready.

But those headquarter buildings are getting more and more competition from other kind of building and office architecture.

Most prominently, coworking (and to some extent co-living) spaces.

 

Why Coworking Spaces Are Destined To Grow?

Especially if you’re a digital nomad (or digital nomad-wannabe), the concept of coworking space shouldn’t be something that sounds weird for you. It’s weird if you never heard of it.

Back in the days before the proliferation of coworking spaces, digital nomads or freelancers usually headed over to their nearest or favourite local coffee shop to do their job. I tried few times, and it was great and productive day. That was until your laptop started to run out of juice and the power sockets were either unavailable (high traffic day), covered by some duct tape (and had to fork out another moolah on per-hour basis), fully-occupied or located hundred meters away, if that coffee shop has power socket at all. However if you brought along an extension cord, you’ll be revered like a demigod by other fellow freelancers, although it may be frowned upon by the coffee chop owner. And it’s even worse if you stayed there for like three hours and only ordered a small cup of latte.

Prepare not to be welcomed again in the future.

Another option for you maybe something like Regus or Servcorp. But being a freelancers, how many can actually afford that kind of place? Every penny counts, and it means if you have to save every single penny (face it, starting a business was never easy, and it was never meant to be one), then you may just bite the bullet and go back to your favourite local coffee shop, hoping that there is still a seat available for you. Either that or you just had to head home and worked from there, hoping that the food inside the fridge wouldn’t distract you so much that you forgot the deadline of your assignment.

Or YouTube. That’s also a big distraction.

(Harlem Coworking Space. Image from WeWork)

And so enter the companies like WeWork and Impact Hub, where they provide an office spaces and its amenities but without a hassle of facility management or charge an exorbitant prices for using their facilities. And indeed, it has become a big business for WeWork where right now they are one of the largest coworking company company in the world and also a startup unicorn status with about $20 billion valuation. Coworking companies has move from solely providing a working space to provide a living space, business connection, training and some even a hackathon, all in the name of providing better experience (and value for money) to their users. Some coworking spaces are even located in prime location like Madison Square and Manhattan.

What gives such a boost to the trend and its growth? I can think a few reasons below.

 

Rise of Automation and Unemployment

(Small robot to serve customers at Alibaba’s Hema. Image from BusinessInsider/Alibaba Group)

(Pegg chatbot. Image from Sage)

How many times we watched news that certain companies are laying-off their people due to redundancy? I’d say the number is on the rise and will keep on increasing, because those jobs are redundant not necessarily with some outsourcing company in Bangalore or some cheap human labours in Guangzhou, but with chatbots. Just like what I’ve mentioned in my previous post, if your job is repetitive, sooner or later automation will definitely take your place. Those robots and chatbots are not going to take a toilet break every 2 hours, paid leave, healthcare or even a medical leave. Oh, and those bots are not going to unionised and launch strikes either.

Call me heartless, but I’m willing to say this again and again. Any private businesses would be happy to employ such ’employees’ under their payroll although it may take longer to be developed, more complicated to troubleshoot (if it runs into a problem) and even some temporary bad press coverage for laying off their own existing human subordinates.

Nothing personal, just business.

So what are some of working position that very soon would be replaced? Helpdesk agents and waiters/waitresses are amongst the one who are facing the immediate threat. I’ve been in both positions before, so I can say the repetitive work of it would be the main reason why bots would take over that jobs. We already see that with McDonald’s has launched an ordering kiosks at several locations, as well as replacing waiters/waitresses at Alibaba’s Hema supermarket restaurant. And the Pegg chatbot by accounting giant Sage? It’s a matter of time before not only it will eliminate positions in corporate HR or Finance, but probably even some existing software applications like claim applications (SAP Concur came to my mind).

Soon, there would be a quick reduction of available positions for waiters/waitresses in restaurants. And those people still have bills to pay. So some of them may have no other choice but to start their own businesses and embracing entrepreneurship. And the shared desks at coworking space could be a good option for them as their startup office (I’ve visited one coworking space before, and to my surprise even an artist was there. He was working with his latest artwork, and I can’t believe that coworking space would let him make a mess on those tables. Respect to both the artist and the employee). Some even charged on daily or few hour basis minimum with no long-term commitment, so it helps in minimising the costs and keep the startup nimble enough to get traction.

I always believe everyone has their own unique talents or abilities, so instead of looking at the pink slip and feel dejected, it’s time the unemployed see see what actual interest and skillsets and make it to work. Desperate time needs desperate measures.

 

Rise of Gig Economy

Honestly, I never tried my hands with gig economy. Maybe one day I will, when I’m running out of ideas to write an article (or infographics).

(One of the private office inside the coworking space.Image from ArchDaily)

But a gig economy also has offered another opportunity for people who has specific skills and with less requirement to go out to do it. I mean, I’ve yet to meet an Uber driver who needs a coworking space (his or her vehicle is already their office). If you’re talking about i.e one-man show who runs a media company, where he or she may need to do some presentation and also quiet place to do his job,  coworking space could be the right answer. Not only it provides a proper place to do their job, but it also where business opportunities may lie.

Because working from home has a lot distraction, especially when Netflix decides to run full episodes of ‘Friends’.

Coworking space is also a good place to ‘hide’ from your boring or annoying fellow coworkers or supervisors. In this era, works no longer should be judges by how much physical presence in the office, but more of results-oriented. As for me, if my staff can finish his or her tasks assigned by the imposed deadline, I wouldn’t care bit if they want to do their job from public toilet cubicle or some karaoke establishment! No office? No problems.

Always-connected

(5G is on the horizon)

(Volvo 360c concept. Image from Volvo/Torque Singapore)

The notion of ‘always-on, always-connected’ has different takes. It may sound a blessing for some, while it may a curse to others. Whatever your take might be, more and more locations has been installed with WiFi (free or otherwise). 4G is already mainstream to major parts of the world, and 5G is on the horizon. As well as autonomous vehicle pod with an office (like Volvo 360c concept) where you can still do your work while commuting.

(Except me. I have some motion-sickness where I can’t even read a book while travelling inside a car or bus, but other kind of public transportation like trains or planes somehow is OK with me)

Once it’s mainstream and cheap enough, maybe coworking space would no longer be bound by some physical or even virtual location. The autonomous vehicle like Volvo 360c can actually becomes a coworking space itself. After all, it’s called ‘space’, not ‘building’. Go have fun working in some moving pod while taking 8-hour ride during your commute from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The best part? You don’t even have to deal with the traffic jam. Let some algorithm do that.

Networking and Business Ideas

(Inside of WeWork co-working space in Mexico. Image from WeWork)

If your company is so secretive (“cough” Apple) with its products, coworking space might not be the right place to work with other deserted colleagues.

But for other companies especially their innovation arm, coworking space might be suit them well. Those splinter team can work separately from other existing legacy management or working style and continue with ‘move first and break things’ mantra (hopefully they’re not working with Corning). Coworking space can theoretically reduce the operating expense of mothership company by only renting small space for limited particular time for those team without the prying eyes of other employees.

It’s also a good place for generating ideas. Who knows what other innovations that company could come up with by letting their people chat around with other freelancers, getting precious feedback and comments (while guarding their own secret of course). It’s what you called ‘killing two birds with one stone’. In this case, maybe not two birds but the whole family.

Co-working Space : Will It Render Corporate HQ Irrelevant?

So are we going to see less and less corporate HQ?

I’d say it’s possible, and it’s already in the making. Of course it won’t completely eliminate it, even Facebook or Google needs HQ as their CEOs and senior management needs somewhere fixed to work at.

But I’m not surprised if coworking space starts to win the next ‘best office design’ award. After all, who needs some bland and isolated cubicle when you can work at a much cooler place like at WeWork?

 

 

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