Researching the formula behind the perfect Coworking Space

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It’s pretty tough to deny the benefits that coworking spaces have to offer freelancers but there are still so many questions surrounding coworking spaces that need to be tackled. Like, what do we define as a coworking space (can it be a closet in a building that you’re renting out as an office space), how much money can be made from managing a coworking space, how do surrounding businesses and the community benefit from coworking spaces in their neighbourhood, and are some of the characteristics of a successful coworking space? These are the types of questions that researchers such as Marko Orel and other contributors to the Coworking Library are trying to answer.

At the moment, there’s so much confusion and so many misconceptions surrounding coworking spaces that even establishing a straightforward research question could be, in itself, flawed. So where to begin and why? We sat down to interview Marko as he gets right down to the basics: what do you define as a coworking space.

Importance of defining what a coworking space is?

By establishing how broad or narrow a definition you want to use in your research will impact things such as the number of coworking spaces are located within a given area – the broader the term the more spaces you’ll be able to list. Orel suggests that we may be surprised to find that the core concept of a coworking space might be a lot older than we thought–  which can have an impact on how they’ve evolved. This definition will also be important to measure how successful coworking space is. 

How do you measure a successful and unsuccessful coworking space?

Do not forget, that although coworking spaces tend to hold themselves to higher values (community, openness, sustainability, collaboration, and accessibility) they are at their core still businesses that facilitate service and need to generate revenue to cover any operational and overhead expenses and generate a profit. It’s therefore not just a question as to how successfully a coworking space measures up to its values, but also how well they are managed in order to meet their financial objectives. By establishing criteria by which we measure the success of a coworking space researchers can more accurately determine which are successful and which aren’t. Once that’s done you can start identifying the characteristics of each that have either contributed to their success or detriment – basically, start building a formula for success. 

Quantitative vs. Qualitative

To make sure that these characteristics of successful and unsuccessful spaces are an accurate representation of the market trends, researchers need to get the buy-in from as many managers of coworking spaces within a given area as possible. Quantitative research might be the easier option when collecting so much data but, the problem any researcher will tell you with quantitative research is the low response rate as well as the poor quality (there’s no room to expand on explanations or definitions) quantitative surveys yield. Qualitative research is the most time consuming but will offer the most accurate and meaningful feedback to the research study.

Replicating the results

The proof is in the pudding, so to speak. The next step would be to see if the research findings are actually replicable. In other words: by applying these successful trends/characteristics, will a coworking space get improved results (become more successful)? And if not, why not? 

Looking beyond: the impact coworking spaces have on the larger community 

Not only will research into what makes a successful coworking space help others perfect their business plans, but could also be a great way for managers to highlight the positive impacts coworking spaces could have on the wellbeing of the local economy when applying for loans or investments. For example, by establishing a coworking space in a rural area less local talent may be tempted away to urban areas due to potential earnings that large corporates in the cities have to offer.