Being the owner of a small business often means spending your time working on projects outside of your talent. While an owner should seek to understand all aspects of his business early in its development, spending too much time on the aspects he doesn’t excel at can be a massive inefficiency and stunt the business’ growth. By leveraging a community of business owners with similar issues, these inefficiencies can be minimized through collaboration. Making this collaboration efficient and easy will be the future of co-working.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, co-working is about bringing businesses together into a shared work environment. It ranges from people working together in someone’s living room, to dedicated co-working spaces with dozens or even hundreds of businesses all under one roof. Having a dedicated space is often an unjustifiable expense for small businesses; co-working spaces allow these businesses to benefit from the advantages of an office space without having to shoulder the cost themselves.
By aggregating businesses with varying specialties and focuses, co-working spaces can create communities ripe for partnerships. Whether it’s working directly together on a project, or simply running some prices by someone in an industry to make sure you’re getting a fair deal, there’s power in numbers. As interaction in the community grows, the likelihood of success for the businesses within it increases, creating a more powerful community to draw upon for assistance.
Through a co-working community, accountants can find marketers to promote their services, developers to build their website, and lawyers to handle their legal work. Specialists can barter their expertise in return for such services. Businesses from a variety of industries can come together, forming small groups to solve each other’s issues. Instead of submitting problems to a company or department, entrepreneurs can seek out an expert on the exact issue they need advice on, expediting the process.
This collaboration will be made infinitely easier through a variety of emerging technologies. Closed social networks such as Yammer and Present.ly offer the opportunity to reach out to a focused community for help and advice. Interactive collaboration installations, such as those developed by Steelcase, can allow users to quickly set up a collaborative work process. It’s not enough to just bring businesses into a common space. Co-working spaces need to create environments that facilitate and encourage interaction between tenants, making it easy for them to take advantage of the available synergies.
Of course, association with people within your industry is still valuable. Outside of the basic networking opportunities, I strongly feel that co-working communities will begin to leverage their more experienced members to act as mentors for tenants within their industry. Creating industry-specific events in order to increase the amount of these types of relationships will be a key driver, as well as programs that link new tenants to businesses in their field when they join a community.
As co-working spaces grow larger, the value they’re able to deliver to members of their community will grow as well. Pharmaceutical giant Merck doesn’t purchase office supplies at the same price as the pizza shop down the street — they leverage the size of their business to receive discounted products. Co-working spaces will begin to negotiate more and more relevant discounts and perks for their members using the size of their communities as a bargaining chip, and delivering prices to small businesses previously only enjoyed by larger corporations.
Of course, one of the reasons people resist tying their business to a physical location is their desire to be location independent. With franchised co-working spaces throughout the country or even the world, businesses will be able find a working space no matter where they are, and more importantly, entrepreneurs will have one less thing to worry about when relocating. Co-working spaces will need to empower their tenants with the ability to live the lives they desire.
This vision isn’t the only path co-working can take in the future. Creative uses of the co-working concept will begin to be integrated with other small-business programs. A great example is The Founder’s Institute, which brings together tech start-ups for four months. They’re provided mentorship, training, and introductions to investors. Maybe the most powerful advantage they provide, however, is that all members of a program are given equity in each company, creating a powerful incentive to work together and provide all the start-ups the support they need to succeed.
Ultimately, I feel the future of co-working lies in an organic, adaptable business ecosystem. Instead of an accounting department, you have fifteen accounting businesses with varying specialties. The same goes for marketing, legal, and any other specialty a business could need. When you begin combining the resources of large corporations with the flexibility and speed of start-ups, the possibilities are astounding.
Credited to Joe Raby a co-founder of Sunshine Suites