Coworking is changing the working world. We’ve all heard about the rise and fall of WeWork, but did you know that a new Coworking space opens in London every 5 days?

They are not opening for fun, there is a huge demand for this type of space as what we value in office space is changing.

But is this another futurism trend that every other industries take advantage of whilst the Built Environment sector sits, watches and says “that’s not for us“?

This article takes a look at Coworking for teams working in built environment sectors. What is Coworking? How could it benefit your business? And what are the things to watch out for along the way?

architectural engineering construction teams coworking space AEC

What is Coworking?

Instead of owning office space, you share with teams from other companies. How much you share with the other companies is very much dependant of your preferences.

Options include:

  • permanent office space with shared facilities (you’ll have your own four walls and a door, but will share a kitchen and communal spaces with others),
  • fixed desk space – in most coworking spaces there is a large area of open-plan desks to be used. A fixed desk arrangement means you ‘own’ the desk and can leave stuff there overnight (i.e. monitors, keyboard etc).
  • flexible (hot) desks, on the other hand, are first-come-first-served on a daily basis. These are the cheapest option. With this arrangement, most coworking spaces also offer part-time membership, like 10 days a month, for example, for an even lower cost.

Meeting rooms are shared and booked centrally.

Coworking is typically characterised by a strong sense of community.

Whilst you are not working directly with your fellow coworkers, you get to learn snippets of their business and these become really valuable as it facilitates collaboration.

It’s also typical to have a community-run events schedule whereby members talk about something that interests them, or a project they are working on.

Communcal events for Coworking Community of Built Environment Professionals and teams.

Traditional barriers to AEC Coworking

Information security – this is of course a valid barrier, but not one that is insurmountable. Risks must be assessed as you would for any other office space, and mitigations put in place in line with your companies attitude to risk acceptance. When I was in BloxHUB (an awesome Built Environment focussed coworking space in Copenhagen) they were busy building four walls around a corner of the office for a startup that wanted to be completely enclosed for data privacy reasons.

Cost – this shouldn’t be considered a barrier. Normally the cost per desk in a Coworking space is considerably lower that a private office space. For example, in London, it can cost an employer between £650-1000 per employee per month (pepm) in a private office space, compared to £200-400 pepm in a coworking space.

Coworking is just for startups? This is a misconception and will rapidly change over the coming years. Innovative teams from large companies are slowly realising that there is a huge opportunity available to them, for the reasons mentioned in the section below.

Dis-association from you main office – I believe the days of the monolithic ‘HQ’ for AEC companies is coming to an end. Some companies believe that moving a team to a coworking space will lead to a dis-association from the main office. Leading to resentment from colleagues in the traditional office space. I think this is old-fashioned thinking. Working habits are changing and there are significant benefits to working in this way, so a move towards Coworking is not a dis-association, more a broadening of the horizon and opportunity landscape, for the team and the wider company.

Coworking benefits for AEC teams

Flexibility – sometimes AEC projects can be uncertain. Working from a coworking space gives your team agility. Typically, you pay on a rolling monthly basis, so you are not tied into an annual or 5-yearly lease, as you would a traditional office space.

Diversity of community – what I enjoy most about working from coworking spaces is the diversity of people they attract. For the first 5 years of my career, I worked either on site or in a traditional engineering/ construction office. Now I converse daily with graphic designers, programmers, project managers, marketers, sales experts from completely different fields. Finance, e-commerce, fashion, marketing – you name it, I’m sure you will meet them at your Coworking space. This brings huge benefits to me. I get to learn about how they work and how that differs to my AEC background.

Some coworking spaces are specifically geared towards companies working on built environment projects, like Build Studios in London, or BloxHUB in Copenhagen, or Maria01 in Helsinki (not specifically for AEC startups, but there’s a lot of them there!) .

This brings even more benefits, like:

Winning work and collaborating on opportunities: it’s very common for teams that meet in Coworking spaces to work together on projects. It makes sense. If you can start a new contract with a company you know and trust that works in the same building as you, why wouldn’t you?

Exposure to innovative built environment startups: or vice versa… for startups if gives them to opportunity to learn from (and sell to) traditional AEC firms.

Talent pools – similarly to the effect of Science Parks, Coworking spaces allow companies to scout and recruit high quality talent at low cost to the employer. But be careful how you go about this, you don’t want to gain a reputation in your space as a poacher!

Summary

The next time you are looking for a new office for your Built Environment team, think about Coworking. As with any business decisions, there are some barriers to be considered alongside the benefits. I hope this article has been useful in this regard.

Ultimately, it comes down to what is right for your team. I mention team here on purpose. It doesn’t have to be your whole business relocating to the nearest WeWork. You can move a small team to a Coworking space as a trial to learn for yourself what benefits the experience might bring.

If you are working in the built environment sector and from a coworking space, drop a comment below, I’d love to hear from you about your experiences!


Will Needham

Travelling the world talking to the people shaping our future.

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