Coworking Spaces and Collaboration: Greater than the Sum of its Parts

There is so much to consider when you start your own busi­ness such as, where do you base yourself? Hiring private office space for a new start up or free­lancer is likely to break the budget. The solu­tion: cowor­king spaces. A cowor­king space is an office envi­ron­ment used by multiple busi­nesses and free­lan­cers who rent and share desk space. Co-workers benefit by gaining an offi­cial office loca­tion and sharing office resources (e.g. Internet).

However while there is a clear economic benefit, there are even greater busi­ness oppor­tu­nities within these colla­bo­ra­tive spaces. An office envi­ron­ment filled by profes­sio­nals with diffe­rent areas of exper­tise means know­ledge is shared between busi­nesses and free­lan­cers. This advan­tage is felt firstly by the co-workers but most import­antly this passes on to any client.

Once you scratch the surface, you discover strong commu­nities within cowor­king spaces who have teamed toge­ther to offer greater services to their clients. We recently spoke to three cowor­king spaces in Europe to gain insight into the moti­va­tion which led to many people buil­ding and joining such spaces and the value created today.

Coworking Spaces Solve Employment Issues Created by Recession

According to Bloom­berg Review, the recent global reces­sion has been the worst since the Great Depres­sion, and the “lost genera­tion” who are unem­ployed due to this reces­sion (50% in Spain, nearly 60% in Greece), are unli­kely to recover from the lost oppor­tu­nities. Germany and France were criti­cized for propo­sing busi­ness lending, but let’s face it — what better option is there than encou­ra­ging people to start their own busi­ness? With small busi­ness loans (where needed) and cowor­king spaces, more people have an oppor­tu­nity to create an income and contri­bute to the economy.

“The GEC (Global Economic Crisis) had just struck and we knew a lot of people were going to be affected by the reces­sion. We started the busi­ness to provide a place for such people going out on their own,” says Araceli Camargo of The Cube, London’s first-ever cowor­king space. “It was an economic response and we wanted to offer a space to people who were going to be affected by the recession.”

“Tech­no­logy is very diffe­rent nowa­days. When we first laun­ched, we had to teach people how to make calls from their laptops. Ever­yone was used to face-to-face meetings but that has changed dramatically.”


Three years ago over in Barce­lona, Spain, a new cowor­king space, 021 Studio, was laun­ched due to similar economic circum­s­tances. Although cowor­king was prac­ti­cally unheard of at the time with just a handful of such spaces in the Spanish city, the 021 Studio foun­ders saw an opportunity.

“Euro­pean multi­na­tional compa­nies began to imple­ment delo­ca­lized jobs as a form of work. Many such people preferred to keep their work sepa­rate from home. They began to look for alter­na­tive spaces where they could work and be in the company of other profes­sio­nals.” explains Julián Figliolo.

Oliver Strunk, of RavalCo also in Barce­lona, initi­ally started his cowor­king space to create income from his property. At the time he assessed that the economic risk of renting to multiple parties was lower than letting it to one indi­vi­dual. It was also a great offer for the new co-workers them­selves. “For free­lan­cers and small star­tups there’s a direct economic benefit — costs are not so high, admi­nis­tra­tion is less and they meet other people inte­rested in colla­bo­ra­tion oppor­tu­nities.” An idea that was again born out of an economic response resulted in a thri­ving cowor­king space in a city that is on the verge of having the highest cowor­king density in the world!

The Swarming Effect & Comfort Effect of Coworking Spaces

The envi­ron­ment in which we work is often crucial to our success, and for many, a cowor­king space fosters the right profes­sional working space in which to wheel and deal.

“In this economy most of our commu­nity are looking to start a busi­ness which supports them rather than a larger company. They are crea­ting jobs for them­selves. A cowor­king space is cheaper than your own office so it makes sense,” explains Araceli, “Through herding, people find it comfor­ting to come and work in a shared envi­ron­ment. It mimics an orga­niz­a­tion and creates that feeling of going to an office with people, colleagues, etc.”

“From cowor­king, you develop a more produc­tive way of working, new contacts and constantly new job oppor­tu­nities. The concept of colla­bo­ra­tive work is strongly emphasized.”

Julián Figliolo, FOUNDER, 021 STUDIO

“People want to move around and renting a fixed space would be an impe­di­ment. It is also a ques­tion of econo­mics, but I think in the first place people want to connect to other people, share a coffee and chat a little bit,” adds Oliver of RavalCo.

People are social beings and a co-working space creates a space to network with like-minded people. At 021 Studio, Julián describes the commu­nity of co-workers as like a “family” and not just a group of people sharing desks. “We work side-by-side but also we get toge­ther to talk, share a coffee, and have lunch together.”

Benefits of Coworking Spaces for Freelancers and Startups

While the initial moti­va­tion behind cowor­king spaces may seem like basic econo­mics and a place to mingle, there are great busi­ness oppor­tu­nities fuelled by an abundance of a powerful resource: know­ledge. By working in a cowor­king space, you gain an immediate commu­nity from which you learn from and which helps you gene­rate economy.

Julián of 021 Studio agrees that the real benefit is not about socia­li­zing. All members at 021 Studio are indi­vi­dual free­lan­cers, sole-traders, or sepa­rate compa­nies and the foun­ders saw a great oppor­tu­nity in the variety of skills and profes­sions present at 021 Studio. “By coming toge­ther and combi­ning our expe­ri­ence and skills, we now work as one and can offer services to our clients that would not have been possible for us to do as indi­vi­duals on our own.

Free­lan­cers and star­tups at a cowor­king space are given access to experts that they would not easily meet when working at home or else­where. This enables profes­sio­nals to work closely toge­ther, yet inde­pendently, and share expert know­ledge which ulti­mately bene­fits the client.

“At 021 we have co-workers who are desi­gners, editors, video editors, marke­ting experts, trans­la­tors and more. By consul­ting with each other, we can resolve any problems and address any doubts concer­ning specia­list matters. In most cases, there is no need for us to use external services, but rather just the great variety of skills around us at the office. This bene­fits all parties.”

Araceli of The Cube explains how since their launch percep­tions of cowor­king spaces have changed, bene­fi­ting both members and clients: “Previously there was a stigma atta­ched to being a sole trader and our members were hesi­tant to invite their clients to the space. Entre­pre­neurship was thought to be a passing thing, now it’s an industry supported by all of today’s star­tups. The stigma no longer exists and people, inclu­ding our clients, under­stand the culture — they get it now.”

“People want to move around and renting a fixed space would be an impe­di­ment. At a cowor­king space they meet other people inte­rested in colla­bo­ra­tion opportunities.”


In fact, the culture is so widely accepted now that The Cube uses its cowor­king iden­tity to its advan­tage. In 2013 they laun­ched “Cube Agency” where multiple members with a diffe­rent areas of exper­tise colla­bo­rate toge­ther, pitch to clients, and complete larger projects which might have other­wise not been possible. “If your client knows that you are part of co-working space and can benefit from other co-workers there, then there is a benefit.”

A unique offe­ring by The Cube in London is their work­shops for members where co-workers get toge­ther, colla­bo­rate, share, and learn from each other. “Our events and collec­tives give our members a sounding board to discuss busi­ness and ideas. We also invite industry experts and entre­pre­neurs to attend and share their expe­ri­ence with our members,” explains Araceli.

By colla­bo­ra­ting toge­ther, cowor­king members have found a way to be stronger than the sum of their parts and provide a greater service to their clients.

The Role of Technology in Coworking Spaces

Just over 5 years ago, cowor­king spaces were non-exis­tent in London. But with the rise of startup compa­nies and widespread free­lan­cing in conjunc­tion with a time of rapid tech­no­lo­gical deve­lo­p­ments over recent years, the tradi­tional office and work envi­ron­ment has been reinvented. When asked how cowor­king spaces and their commu­nities have evolved over recent years Araceli comments on the role tech­no­logy has played: “Tech­no­logy is very diffe­rent nowa­days,” says Araceli. “When we first laun­ched, we had to teach people how to make calls from their laptops, but today such things are common knowledge.”

This is one area which has defi­ni­tely expe­ri­enced drastic change. Busi­nesses of all shapes and sizes are now very fami­liar with colla­bo­ra­ting online with clients or colleagues and in many compa­nies VoIP confe­ren­cings or online meeting soft­ware plays a signi­fi­cant role in daily processes.

“Non-mono­li­thic compa­nies as well as working virtually have become far more accepted in our culture,” explains Araceli. “At the begin­ning, you would have to create all this smoke and mirrors to give off the impres­sion of a large company. Now there is no longer a need for this façade. Ever­yone was used to face-to-face meetings, and didn’t know anything diffe­rent, but that has changed drama­ti­cally.” Today it’s no problem to orga­nize confe­rence calls over a laptop. People don’t need a lot of space and ever­ything can be done from their laptop over the Web.”

Today it’s common for busi­nesses to deal with clients who are not in the same town or even country, and this is the same case for cowor­king spaces. Profes­sio­nals in cowor­king spaces tend to use a variety of online solu­tions to customer manage­ment, invoi­cing, client calls via VoIP confe­ren­cing, and Mikogo for screen sharing during online meetings.

According to Julián, who uses project manage­ment tools such as Podium and Base­camp, the right tech­no­logy is critical. “Tech­no­logy is ever­ything to us and we make an effort to use all the oppor­tu­nities avail­able to us in the market. Most co-workers use tools to commu­ni­cate over the Web which is essen­tial because most clients are not in town.”

The numbers speak for them­selves. As tech­no­logy has evolved so has cowor­king and online colla­bo­ra­tion, resul­ting in more than 2,500 cowor­king spaces around the world with over 110,000 people working in one, according to DeskMag.

“Tech­no­logy is ever­ything to us and we make an effort to use all the oppor­tu­nities avail­able to us in the market. We use tools to commu­ni­cate over the Web which is essen­tial because most clients are not in town.”

Julián Figliolo, FOUNDER, 021 STUDIO

The Future of Coworking – Collaboration and Partnerships

According to Julián at 021 Studio there are further reasons behind the rise of cowor­king spaces, which have led to a perma­nent place for cowor­king today and into the future: “Cowor­king has flou­rished a lot in the short time since the reces­sion. People found them­selves with empty offices which were converted into cowor­king spaces. Now the concept of cowor­king is widespread which leads to a great deal of compe­ti­tion and, there­fore, we must compete on services.”

“Being a member at 021 pres­ents endless job oppor­tu­nities for members. We have inter­na­tional and crea­tive members, are abreast of new trends, and can apply this know­ledge to the benefit of ever­yone inclu­ding clients. From cowor­king, you develop a more produc­tive way of working, new contacts and constantly new job oppor­tu­nities. The concept of colla­bo­ra­tive work is strongly empha­sized and we take advan­tage of this rising new working model.”

And this is where the true value and benefit of cowor­king spaces lies – colla­bo­ra­tion. This is what has cemented cowor­king spaces in the busi­ness world.

Nowa­days, cowor­king spaces are inno­va­tion centres that offer colla­bo­ra­tion oppor­tu­nities as well as educa­tional and social bene­fits at cost-effec­tive rates, while helping the local commu­nity. According to Lawton Ursrey, a Forbes contri­butor, we are moving towards a commu­nity that will impact the local economy. By looking at the smaller, local picture, we are adding to the big picture. In fact, The Cube has formed part­ners­hips with local London enter­prises, which adds to the expe­ri­ence for the members.

“Part­ners­hips, such as with the London College of Commu­ni­ca­tion, is the next step for cowor­king spaces as it places greater value on being a member,” explains Araceli. “The attrac­tion is that this is a commu­nity rather than just a random group of people. For us, this is also why we vet people because it will become important to clients to know that you are part of The Cube.”

“The attrac­tion is that this is a commu­nity. If your client knows that you are part of co-working space and can benefit from other co-workers there, then there is a benefit.”


In Summary

Consi­de­ring economic condi­tions and the explo­sion of tech­no­logy and online colla­bo­ra­tion services in recent years, the rise of cowor­king spaces makes perfect sense. A shared office space brings like-minded people toge­ther who can benefit from each other’s expe­ri­ence and exper­tise, network and share contacts, as well as even colla­bo­rate on projects toge­ther. Most import­antly, it’s the clients of cowor­king spaces which benefit the grea­test from this.

Have you had expe­ri­ence with co-working spaces, and if not, would you consider it? Please share your thoughts with us in comments below.

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