Tag: co-working spaces

By Suman Bhattacharyya for Digiday 

As a growing number of people go to Amazon to buy office supplies, Office Depot is trying to find another use for its nearly 1 400 physical stores. One it’s testing: Transforming them into co-working spaces.

The company is testing the concept through a Los Gatos, California-based “Workonomy Hub” it opened in August. Inside it, a 5 000 square-foot co-working space includes open “hot desks”, closed offices, a lounge with a Starbucks kiosk, and an online-order pickup and shipping area. It’s an effort to repurpose empty store space as a co-working and business-service hub — and a place businesses can learn about and take advantage of consulting services that cover marketing, business development and staffing.

“The traditional retail model is highly focused on convenience, and making one sale today; we have that as a component of our business, but we want that longer-term relationship with the customer,” said Kevin Moffitt, chief retail officer at Office Depot.”[Small-business] customers are already coming to us for marketing services, print services and tech services, and for us, it’s a natural adjacency to the products and services we already offer.”

The repurposing of vacant retail space for service and co-working offerings is a trend across the industry. Malls are opening up unused space to shared workspace providers and startup incubation programs. Meanwhile, traditional retailers are redesigning store spaces as service hubs. For example, Staples last year partnered with co-working startup Workbar to roll out co-working spaces with happy hours and slick modern designs.

The trend is also going another way, with industry heavyweights like WeWork adding ancillary services to support small businesses, including, most recently, ad agency-style marketing services.

Office Depot, which has seen services as a portion of its Business Services Division revenue grow 28 percent year over year, sees co-working spaces as a customer acquisition channel for its services offerings. It’s using its connections with community groups, along with its capacities to advise businesses on both strategy, as well as tech, as differentiators against businesses wholly dedicated to co-working.

“Our approach is that it’s everything you need under a single roof with support from dedicated specialists and associates,” Moffitt said.

Office Depot declined to comment on whether the Los Gatos Workonomy Hub is profitable, but the company said it’s considering other markets in which co-working spaces would meet demand. The company’s CEO Gerry Smith, however, recently told investors early results from the co-working space are encouraging, driving higher sales for services and products compared to the average store.

To help meet the demand for service offerings, Moffitt said Office Depot has access to thousands of trained service staff the company inherited from its CompuCom acquisition last year. Despite the fact that consulting staff can be expensive, he said Office Depot is making a longer-term play for customer loyalty, which can be underpinned through connections made at co-working hubs.

To industry watchers, Office Depot’s foray into co-working is illustrative of the growing demand for shared office spaces as gig economy workers seek flexible workspace in crowded, expensive metropolitan areas. Charlie Robinson, svp for the U.S. at Servcorp, a global provider for shared office space, said for shared workspace providers, the landlord model isn’t enough of a longer-term strategy for sustainability.

“You don’t want to only be in the rent arbitrage game — over 50 percent of our revenues come from other services,” he said.

Co-working: the new normal

Co-working spaces, shared office spaces that are typically used by the self-employed or those working for various different companies, are soaring in popularity the world over.

“So much so,” said Linda Trim, Director at workplace design specialists Giant Leap, “that working in a co-working space is rapidly becoming the new normal even for those who have traditional 9 to 5 jobs.”

Trim noted than there are currently 14 411 co-working spaces around the world today making it fastest growing type of commercial property. Globally, shared workspaces have grown at an rapid rate of 200% over the past five years. In global cities like London, New York and Chicago they are expanding at an annual rate of 20%.

“Co-working places are rapidly becoming the workplace of choice. Globally they are expected to be close on 4-million people who will be members of a co-working office by 2020 and that number is expected to rise to over 5-million by 2022.”

Trim added that in South Africa the trend is not as developed as it is in countries like the US, but is quickly catching on. “In major business nodes like Sandton for example, co-working places are springing up all over. For instance FutureSpace is a high end co-working space that is as appealing as WeWork, the hugely successful American co-working company that has offices in 21 countries.”

Co-working became an attractive concept because when it first started to appear, it countered the negative views of the traditional office of drab interiors with tired people spending their lives in cubicles under harsh neon lights.

“If we look back to just a few years ago, co-working was considered to be a movement or a trend, with many believing it would fade. But now co-working is a full-blown industry that is disrupting the real estate industry and the way people work.

They known for offering environments that are conducive to innovation, collaboration, and productivity. These type of workplaces were pioneers in implementing a human approach to design, a trend which is catching up among real estate developers, landlords and of course companies.

“For now co-working is today’s normal.”

The extent to which co-working has gone mainstream is evidenced in the fact that large companies are increasingly seeking to enhance the workplace experience as a means to attract and retain talent, and that a significant percentage of workers who have the option to work from home or a coffee shop prefer to work from a co-working space.

Said Trim: “By 2020, we expect 50% of large companies to have some form of shared office space to offer their workers.”

She also noted that co-working spaces were having a very positive impact on people. 84% of people who use co-working spaces are more engaged and motivated while 89% who co-work report being happier.

“The co-working phenomenon has also spurred companies to make their existing offices much more people friendly and relaxed,“ Trim noted.

“On many of our briefs now we are told to design something that makes people feel they are in a relaxed environment somewhere between a coffee bar and their lounge at home.”

She added that the growth in co-working spaces will likely remain strong with a forecasted growth rate of 15% over the next 5 years.

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