Coworking supports productivity and innovation as the third pillar of flexible work. It is not just startups and digital nomads who benefit from coworking, larger companies are profiting too.
Text: Urs Binder
Knowledge workers, who make up 43 per cent of employees in Switzerland according to Eurostat 2015, could potentially profit most from flexible forms of work. However, traditional working models are still the general rule, as shown, for example, by the 2016 Flexwork Survey from the Work Smart initiative: Only 24 percent of those surveyed work “very often” or “frequently” while on the move. At the same time, the economic landscape is undergoing a fundamental change. Innovation arises in small startups, large companies obtain individual services from highly specialised micro-companies and, according to the “Workplace of the Future” study, carried out by Deloitte, one quarter of employees work on the move as a freelancer in their main or secondary occupation. Fixed job locations and attendance times do not fit with such an environment.
Alongside working in the company offices, here are three scenarios for flexible work: Home Offices reduce time spent commuting, but limit contact with the team. Mobile Office - i.e. working on the move on a train, in a cafe and wherever an internet connection is possible - offers the highest degree of flexibility, but is not overly suited to concentration. Coworking offers a middle ground between the flexible, but relatively lonely option of working from home and the corporate office: working together with others in one room and using a communal infrastructure - on an hourly or daily basis, or even in the longer term. Coworking spaces create a comfortable atmosphere in which it is possible to concentrate on your work and hold stimulating conversations with colleagues from both your own and entirely different industries.
The term coworking was coined by software developer Brad Neuberg in 2005. With the first coworking space in San Francisco - 8 workstations, sublet in the alternative wellbeing centre, Spiral Muse - Neuberg wanted to connect the freedom and independence offered by freelance work with the structure and sense of community that result from working with others. The basic values of Community, Openness, Collaboration, Sustainability and Accessibility, which continue to resound in many coworking spaces today, can all trace their roots to this beginning.
In the first month, according to Neuberg’s blog, nobody wanted to take him up on his offer, but since then, the idea has spread around the globe. Today, coworking spaces exist in the most varied of forms. They range from small companies, primarily from the creativity and IT industry, which lease surplus office space to people interested in coworking, right up to dedicated providers with dozens or even hundreds of spaces, such as Citizen Space in Zürich, founded in 2007, and Impact Hub with locations in Zürich and Bern, which belong to a global, membership-based network. The municipality of Birsfelden even has a coworking option for craftsmen with workshop and storage spaces. An interactive map of the Swiss Coworking Association shows over 40 coworking spaces in all parts of the country: the coverage is practically nationwide, with spaces in both large cities and nearby locations such as Bottighofen, Samedan and Glarus Süd. This does not include the numerous, classic business centres, which also provide increased office spaces in open-plan offices.
Coworking is ideally suited to the startup scene and digital nomads as they thrive on information exchange and community spirit. Yet companies can also profit from this if they make coworking available to their employees or emerge as a coworking provider, as ZKB did, for example, with the “Büro Züri” [Züri Office]. Establishing networks with the community is inspiring and can foster innovation. Employees can increase their efficiency and flexibility by making use of a coworking space between customer meetings, for example. Coworking spaces present themselves as a “third place” for knowledge workers searching for a refuge from the company premises, but still wanting to separate their work and private lives - something which is only too difficult in a home office. Coworking spaces can also serve as inspiration for the layout of the corporate office or as an additional location to retreat to in order to focus on project work and brainstorming. And last but not least, a company can position itself as a progressive workplace by providing its employees with coworking opportunities.
“For me, coworking means flexibility - out of our buildings, out of the office environment we know, out of the same old 9 to 5 routine”
Gaetano Mecenero, Head Content Marketing Strategy & Projects
In Switzerland, several companies are currently experimenting with coworking, including Swiss Post, Migros and ZKB. AXA is leading the way in this field, as Gaetano Mecenero notes, Head Content Marketing Strategy & Projects at the Winterthur Insurance Company. He is enthusiastic about this: “for me, coworking means flexibility - out of our buildings, out of the office environment we know, out of the same old 9 to 5 routine”. AXA employees who are not bound by fixed attendance times can reserve free coworking spaces at over 100 locations easily using the PopupOffice online platform. Mecenero fathered the idea of collaborating with PopupOffice, pushed it through management and is an active coworking advocate. AXA also cooperates with Impact Hub Zürich, something in which Mecenero sees clear advantages: “we are aware that, in this digital age, we must strike out in new directions. An Impact Hub and people in general who are on the move digitally help a lot in this regard.” Several AXA employees now spend one or two days a week working at Impact Hub, and the AXA Innovation Team regularly works and holds meetings there. And workshops often take place in these offices too - including with management participation.
The PopupOffice online platform allows anyone interested to reserve coworking spaces spontaneously at a fixed hourly price (currently 8 Francs). The offer includes numerous coworking spaces in Basel, Bern, Geneva, Lucerne, St. Gallen, Winterthur and Zürich. For business customers, PopupOffice offers company accounts with automatic, monthly invoicing of all hours booked and a company dashboard allowing companies to track usage in real time.
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