“Coworking is challenging, but HR should learn to love it”

The way in which people work and live is shifting. The rise of the sharing economy, epitomised by the likes of Uber and Airbnb, is characteristic of a wider societal change. People value flexibility as never before and this is being realised by technological advances. Coworking, a style of working that involves a shared working environment, often with employees from different organisations, is one manifestation of this shift.

When implemented with robust workplace and real estate strategies, it can improve business performance as well as staff wellbeing and engagement.

Coworking encourages collaboration and innovation while allowing employees more flexible working arrangements – a desire particularly strong in generations X and Y. As a method to improve business performance, coworking can help to reduce cost, encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing, and act as a catalyst for staff engagement and creativity.

The agile workplace and alternative locations offered by coworking spaces can help provide flexibility for business

growth and change, as well as acting as a tool for attracting and retaining talent.

While coworking is an umbrella term that covers a number of different workplace circumstances, our research shows there are four key models of coworking applied by businesses.

The first, the ‘internal coworking’ model, sees a business create a hub within its own office for employees from previously siloed departments to work together as a way of encouraging increased collaboration and communication.

Under the ‘coworking membership’ model, a company purchases memberships in a specialised coworking space – giving its employees access to a wider range of workplace settings. Importantly, this gives the organisation the flexibility to adjust easily to unexpected changes in staffing requirements.

The ‘external coworking space’ model places businesses and employees within a specialised coworking area shared with several other companies, which encourages the dissemination of ideas and knowledge sharing and exposes employees to different ways of working.

Finally, larger businesses are also opening their offices to start-ups and entrepreneurs. This gives the host company access to new ideas and fresh ways of thinking, while the entrepreneurs are able to network with experienced businesspeople.

HR teams dealing with coworking for the first time will need to overcome a number of challenges to make it a success. All but the first of these models involve individuals from different businesses working in close proximity. Naturally, there are issues to be resolved regarding the protection of sensitive information and data. While data security will not be a new issue to HR departments, it is magnified by coworking and adequate procedures will need to be put in place to mitigate this additional risk.

Measures such as separate servers and private wi-fi networks should be among the first considerations. The theory, however, doesn’t always match the practice and successful policy is often iterative as working habits and patterns become clearer and more established.

HR also needs to bear in mind that the intermingling of staff from different businesses can, in some cases, lead to cultural clashes. It’s important, therefore, to attempt to match the climate in the coworking space with the pre-existing corporate culture or make efforts to smooth any transition.

Without a doubt, coworking is here to stay. As with any new working arrangement, there are challenges to be overcome and worked through. However, with the potential boons to creativity and productivity, as well as its effects on talent acquisition and retention, businesses cannot afford to ignore it.

Source: CIPD

Date: 08th August, 2016

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