Mid sized businesses tap coworking spaces

| October 25, 2016

Coworking spaces are popping up all over the place and smart mid sized businesses are using them as a base for travelling staff or as a stepping-stone to expansion. What are they all about and what do you need to make them a success?

Coworking spaces around the world are booming – and they are not just for freelancers and start-ups any more. Established businesses are seriously considering them too.

When ShoreTel were investigating new office space in Hong Kong earlier this year, we looked at quite a few coworking options. In Australia, we already have established offices in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra – but I would seriously consider coworking spaces if we added new people in any other city.

The growth in coworking Australia has been remarkable. In Melbourne, the industry grew by more than 750 per cent in the last three years, according to a recent report by the property consultancy firm Knight Frank.

For companies with a vibrant, entrepreneurial culture, coworking can be a great fit. These spaces provide you with the flexibility, collaboration and interactivity that can be missing for home workers – where your people can feel isolated and out-of-touch. Coworking spaces also provide a great base for your travelling staff, when they are in a city where your business might not have a conventional office presence.

However, apart from some basic services like an internet connection, power, desk space, meeting rooms and a shared printer, coworking spaces usually don’t give you much in the way of infrastructure. You will probably get Wi-Fi, but no LAN connection, and almost never telephony.

This lack of connectivity is one of the biggest hurdles facing the coworking industry and, despite its rapid growth, the key factor preventing its mass adoption.

In today’s digital business world, most of us now operate in a hyper-connected, data-intensive work environment. Connectivity is key – not just for data, but also for voice and video, and in the future IoT (Internet of Things) and machine-to-machine communications.

Most of the people I see today using coworking spaces are relying on their mobile phones and even their own cellular data networks for communications and connectivity. That’s not always good enough if you are a business establishing yourself in a new country or new city, looking to leverage all the benefits a coworking space offers.

When you look behind the 750 per cent growth in coworking spaces in Melbourne, it’s not the mid-size organisations (the ‘First 5000’) that account for this growth. Freelancers and small businesses with fewer than four employees are booming, with 1,842 new companies since 2014, or some 87 per cent of all Melbourne businesses.

How to make it work
However, the increased availability of Unified Communications-as-a-Service (UCaaS) could be starting to change the demographics of coworking spaces and can help medium sized businesses take the plunge.

With UC, you can bring your communications with you – you don’t have to have a deskphone and you don’t need a dedicated phone line. All you need is a laptop and internet connectivity and away you go.

UCaaS is a cloud-based service which means you don’t need your own infrastructure to use it – so as long as the coworking space provides decent connectivity, you can enjoy all the benefits of communications and collaboration with your colleagues in other parts of Australia or around the world – just as if you are in a fully-functioning corporate office environment.

It makes sense for coworking space providers to offer UCaaS as a value-added service for its members. It provides access to communications tools without the costly infrastructure of traditional systems, or establishment costs that come with setting up a separate UCaaS service. For some mid sized businesses the service is already in use within the company which makes coworking spaces even more attractive.