How Coworking Can Give Large Corporations an Edge

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WeWork's Fulton Center coworking space in New York City. Image via
WeWork’s Fulton Center coworking space in New York City. Image via

There’s a reason today’s hottest talent and most promising minds aren’t jumping ship at their beloved startup to join the ranks at larger, more established organizations. They’re staying put because they love their scrappy, do-what-needs-to-be-done culture and aren’t willing to risk a move that might necessitate wearing ties and wingtips — even if that move comes with a great paycheck or newfound security.

But this reality is sobering news for many large companies looking to breathe new life into their work. They need those industry rock stars as much as they need the experience that seasoned employees can offer. In fact, they depend on fresh talent to disrupt their industry, ask challenging questions, integrate technology, and push innovation from concept to commercial viability.

So what stands in the way? For many job candidates — especially millennials — where and how work happens can be just as important as what they’re doing, which means that offering an inspiring space that facilitates relationships and boosts employee engagement is key.

Coworking goes mainstream

To achieve this and stimulate disruption, large global brands are building coworking facilities within their own walls with the hopes of bringing that fun, collaborative energy a little closer to home. Not intended to generate revenue, these internal coworking spaces ramp up the company’s “wow” factor and promise internal collisions, new ideas, and revitalized innovation in places long saddled with HR policies and red tape.

Jamie Russo, founder of Enerspace Coworking and the executive director of the Global Workspace Association says, “When leadership recognizes the need for more collaboration, engagement and flexibility, they look to the coworking model for inspiration. They are pursuing the community and engagement that an effective, activity-based space plan can empower.”

These internal coworking spaces ramp up the company’s ‘wow’ factor and promise internal collisions, new ideas, and revitalized innovation in places long saddled with HR policies and red tape.

But despite its ubiquitous presence among entrepreneurs, coworking itself is not a silver bullet. In fact, our affection for coworking highlights that what companies really want is a culture like those found at coworking spaces: cultures that support authentic expression and fast-paced prototyping. They want their own “startup culture”. A culture where people are empowered and have the opportunity and tools to share ideas and thoughts regardless of roles, titles, or department.

Ready for startup culture in your workplace?

For the past year, turnstone researchers have studied emerging companies across the U.S. in an attempt to understand the themes contributing to startup culture. We’ve uncovered four that large companies can incorporate into their workplaces right now to get an edge in the war on talent:

1. Passion

Startups live, eat, and breathe their passion because they love what they do. They’ve so blurred the lines between work and home that many turn their space into a kind of “clubhouse” or second residence, allowing them to work nearly round-the-clock. Their passion drives them to garner funding, launch new inventions, and stake their claim as industry disruptors — all on just a few hours of sleep and a lot of caffeine. Show the world you’re passionate about what you do by splashing your logo, mission statement, and authentic motivational quotes throughout your space. Know why you do what you do, too. Does the team have a specific project or objective? Your team will be inspired knowing they’re contributing to a cause much larger than themselves.

2. Authenticity

With the surge of millennials entering the workforce, authenticity is a new non-negotiable. Whether it’s authentic photography in marketing materials or authentic human interactions in the office, workers have tossed their masks aside and staying true to themselves. There’s a real connection between this and the physical environment, too. Increasingly, people want to work in ways that feel natural: standing height tables for some, traditional desks for others, or for 32 percent of Gen Y, working in lounge postures similar to their living room at home. Whether in a meeting with teammates or at the bar with friends, this “what you see is what you get” attitude is transforming the workplace. Celebrate diversity and clearly communicate that people don’t have to check their individuality at the door, but that they’re accepted for who they are. Demonstrate a commitment to authenticity by allowing your people to choose where and how they work best. Trust that you’ve hired dedicated people, too. The woman with the headphones is probably saying, “Leave me alone, I’m focused,” and the guy in t-shirt with his feet up might actually be working longer than the one “who looks like he’s working hard” in a cube.

3. Personality

Yesterday’s beige cubicles create a sea of sameness. Instead of blending in, take a page from the coworking community by adding personality to your space with artwork you love, elements from personal hobbies and photos of family. Taken a step further, companies can put their personalities on display with cohesive, branded workplace designs that signal their values and vision for the future. Give workers a sense of ownership in your space and boost engagement by encouraging personal expression in the office. At the same time, send a message to visiting clients and guests that your brand’s unique attention to detail is just a hint of what they’d experience working with you. A little humor is healthy, and fun is not the opposite of work. When people are free to be themselves, they let down their guard, boosting creativity and making it easier for that next great idea to slip out.

4. Agility

Startups set themselves apart from the crowd by pushing ideas forward at unprecedented speed. This agility allows them to make adjustments and pivot altogether if validation fails or funding changes. And because of their age and size, HR policies and corporate processes are generally unbaked, creating a clear pathway for decision-making and strategy development. Foster agility in your space with floor plans that mimic coworking facilities in layout and scope. Open plans encourage communication and iteration, fast-tracking ideas in record time. But don’t neglect your team’s need for privacy, either. Once plans are in place, your team will need quiet spaces to do the hard work of implementation. If you’re going for the kinds of creative collisions that happen in coworking spaces, make sure your space has the tools to capture ideas before they disappear. Whiteboards and markers are powerful players in analog creation and collaboration.

This piece was co-written by Jeff Joerling and Jane Graham, a brand writer for turnstone.
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  1. Great article Jeff. I agree with all the points you highlighted for creating the spirit of a startup and/or coworking workplace. One of your points “Authenticity” is, in my opinion, one of the most important elements and glad you called that one out. So many companies miss this and don’t realize how important it is for their workforce, especially Gen Y and now Gen Z just entering the workforce. Companies need to personalize their approach to each generation in their workforce and address the needs of each generation in their workspaces. Ultimately, the workspaces drive better employee engagement and that typically means higher profitability, higher productivity and lower turnover.


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