Ask Alto : Can co-working spaces give you the edge when attracting top talent?

October 03, 2023 Share this article:

Ask Alto

In July this year, Visual Capitalist reported that post-Covid, there are one billion square feet of empty office space in the United States alone. Represented as a single office tower, that’s 48,125 ghost floors stretching 529,375 feet (approx. 161,000 metres) into the thermosphere. A recent McKinsey Global Institute report on the pandemic’s lasting impact on real estate suggests it’s not about to get better anytime soon, notwithstanding efforts by employers in the US to get knowledge workers back to the office after the Labor Day Weekend.

Based on an in-depth analysis of nine ‘superstar’ cities around the world (and supported by data from a further 41 metropolitan areas), the McKinsey report expects that demand for office space in 2030 will be 20 per cent lower than it was in 2019 for some cities. And it’s not just because many knowledge workers prefer to work from home – although research does show that the more senior/skilled the employee, the more attached they tend to be to this privilege. The reasons are a complex blend of Covid-inspired behaviour changes (migration out of cities into the suburbs facilitated by remote and hybrid work policies) combined with macro-economic factors, such as rising interest rates and fear of recession, all of which have caused many companies to re-evaluate their office requirements.

The result is what McKinsey terms ‘a flight to quality’. Simply put, instead of aiming for ample B- or C-class office space, the focus has switched to smaller and perfectly equipped A-class spaces that both facilitate remote work and make going into the office a delight and not a duty.

For many smaller companies, the solution has been an arrangement with co-working providers, who offer high standards of facilities and services that the employer could not afford if they had to foot the entire bill themselves.

There could be hidden expenses though. Having employees dispersed across shared workspaces also means being smarter about digital branding (intranets, screen savers, video-conferencing backdrops, email signatures) and old-school products that employees feel proud to brandish. Think reusable coffee cups, water bottles, lanyards and Moleskine note pads. It would also be necessary to be more structured: if you have to book a boardroom in advance, impromptu meetings might be a thing of the past. In general, team members would need to have clarity from their team leaders around “how things are done” in a space that doesn’t belong exclusively to them.

How to choose a co-working space

Just like corporate offices, not all work-sharing spaces are created equal. A well-managed co-working space can combine the best of an exclusive club with a well-oiled business centre, gym and top-drawer concierge facilities.

Companies thinking of using a co-working space as their office have the luxury of choosing the best set of amenities for their people. Here are some of the key things that top talent have told us would clinch the deal for them:

1. Beauty: The psychology of a beautiful work environment is well understood. Research demonstrates that there is a relationship between the perception of beauty and the impact of design on human health, well-being and even behaviour, and has been shown to improve mood and cognition. A beautiful view will achieve the same effect.

2. Concierge service, sometimes known as a lobby/reception manager, to welcome guests and troubleshoot internet and booking issues. Some top-end co-working spaces can also notarise documents and make restaurant and travel bookings.

3. IT and tech support on demand.

4. Availability outside of normal office hours. Some, such as The Great Room in Singapore, offer 24/7 access for members.

5. A variety of work and play configurations – hot desks, standing desks, call booths, soundproof meeting rooms, places to throw a party, and facilities to extract breast milk, meditate or pray.

6. Super-fast, unlimited Wi-Fi.

7. An efficient online booking app.

8. Secure parking.

9. Free coffee and water. Never underestimate the allure of a truly great free coffee – as they serve at HUBSY Arts et Metiers in Paris.

10. Serviced and well-maintained kitchen facilities.

11. A clear code of conduct that governs how members use the space. What to do with the pacers – those who cannot take a phone call sitting down; the multi-taskers who put every call on loudspeaker; the ones who have no idea how to pack a dishwasher; the desk-eaters who watch YouTube videos without headphones; the latecomers; and the covert vapers. The list of things that can annoy you in a co-working space is no different to the irritation of a traditional corporate environment, except you don’t have HR to mediate.

12. Proximity to other amenities – fresh food, retail outlets, gyms, parks, schools and public transport routes.

13. Reciprocity with other co-working spaces, regionally and internationally.

14. Dog friendly.