In the past quarter (Q3 2019), both Dhawal (my business partner) and I (Rishi), got a chance to work together for a slightly longer period than we usually get. I spent the month of August in Philadelphia and Dhawal spent Mid-September to Mid-October in New Delhi. The reason why I am mentioning these different geographies is because our office in India is a traditional office setup and our office in Philadelphia is in a Co-working space. This leads us to obvious discussions as to what is better for a company.
In this blog, we try to pen down our thoughts from our first-hand experience from both worlds.
1) Defining the company culture
Building and maintaining a culture is the toughest part of running a company. The leaders of a company should be the ones defining the culture and take responsibility for the same, but the employees are the ones that brighten up that culture and amplify it by bringing their own self. Therefore, self-expression needs to be encouraged and that is where a lot of companies struggle while building a culture. I could see this being a challenge while working in a co-working space. So many different cultures together in a place can become a hodgepodge. Also, in our case, we are using We-Work as our co-working space – which itself is not too famous for its culture. This point is more valid for newer companies, less valid for older established companies. The newer ones build their culture in an environment and the older ones bring theirs.
The traditional office wins this one.
2) The networking factor
The biggest plus of a co-working space is the network you get in touch with. In my case, though my stay lasted only a week, I was able to interact with 3-4 co-founders and we were successful in creating a business relationship with one of them. Though one might argue that there are many offline activities that can help facilitate business networking, our point would be that these places can help in building business relationships. Along with that, many corporates have started moving to co-working spaces, therefore many more opportunities open up for smaller businesses to tag along with these guys.
Co-working spaces win this one.
3) Why are the earphones always on?
The concept of co-working revolved around working and building towards a community, using real estate efficiently, having a more open culture, etc. If we are working in a community setup, then why do people always have their headphones on? The answer is simple, the physical walls have been broken but the psychological walls have become stronger. When we are actually doing something productive, we usually need to get in a zone of high concentration and pinpoint focus, that is why we need to get into our psychological cabin to do the work. Co-working spaces follow the open office cultural style and there is a lot of research done by prominent professors which proves that the Open Culture has not been able to provide the value that is projected.
This point is kind of a tie, with a slight edge to traditional offices.
4) Paid to work vs Paid to stay
The underlying principle behind me keeping my seat/office space in a co-working space vs a traditional office is different. In an office, I stick to my seat or move to a better one as I perform well i.e. I stay as long as I do well. Whereas in a co-working space I stay if I pay i.e. Perform and stay vs Pay and stay. This model can provide you with a fake sense of comfort and entitlement which can have a deep impact on your focus and motivation.
Traditional office spaces win this one.
5) Distractions Galore
In a traditional office, everyone around you is somewhat aligned with the same goals, core company values, and company culture. Everything happening around you is potentially connected to you in one way or another. In a co-working space, people small talk around you, some non-courteous individuals can be loud and distracting. Another reason for the headphones to be on, I guess.
The traditional office wins this.
6) Maintenance is not your headache
A broken printer, running out of coffee/tea/sugar, leaking taps, having a clean workspace – all of these plus many others are taken care of in a co-working space. In traditional offices, we either give out a maintenance contract to a company, have an in-house person handing this for you, or you might be getting your hands dirty (and wasting your productive time) in this effort. For some, this can be a point to consider while making a move.
A clear win for co-working spaces.
These are just some of the differences that we observed, discussed, researched, and talked to others about with others. Our final 2 cents which we would like to preach and practice – When a smaller company grows from 1-3 people to 5+, it is time to move to your own office.
This is the time when you will be defining the DNA of your company to last for the 20 years to come. It has to be an intimate, stimulating, and motivated setup. If you are an older company where there are people who travel a lot and most of your current office space is underutilized, then moving to a coworking space makes sense.