The quality of coworking memberships and short term office space varies. I want to outline some things you should look for when examining each prospective option.
It is useful to understand where the dream of coworking departs from reality. Coworking sprung out of a desire for more flexible workspace. Hip startups and companies started removing the cubicles and walls in office space. In the extreme, not even the CEO has a dedicated desk. Employees could use the workspace in a more agile way.
The first coworking providers mirrored this trend. You could come and do work with a collection of other strangers. All you needed was a desk and an internet connection.
It even has advantages over the company based open-plan office. At least there was no-one that would walk over and interrupt you for a chat while you were trying to do work.
Talking to many of the coworking providers today gives a different perspective. Hot-deskers are a necessary inconvenience. They’re part of the marketing. The office becomes not a place to work, but also to network.
Coworking providers want office tenants not coworking members. The salesperson shows the coworking area and booths for meetings. Never mind that the booths are gone by 9 am.
In some ways they’re like Gyms. They sell more memberships than they could fit if everyone came together.
With this perspective in mind, here are some things you should focus on when looking for a membership.
Most coworking providers offer a trial day. During your trial day, try to sit in as many of the different seats as possible. Plenty of providers optimise for how hip it looks versus comfort while working. I’ve seen chairs without backs. Tables so close you could touch knees with the person opposite. You won’t know until you’ve tried them.
Bring the equipment you would bring on a typical day. Start when you would normally start. As an aside, a laptop-stand like the Roost, and a keyboard/mouse combo can make a big difference.
Try to go during a hot or cold day. Temperature is an essential factor. Today I was at Spaces - Paris, Réaumur, it was so cold that I had to leave. Not an isolated problem. The temperature has been a problem across a lot of their venues.
I also like to check amenities like the coffee machine. If they’re not working properly, chances are they’ll never be working properly.
How Busy Is It?
As above, it’s essential to do a trial day at your prospective location. Go early, sit and watch the place fill up. If the better seating is all taken by 9:00 am, and you’re a late starter, you’re never going to sit in those seats.
You can also listen to how polite people are. Most often, the coworking provider will provide phone booths for calls. Do the members use them or make you listen? Hub385 in Zagreb was strict, in the right way, there was pretty much no talking inside the coworking area. Either move to the kitchen or use a phone booth.
It can be more challenging with WeWork and Spaces with many locations and global passes. Try to visit more than one. If they’re selling you on the ability to move around, then you should see how that varies.
In the case of Spaces, the locations have varied. In all, I’ve visited 15-20 of their venues. They range from unusable to excellent.
Who makes the decisions?
Location managers only have a certain amount of latitude with WeWork and Spaces. They’re not the decision-makers. They don’t set the policies, and they can’t negotiate on your contracts. If something goes wrong, and it will, who will have the power to correct it?
My Spaces membership left me aware they can screw you over given the right circumstances.
Another indicator can be how a given provider gets back to you. When I was seeking workspace in Tallinn, I emailed 3-4 providers. By the time several of them got back to me, I had already visited and signed a contract with Workland.
Who are the other tenants?
Many of the coworking providers offer networking events. It can be very enlightening to learn a little about the people sharing the space. Are they startups? Consultants?
While memberships vary, the intent is that you will work in this location every weekday. If the person talks on the phone all day in the common area today, they’ll do it every day for the rest of the year.
How do you get treated when you arrive?
You will interact with the receptionist and other staff throughout your membership. Is the process for getting you checked in smooth? If not, it will annoy you after a while.
At Workland in Tallinn, the interaction with staff was enjoyable. The feeling that you were valued went a long way. I had to race the receptionist to buzz the door open. The receptionist also made sure I knew when social events were happening.
On the flipside, Spaces makes it painful to get into a lot of their venues. They have an app that shows your member number, but you have to wait each time they write it down. They lock the doors, so you have to ring a doorbell to get in. At Spaces - Les Halles, there is a barrier to get to the lift that requires a swipe card. If you go for coffee, you have to wait to get back in. It becomes clear that they want your money, but don’t want to provide the service.
Member Portal, Apps and Billing
Looking at the complaints left for Spaces/Regus, a lot of the problems come from billing. Being incorrectly charged. Having to fight to get your bond back. Being locked into a contract when the internal or external conditions change.
Having experienced this, I would be hesitant to do anything more than month-to-month.
There are many customers’ reviews sharing being stuck in contracts despite construction. Regus/Spaces is a prime offender when it comes to this.
How well the member portal and apps function can be a good sign of potential future problems. The staff behind the desk will also likely be using the same system. If it crashes, as the Spaces one seems to, it’s a fair sign of other problems.
The Spaces app has been so unreliable. One receptionist suggested taking a screenshot and using that instead.
Another laughable example when it comes to Spaces is the QR code within the app. After visiting 15-20 venues, I have never seen it used to check me in. 1 year later it’s still there.
It’s hard to be comprehensive with a list like this. Everyone’s requirements vary. In my case, I was looking for a portable coworking membership, which limited my options.
The coworking offering from Spaces seemed like the perfect fit, and in some ways it is. But that’s discounting that the parent company IWG can’t seem to manage to treat people well. In my case, the relationship when south over the way they have behaved during the pandemic.
I haven’t used the competitive offerings, once my Spaces membership has expired I will give one of them a go. I’ll update this after I’ve had a chance to try it.
Thank you for reading. I hope you found this useful. If you have any questions, find me on Twitter and ask me anything.