Why Millennials are Opting for Coworking
Originally written by HUCKLETREE founder Gabriela Hersham for TEDxMorganStanley (October 2016)
It’s widely considered that over half a million people are working out of coworking spaces around the world today.
When you consider that the average coworking space is just over two and a half years old, this statistic is vast. So significant is, in fact, that CBRE predicts that by 2030 traditional workplaces will be in the minority, although it actually seems likely to happen much sooner than that.
And separately, there’s the fact that us Millennials are now the largest generation in the workforce, which begs the question as to whether we’re somehow, in some small way, responsible for this incredibly huge shift.
And so, I’ve been thinking about the many ways that technology has opened us up to a world of possibilities — possibilities that no generation before us had access to — and whether it could be plausible that our generation’s values might have caused a complete change in the way we work?
The result? I’ve identified six characteristics emblematic of us Millennials (and no, not the fact that we’re ridiculously good at taking selfies, experience more FOMO than all other generations through history combined or the fact that we’re allegedly disproportionately opposed to vaccination…) but rather, six positive values universally associated with our generation that could in fact be considered the very cause of the explosion of the global coworking industry.
And here they are:
1. We are the startup generation
Let’s start with the easy one. More than ever before, today we are leaving university and looking for work in the creative industries, at a startup or even starting our own businesses. The landscape of work was suddenly changed forever in 2008 and as a result there are nearly 5 million self-employed people in the UK today.
We’re risk-takers, we believe in the power of failure, and in the learnings that failing fast can offer.
When I ask my parents who the household names were when they were my age, my father says Mick Jagger and my mother says Bruce Springsteen. Today, our household names are names like Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and Marissa Mayer!
And how has this affected the way we work?
As a generation, we are gravitating towards workplaces that bolster our innovation — in very much the same vein and with a similar ethos to the offices of the likes of Google and Facebook.
Where the past 5 years have been characterised by workspace perks that include slides between floors, craft beer on tap and games rooms, we’re now moving away from the kitsch and towards more sustainable, more human ways of using the workspace to embody the culture we’re trying to create.
2. We are the founding proponents of the sharing economy
Creating shared resources has become second nature to us. Why? Many of us graduated university in the midst of the recession. We then entered into the wide world to face an extremely tough job market — and this has made us cautious and, more significantly, has led to a shift in behaviour: as a generation, we’re putting off those big purchases — somewhat indefinitely.
Back in the day people wanted to own, but today we just want to have access.
But how has this impacted the workplaces we’re choosing? The sharing economy (or collaborative consumption/gig economy, however you know it) — has, literally, shown itself as the answer — with shared transportation, accommodation and workspaces amidst the 17 sharing economy startups estimated to have reached unicorn status.
3. We measure our lives in experiences
As a generation, we‘re measuring our happiness not in the possessions we own, but in living the thrill of the experiences we participate in and the memories created.
Whereas in the 1950’s owning a car was a rite of passing, today our income is powering the experience economy; we want to live more experiential lives.
Experiences that include traveling, concerts, immersive events, cultural events, festivals and workshops — but aren’t only limited to the extra-curricular. Whereas successful companies previously considered the customer experience, today we are placing equal focus on creating memorable employee experiences: because our generation’s value system dictates that we need to buy-in to the companies we’re part of.
With this in mind then, it’s only natural that the workplace in itself should be a daily experience that some of our best memories are formed at.
4. We crave community
We are the most networked generation in history. We share our interests and our values on a daily basis and in both online and offline communities. Furthermore, our engagement in these communities literally has the power to make an idea — or even just a thought — go viral.
But whilst you would think that because of technology — and hence our ability to work from anywhere — the workplace is becoming less necessary, it’s becoming more necessary. Less necessary, perhaps, as a place to work, but more necessary as a place to collaborate, to enjoy serendipitous encounters, to be part of a physical community.
Where yesterday, the physical community was the neighbourhood we lived in, or our religious centres, today we are more transient — and less religious.
Where the lines between work and play are increasingly blurred — and with so many of us now working for ourselves or by ourselves — we are gravitating towards workplaces that offer us a sense of being involved in something greater than just us.
It’s actually the very reason why I decided to start a coworking business to begin with. I had just experienced my loneliest year, working from the small, West Village apartment of my then colleague in the film industry — just the two of us and our laptops. I was very aware that each day that passed me by was at the opportunity cost of meeting the millions of interesting people that New York City could have introduced me to — people I could potentially collaborate with, learn with — or just get to know.
5. We are the generation of the quantified self
Around me, there’s not a day that goes by that someone isn’t tracking a new metric on their smartwatch. I thought I was bad for counting my steps, but my friends are busy trying out new life-coaching methods, meditation apps, committing to 30 minutes a day on a language-learning app and wearing headphones so they can listen to what they sound like when they’re talking.
It‘s exhausting, and very contrary to the belief of the generations who call us lazy and entitled. In fact — we’re actually proven to be more adamant on self improvement than they are. According to Forbes, whilst Baby Boomers spend an average of $152 a month on self-improvement, the Millennials interviewed spent nearly twice that — even though our average income is only half as much.
But maybe that’s why we’re drawn to workspaces that incorporate smart, connected technologies, silently powering us from the background and maximising our productivity.
Perhaps it’s the reason that we don’t mind foregoing our lunch break to join in a meditation class, or a coding class, or even a VR workshop. Today’s workplace needs to be offering us constant chances to develop new skills and to keep learning.
6. And lastly: we are progressive
As a generation, we don’t just accept the status quo. When something can be iterated and improved, we challenge it.
This is the very reason why we knew that our workplace should offer us so much more than just a desk, some breakout space and a communal kitchen. It’s why our coworking spaces have classrooms, auditoriums where we can listen to thought leaders tell their story every evening, pitch rooms so cool they give our important meetings extra swagger, labs for immersive tech, meditation and yoga classes, writable walls, copy writing pods, sleep pods, hydration stations, childcare — and self-watering vertical gardens so we can be connected to nature whilst we work.
It’s why the office space is now a hospitality product, where coworking brands are employing the best architects in the world to create happy, immersive, productive spaces for us to base ourselves from and feel connected to.
And so, as a generation, we have been very busy redefining what the office looks like.
I’ll leave you with this: whilst we think of the office as integral to work, commercial offices only came into existence in the late 19th century. Knowing this then, there’s absolutely no reason to believe that they’ll be around forever at all, at least not as we know them.
For all the reasons listed above, I wholeheartedly believe that the workplace will continue to evolve to meet the changing needs of our generation, and the generations ahead of us.