Coworking is not Innovating

Coworking is not Innovating

Many of you who are reading this probably are doing so from a laptop in a coworking space. The number of global coworking spaces is forecasted to grow from 14,411 in 2017 to just over 30,000 in 2022. The reasons why include:

Corporations are moving to coworking: The growing need for greater workplace flexibility and agility is leading more corporations to use coworking spaces for some of their space needs. This trend will accelerate over the next 5 years, especially due to corporations looking to reduce their exposure to long term leases and employees insisting on more workplace options.

The global number of self-employed knowledge workers is growing: While there are no solid estimates of the total number of global self-employed knowledge workers, it’s clear their numbers are large and growing. This growth, coupled with a growing realization of the value of coworking by independent workers, will continue to drive demand for coworking spaces.

Startups will continue to flock to coworking spaces: Startups understand the cost, flexibility and talent attraction advantages provided by coworking spaces. Because of these advantages, coworking spaces will continue to be the location of choice for most startups.

Niche spaces are expanding the coworking market:  While very large coworking spaces – and especially WeWork – get most of the attention, the number of smaller niche oriented spaces continues to grow rapidly. These spaces appeal to members with specialized interests or needs (shared biolabs, women oriented spaces, writers’ spaces, industry specific spaces, shared commercial kitchens, etc.) and attract people who likely would not join a traditional coworking space.

I work in such spaces. Most have rapidly become a commodity and , already, need to rethink what they offer and how, particularly for clients interested in healthcare innovation and entrepreneurship. Some suggestions:

  1. The very term "coworking space" is inaccurate. Research shows that occupants don't work together. What's more, emphasizing the space misses the point and the potential.

  2. The experience is more important than the space.

  3. The experience needs to include both face to face and virtual components, much like the" bricks to clicks" transformation we are seeing in retail and sick care.

  4. Innovation team dynamics are the same regardless of where team members are physically located.

  5. The goal should be to create outcomes and impact that are aligned with company innovation strategies.

  6. The process requires champions, teams, tools, and structure, not just physical space.

  7. The space should incorporate our recent understanding of the architecture of innovation and the neuroscience of creativity.

  8. The environment should support cross functional and diverse team members.

  9. The clients should include the right mix of creatives and technologists.

  10. The "butts in the seats" business model, accepting anyone who is willing to pay the rent, is faulty and should be modified to drive purpose as well as profit.

  11. People interested in coworking spaces want them to do different jobs. Some want just a quiet, convenient place away from the home office without distractions-including other people. Others want to collaborate, network and ideate with others both within and outside of their areas of domain expertise.Corporate clients want an even different set of benefits, including the ability for international virtual teams to collaborate. Some just want to hang out and find someone to date.Consequently, the value propositions will be different for those different segments.

  12. No one wants to pay for minutes they don't use, so look for cosharing-coworking spaces or by the hour billing using an app like you would when you rent that cute lime green scooter on the street or, just tap to get in.

  13. Single industry spaces, like tech, marijuana or digital health, by definition, limit open innovation, instead of encouraging it.

  14. The personalized innovation experience should include personalized menus of education, resources, networks, mentors, peer to peer support, executive coaching and career development tools coordintated by your personal innovation butler and concierge.

  15. Perhaps there should be an in-house organizational psychologist to minister to the needs of those with entrepreneurial psychopathologies or who are lonely or who exhibit entrepreneurial sexual dimorphism.

If you want quiet place to work that's free, just get a library card.

Coworking spaces need to think of themselves as being in the hospitality business, not the office space business.

For customers who want more, though, commoditized coworking spaces will morph into unique, personalized innovation experience idea resorts, where ladies, gentlemen and entrepreneurs will take care of ladies, gentlemen and entrepreneurs to differentiate themselves. It's the experience, stupid.

Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA is the President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs.

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  • Kyle Boudreaux

    Great innovation occurs when you don't limit yourself and you think to the next curve.

  • Lindsay Pearson

    Good article

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Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA

Former Contributor

Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA is a professor emeritus of otolaryngology, dentistry, and engineering at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the Colorado School of Public Health and President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs at He has created several medical device and digital health companies. His primary research centers around biomedical and health innovation and entrepreneurship and life science technology commercialization. He consults for and speaks to companies, governments, colleges and universities around the world who need his expertise and contacts in the areas of bio entrepreneurship, bioscience, healthcare, healthcare IT, medical tourism -- nationally and internationally, new product development, product design, and financing new ventures. He is a former Harvard-Macy fellow and In 2010, he completed a Fulbright at Kings Business, the commercialization office of technology transfer at Kings College in London. He recently published "Building the Case for Biotechnology." "Optical Detection of Cancer", and " The Life Science Innovation Roadmap". He is also an associate editor of the Journal of Commercial Biotechnology and Technology Transfer and Entrepreneurship and Editor-in-Chief of Medscape. In addition, He is a faculty member at the University of Colorado Denver Graduate School where he teaches Biomedical Entrepreneurship and is an iCorps participant, trainer and industry mentor. He is the Chief Medical Officer at and and Chairman of the Board at GlobalMindED at, a non-profit at risk student success network. He is honored to be named by Modern Healthcare as one of the 50 Most Influential Physician Executives of 2011 and nominated in 2012 and Best Doctors 2013.

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