Co-working spaces have become an essential part of the digital economy but how will Covid-19 affect their growth in urban areas?

This Round 1 Innovation Fund project followed the experiences of several co-working projects through the pandemic to explore what role co-working spaces might play in new flexible, hybrid models of work.

Research questions

  1. How have co-working spaces responded to the COVID-19 crisis?
  2. How do co-working spaces stand to be incorporated into the economic recovery and urban regeneration efforts in the aftermath?

Method

Over 40 interviews were conducted in Brighton, Bristol and Manchester with representatives from a range of coworking spaces and of local and regional government.

Key findings

  • The future of urban co-working spaces will be shaped by the wider dynamics of the urban property market and shifts in corporate demand for flexible workspace. These forces will likely prove more influential than anything specific to their founding organisation and social purpose.
  • The pandemic underscored the ambivalent position of co-working spaces as hosts rather than employers and revealed the variable positions of different co-working space business models in the face of disrupted income streams.
  • At the same time, co-working spaces have contributed to the recovery from the pandemic by providing places to work collaboratively or collectively alongside shifts towards more flexible work and working from home. In this respect their importance is likely to increase.
  • Attention is shifting from the towering dominance of London to smaller urban hubs and especially commuting towns.
  • Although local and national government are beginning to recognise the potential importance of co-working spaces, they have not begun to develop strategies to nurture them. This gap risks leaving co-working spaces and their users adrift in increasingly turbulent and competitive market conditions. This is especially important at a time where they stand to play a central role in providing sites for experimentation with, and adaptation to, new digitally-mediated working practices emerging from the pandemic, for a potentially much broader array of workers than spaces previously served.

Research outputs

Coworking spaces and workplaces of the future: Critical perspectives on community, context and change
Jennifer Johns, Edward Yates, Greig Charnock, Frederick Harry Pitts, Ödül Bozkurt, Didem Derya and Ozdemir Kaya (2024), European Mangement Review

From coworking to competing? Business models and strategies of UK coworking spaces beyond the COVID-19 pandemic
Edward Yates, Greig Charnock, Frederick Harry Pitts, Jennifer Johns and Ödül Bozkurt (2023), Competition & Change

Coworking in the City after Covid-19: Community versus Competition?
The pandemic has challenged many assumptions about where, how and when people can work.  As businesses respond by cutting office space, what role might coworking spaces play in this new future?

Written evidence submitted by the Co-Working Research Collective to House of Commons Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy Committee inquiry on impact of coronavirus on business and workers

Researchers

Principal Investigator: Dr Harry Pitts (University of Bristol)

Co-investigators: Professor Glenn Morgan (University of Bristol), Dr Jennifer Johns (University of Bristol), Dr Greig Charnock (University of Manchester), Dr Edward Yates (University of Sheffield)

Digit Team member: Dr Ödül Bozkurt (University of Sussex)