Digitisation: how a luxury has become a necessity for Coworking Spaces

This blog was first published in Dutch on Smart WP.

If you’re one of the 1,2 million independent workers (ZZP’ers) in the Netherlands or a small business owner trying to carve out your slice of the market, you’ve most likely felt the pressure that the Covid-19 pandemic has placed on businesses across all the industries. But, unlike larger businesses or full-time employees you’re a lot more vulnerable to changes in the market and therefore need to adopt and adapt to market trends a lot faster, and better, in order to survive. One market trend that gained a lot of attention during the pandemic was digitisation due to hygiene precautions, government regulations and lockdowns.

 We spoke to Hector Kolonas, a Workspace Technologist and Founder of included.co and Co-Founder of Syncaroo, for his opinion and insights on how coworking space such as De Kamer (a network of coworking spaces across the Netherlands) can implement and benefit from digitization, especially now in the midst of a pandemic.

 According to Kolonas, “Like any modern business, coworking spaces have a number of moving parts” a major part being its real estate element that “needs to be fitted, managed and maintained.” Kolonas explains that “Digitalization has made managing all these moving parts more efficient, streamlined and increasingly automated.”

 “But,” he continues, “coworking operators also need to constantly think about acquiring new members/customers; efficiently servicing these customers and the fairly unique intricacies of running a hospitality-slash-landlord business.”  

This is especially true with regards to De Kamer which, according to Jeannine van der Linden the Founder and Manager for De Kamer, is built around a “sharing model, where the coworkers rent the entire space on the basis of sharing it and give us permission to manage it… De Kamer is about having a home for your business, and its absolute focus is to make deKamer spaces both physically and psychologically a safe place for people to come and work from.” 

Kolonas references a number of helpful management and inventory systems that can help operators become more efficient alongside “tight integrations used to ‘digitally outsource’” parts of the business that contribute to the member or customer experience but are not the core competency of the workspace management team. Examples of this digital outsourcing,” Kolonas continues, “include coworking perks platforms, marketing channel automation, anti-money laundering checks and communication platforms like Slack and Discord.”

Coworking spaces, he explains, are traditionally low-margin businesses and therefore “any efficiencies that can ramp up the value of their products (i.e. memberships) or lower their customer acquisition and servicing costs will highly improve the overall sustainability and profitability of coworking spaces of the future.”

Kolonas identifies two distinct ways in which Covid has affected the digitisation of coworking spaces:

“Firstly, the more obvious, is that many spaces had to rapidly implement virtual offerings and community aspects that were often considered nice-to-haves. This sped up adoption of, and investment into, an array of digital upgrades. From virtual events to upping their game with online messaging and value creation – members are constantly being offered more than just a desk, Wi-Fi and a cup of coffee. 

Secondly, community operators have been given a unique opportunity to work on their businesses, as opposed to being stuck working in them. This has led to a number of upgrades and integrations that were previously being put off due to the perceived block of time and effort they’d require to be set up.” 

We asked Kolonas about his predictions for the coming year around the digitisation trend and he truly believes “that the next biggest trend for the coworking industry is the automation of the most boring, but often important, parts of these businesses.” He elaborates by stating that “building on the growth of tech integrations during 2019 and 2020, automation will increasingly improve how customers are found, checked, onboarded, rewarded and eventually graduated. This digitisation allows workspace managers to focus more on the many human-centric tasks that make up running successful coworking communities.”

Regarding obstacles coworking spaces face in adopting digitisation Kolonas responded that in his opinion it’s time: “Coworking businesses have gone through an insanely tough year, leaving many of them with fewer customers, staff and income than this time two years ago. Being able to take a breath, and a step back, to plan for long-term success and efficiency is really tough and will take a little more time for some than for others.”

 In closing, Kolonas warned that “digitalizing for the sake of it is a dangerous strategy. Any business considering digitizing should look to break bottlenecks with each solution, whilst trusting professionals or experienced peers along the way. 

 Implementing the wrong technology in a hurry has led many organizations to buckle under technical debt. Although I’m a huge believer in how digitizing can drastically improve business sustainability, I often remind folks that any time you allocate to doing some homework and asking the ‘silly’ questions will increase the likelihood of success in your digitizing efforts.”

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