What is corpo-working and why should startups consider it?

Par Lauren • mar 31, 2020 in Featured, Startups

Although coworking spaces have been successful in bringing together entrepreneurs for years, the introduction of corpo-working spaces revolutionised corporate venturing within the innovation-economy.


KEY POINTS

  • - Hackathons, accelerators and incubators can be beneficial, but focus on the expansion of startups rather than innovative partnerships

  • - Coworking spaces proved successful in bringing together professionals

  • - Corpo-working brings together startups or entrepreneurs and established corporates in a professional coworking environment

  • - How Workero helps businesses incorporate these benefits in their company set-up



As discussed in ‘What is the right program for your startup: hackathons, incubators or accelerators?', several programs are being launched both within large companies and externally to drive innovation and offer support to startups to prepare their ideas and products for markets.

Although these programs, including accelerators, incubators and hackathons, are successful when it comes to improving the work done by startups, they often don’t directly promote or ensure partnerships between entrepreneurs or startups and incumbents.

Coworking spaces, for the last few years, provided a solution to this, however it focused more on bringing together professionals, and not necessarily startups and incumbents.

Where it all began: coworking’s success in the past

When Bernard De Koven first devised the term “coworking” just before the turn of this century, he was describing a phenomenon quite different to what we know as coworking today. He called this “working together as equals”, mainly through “technography”, a computer system he created to facilitate business meetings.



He came to realise that a lot of systems within the business world were built upon grading and categorisation, ‘shuffled into a hierarchy that separates workers by rank and salary level’. He concluded that this led to a competitive and isolating relationship which, ‘even when employees find themselves members of the same team, is rife with distrust, duplicity and often downright sabotage’.

De Koven’s aim for this coworking revolution was to completely rethink the approach to “working as equals”, in which collaborative work was largely supported by technology and the design of the spaces. He emphasised that, by supporting collaborative work through a non-competitive approach, and giving people the opportunity to work on their own projects, often resulted in a working place that supported ‘productivity, community, and, surprisingly often, fun.’

This form of “coworking” is very different from the term coworking we know today, which derives more directly from the one coined in 2015 by Brad Neuberg, who opened one of the first flexible workspaces in San Francisco.

The coworking space within Spiral Muse, a feminist collective in the Mission district, catered specifically to freelancers and any other like-minded individuals, however the emphasis here also lay on creating a place to work as equals.

Furthermore, it can be relevant to highlight that the branching out of this flexible working concept - which allows employees to work from anywhere with a stable wifi connection - to workspaces, in part gave rise to coworking.

Building on these principles, coworking became an increasingly popular concept, and its rise in popularity shows no signs of stopping. There are now over 18,000 coworking areas globally and that number is expected to further increase to over 25,000 in the next coming years. Over 1.2 million coworkers across the world use these spaces, for a variety of reasons.

According to research by the University of Michigan, the most common reasons to move to these flexible spaces are the interaction with people (84%), random discoveries and opportunities (82%), and knowledge sharing (77%).

The reasoning behind the principal motivation found by this research - the interaction with other people - seems logical when looking at sociological theories around the removal of spatial boundaries. Studies have shown that proximity can increase collaboration and collective intelligence, as it predicts social interaction, driving connection and therefore often resulting in information exchange and collaboration.



This shows that, in part, interaction is a necessary foundation for collective intelligence and perhaps innovation as well - more so than relying on the intelligence of individual members, it predicts a group's general ability to perform a wide variety of tasks, and combine these skills.

Although several studies highlight coworking plays into the connecting of freelancers or startups, some highlight the evolution may be a result of employees of large companies' efforts to work beyond the boundaries of their organisations. Harvard Business Review found that in doing so these companies hope to find the same benefits that freelancers and entrepreneurs report from their experiences in shared workspaces — learning skills faster, making more connections, and feeling inspired and in control.

Research by the University of Michigan further highlighted this, showing that corporate coworkers seek the same advantages as independents, freelancers and startups joining these spaces.



Why corpo-working will overtake coworking in popularity

However, when in search of these benefits, established companies may find that they don’t find these in regular coworking spaces. As highlighted in ‘Corporate venturing: bridging the gap through innovation', the corporate systems often struggle to be in line with these forms of innovation. Furthermore, they required a certain level of organisation, which is often not found in the more liberal and external coworking spaces.

This is where the more recent phenomenon, corpo-working, comes in. Similar to coworking spaces, they provide a flexible working environment, which helps to boost creativity. The community aspect is also at the heart of the corpo-working phenomenon, but takes this further by actively connecting creative entrepreneurs with new business partners, helping them to get customers, and learning how to bring their business to the next level.

Coworking Resources’ definition of corpo-working highlights the overlapping of these two worlds as “a type of business that combines both the corporate and coworking approaches.” it further defines it as the space created when a business incorporates a coworking space within its office building. Often it is centrally located within private office spaces, which will feature shared common areas.

In line with the coming of the innovation-economy, corpo-working has emerged as the ideal workspace to generate this innovation and increase the creativity of employees within company walls by connecting them with external like-minded professionals relevant to their industry. In essence, corpo-working is the coworking of business, creating a more professional and organised community based on sharing and exchange, as a nerve centre for healthy and shared growth.

An early example of how such spaces can improve productivity isthe Villa Bonne Nouvelle (“House of Good News”), centred at the heart of the Silicon Sentier district of Paris. Orange (previously known as French Telecom), opened this space in 2014 to teach its programmers and engineers how to work with and learn from people outside of the company.

Research following a primary experiment here showed that teams who were temporarily stationed within the corpo-working space worked better and faster than colleagues elsewhere, whilst reporting greater satisfaction and engagement (they even noticed bouts of depression upon returning to the office).

Discover how creating a corpo-working space within your company will, not only benefit your business, but your employees as well.



Benefits for employers and businesses

Talent retention and brand reputation


Within the age of war on talent, corpo-working is becoming increasingly relevant, because as workforce become younger, where and how people work is becoming more and more scrutinised by job-seekers.

At a managerial and HR level, offering corpo-working spaces can increase productivity and satisfaction of existing employees, but will also make businesses stand out when it comes to recruiting new talents. Firstly, the absence of hierarchical and physical barriersin these spaces can lead to improved human relationships, and as mentioned above, this best enhances the centrality of the individual in the bigger pictures of a company, leading to increased productivity and innovation.



Recently the focus for employees has also shifted to focus on mobility both within and around the workspace. A study has shown that 85 percent of millennial employees expect to see an increase in mobility at work, and considering that, at this point in time, 35 percent of the global workforce is made up of millennials, shifting towards corpo-working seems like a pivotal step for businesses looking to onboard and retain the most creative talent to take.

As we highlighted in ‘Ralf Caers: How flexible workspaces like Workero’s could improve workplace mental health', surveys have found that 90 percent of employees believe more flexible work arrangements and schedules will increase morale at work. Furthermore, 67 percent would consider leaving their job if the arrangements became less flexible, further proof that flexibility at work is increasingly becoming an expectation, and not merely a perk.

Secondly, adopting this way of working can help businesses stand out when recruiting the best talent, as workers are more often expecting their employers to set up a collaborative, exchange and sharing system. Following these trends is proof that a company is following the latest trends, and that it is updating HR codes in consideration of the mental and physical health of employees.

This promotion of the brand image - showing they understand the needs of future employees and offering flexible workspaces - helps highlight that a company strives to be innovative. Potential recruits will be flattered to find out that they are applying to the company which cares about its workers. For companies and their employees, this is something that can be capitalised on when competing with other companies, especially for new recruits.

Design, space and location improves productivity


Established corporates are increasingly becoming interested in corpo-working spaces because it has been repeatedly shown that they significantly increase the efficiency of their employees. Aside from the flexibility it offers, which in turn motivates employees, it is also the specific layout that helps to reach this goal.



Comfortable furniture fosters the productivity of the members. Firstly, the layout of these spaces can improve internal connectivity and extensive networking, both of which are essential components enhancing the overall goal.

The design and use of equipment is important too: nothing is stationary — whiteboards, movable walls, and flexible furniture are common. Often, the amenities and kitchens are strategically positioned to “engineer serendipity”, which further allows for conversations across organisations. Finally, the design plays a role too, for example, writing on the walls or floors is encouraged, as ‘making a mess is considered a precursor to innovation’.

Sebastian Matoso set up office at Workero’s corpo-working space in Zaventem almost a year ago, and confirms design, layout and location are pivotal parts in this process. He runs two companies; MION, an innovation studio, which helps companies to turn challenges and problems into impactful (business) opportunities, and DCAMP which organises offsite outdoor ‘Deceleration Camps’ for teams and entrepreneurs to take a break from the frenetic pace of everyday business life to re-focus, re-energise and re-strategise.



He says: “The environment people work in is so important as this is where the magic will happen. A space or location has to be adapted to the objective people have for themselves and their business, certainly in the market of startups where boarders and limits are mostly only given by the founder(s).

“Therefore, the more the environment will be able to stimulate both creativity and effectiveness, the better. The location for us is very convenient as we can easily work with people/companies from Leuven, Brussels, Mechelen and Antwerp. Plus the space gives us the flexibility to work alone, in teams or for meetings.”

Cost efficiency


More practically, opening up your surplus office space not only allows companies to profit from an increase in innovation, it also allows them to profit in usually unexpected ways. By transforming surplus office space into a corpo-working space, they canmonetise the otherwise unused space, making it more valuable for the company.



Benefits for employees

Work satisfaction and mental health


At the centre of these working spaces is the employee and users’ community and the internal communication. Whether working alone or as part of a project, they are always surrounded by other, often like-minded people and are able to receive the help they need.

As with the example of Orange, some established companies are deciding to shift towards this way of working to encourage their employees to learn from the people outside of Orange (an average of 60 freelancers worked within their corporate working space.

This connectivity is, in part, one of the reasons coworking is so popular; employee satisfaction increases in these spaces, and reports show they suffer less from burnouts and from the usual lack of motivation. Instead, they are inspired by the creative spirit and can interact freely. Most importantly, this way of working allows them to work in a team they like to reach the goal they consider meaningful.

Inspiration to innovate

In these spaces within company walls, where there are no walls forming physical boundaries, employees are free to innovate, and in return will experience growthand be stimulated to think of new concepts and ideas by combining internal collaboration between different teams. However, corpo-working spaces can go further than the basic ‘open layout’ of offices, as they promote bringing in external workers.

By bringing in external talent and therefore new ways of thinking, companies often look at their projects and the work they do from a new angle. As a result, the space becomes a workplace that combines and intersects different skills, combining complementary skills for more efficient performances.

This also makes it a challenging and moivating environment, as it often attracts people with a disruptive mind-set, which can further have a positive impact on current employees’ state of mind. This not only dynamises but also flexibilises business realities, stimulating collaboration and generating innovation.

These spaces can also further promote innovation through external collaboration. In the case of our latest partner, Procter and Gamble, this two-way street to fast-track innovation with startups is actively being created.

Corpo-working through Workero

By opening up its doors to external partners through Workero, P&G is giving external professionals the opportunity to become part of a wider innovation ecosystem facilitated by Workero and P&G's partner, the Growcery.

Here, P&G hopes to develop new and more productive capabilities to fuel better and faster innovation linked to the existing product platforms on site.

Stuart Askew, Senior Director of P&G R&D and B.I.C. External Innovation leader, explains what P&G hopes to achieve by opening up its location.

“We are looking to develop an open campus for innovation here in Brussels, to create new ideas and squeeze time on our innovation lifecycle with startups and suppliers." "

Serge Cauwberghs, Associate Director of P&G R&D and B.I.C. Site Operations Manager, says: “With the help of EFRO funding, we have just opened a state-of-the-art prototyping unit which can make 1 to 5000+ prototypes, leveraging the best prototyping capabilities on offer.

“These facilities are open to partners to bring to life their ideas, which can be scaled up to manufacture enough to sell.”



Click on the image below to discover the facilities!



Sarah Vandewoude, Chief Revenue Officer at Side Ways Consultancy regularly works within Workero's network of corpo-working spaces, and has found there are multiple benefits. She says: "I meet a lot of my clients through and in Workero spaces, whilst avoiding traffic jams, discovering new spaces and places and expanding my own network.

"Because of the variety and choice of locations, I am always inspired throughout the day. I definitely prefer this way of working to being stuck in the same office all the time like I used to. This is definitely a big part of the new way of working, that is already happening now."

For companies, Workero is able to introduce these benefits for their employees without the firm itself having to create the concept, platform and software.

By joining Workero, these businesses and their employees automatically join an online and physical community of other established firms, startups, freelancers and independents with which their employees can collaborate and innovate with. Aside from further motivating them, the company plays a pivotal part within the innovation economy by working alongside entrepreneurs.

Sarah Vandewoude about Workero’s corpo-working spaces: Workero is the place to access a professional network of locations, to work together, get to know new people and get inspiration.

Joining Workero also improves the company's brand image as it facilitates flexible and remote working both within and outside company walls. Being able to offer both a flexible and creative environment will hugely benefit companies looking to hire and retain the best talent.

Employees will also gain access to several locations and office spaces, and can choose to work more locally when looking to avoid commuting without working from home. This will further help firms with talent retention, as a promise of flexible working is an increasingly important factor for newer generations in their careers.

Workero’s expertise with the layout and design of these spaces will ensure your spaces fulfill all the requirements to create a specific business environment which encourages productivity and creativity.

For many companies, the main concern when considering to integrate corpo-working spaces is the fear that it will impede employee’s concentration. Workero’s design takes this concern into account by integrating secluded booths and ‘quiet’ zones for those who need it.

Picture: Sarah Vandewoude. “Sharing thoughts and (net) working @ iReachm.” (Workero partner location)


Join our community to experience the benefits of corpo-working with Workero.

To read more about corporate venturing between corporates and startups, the most popular programs to help expand startups and much more, click here.