WeWork has big competitors

Ever larger companies are relying on coworking

Dedicated desks, carpeting, filing cabinets. This is what the offices of many companies look like. "But that's boring," says Brad Richards. “How are you supposed to come up with innovative ideas?” This is exactly what he and his 40 colleagues from Lab1886 want. They are exploring new areas of business for the Daimler automotive group, examining proposals, including flying taxis, for their feasibility. They should think “out-of-the-box”, deliberately unconventionally.

It works best when your work environment is as creative as you are. But hang up a chain of lights in the corporate office, put a foosball table in the passage or set up a sofa corner? That quickly creates trouble. That's why Richards and his team preferred to move into a coworking house instead of the Berlin company premises.

There are now quite a few of these communal offices in the city - from Café Oberholz and Betahaus to international providers such as Mindspace and Wework. They all offer creative work spaces with open kitchens, sitting areas, foosball tables and record players. In order to network the tenants with one another, guests are invited to breakfast or happy hour together.

In the beginning, this office model was primarily intended for founders and freelancers who were looking to connect with like-minded people, but now corporations are increasingly sending some of their employees to the coworking house. Large companies already account for a quarter of tenants at Wework, and 40 percent at competitor Mindspace.

However, some companies are now going a step further and creating their own shared office. For example, the Otto Group in Hamburg has converted a former warehouse into a coworking zone for its employees with a coffee bar, library and sofa corners - without dedicated desks. Almost 200 employees there should come up with new ideas and exchange ideas with colleagues from other departments. “The aim is to enable employees to work flexibly, networked and creatively and to create a new culture of collaboration in order to further advance digital change in the company,” writes the group.

Especially companies in which digitization is extremely important are going this way. Microsoft was also inspired by coworking when building the new German headquarters in Munich. There are no more permanent jobs there. Employees choose whether they work in the lounge chair, in the team room or in the relaxation zone.

“That is definitely a trend,” confirms Tobias Kremkau. He is a coworking manager in the Berlin Café Oberholz, where freelancers opened their laptops when the concept of coworking didn't even exist. In addition to individual workstations at two locations, the Oberholz now also rents offices and conference rooms. “The work is becoming more individual. That must also be reflected in the premises, ”says Kremkau. He is currently advising several companies that want to open their own joint offices. One of them is Sparda Bank Berlin, which is currently building a coworking house with an integrated bank branch in Frankfurt (Oder).

From July, bankers will sit between freelancers and founders in the border town, sharing desks, a coffee bar and conference rooms with them. Bank customers can then decide for themselves whether they sit down with their advisor in the café zone or in the meeting room. The ATMs are then located next to the coffee bar - instead of the usual central location in the entrance area. The fact that the Spardabank is behind the new coworking branch will not be apparent at first glance, says project manager Stanley Fuls. “Hallo Blok O” should be on the facade - a Polish-based spelling of the old building designation from the GDR development plan.

Fuls, who as an architect at Sparda Bank Berlin is responsible for the planning and design of the branches, sees the new concept as a great opportunity - especially for financial institutions. “Thanks to coworking, banks can continue to be present in locations where they might otherwise have to close their branches.” All institutes suffer from the fact that customers stop by, which is why some branches no longer pay off.

It is a coincidence that the coworking bank opens in Frankfurt (Oder) and not in Berlin. The landlord offered the Sparda Bank the space - at 800 square meters, however, it was much too big for a branch. Nevertheless, Fuls took a liking to the building, which was planned as a fish shop in GDR times and later housed a children's department store. Fuls therefore thought about an alternative use for the upper floor and turned to coworking. It was then Oberholz manager Kremkau who convinced him to integrate the bank branch into the shared office.

It's an experiment Fuls got involved in. “We just have to try it out,” he says. For nine months there will be the coworking location parallel to the old bank branch around the corner. If the concept works, Fuls can imagine converting further locations into coworking branches.

Deutsche Bank's coworking office in Berlin is already in operation, but much smaller. The institute calls the room in the showcase branch on Friedrichstrasse, in which the walls are planted, the “greenhouse”. In principle, anyone can use the twelve workstations, you don't even have to be a customer or pay for them. This is another reason why the places are often fully booked. Deutsche Bank hopes that “the branch will be a meeting place again,” says team leader Juliane Häntsch.

Deutsche Bank is also benefiting from the booming market for coworking offices. If there are 10,000 such communal areas worldwide today, in five years there should be more than three times as many. "The demand is there - especially in cities like Berlin," says Bastian Bauer, Head of Mindspace in Germany. In September, the provider opened its second coworking house near Friedrichstrasse. "We were fully booked within two months."

This is also due to the large corporations such as Siemens, Mastercard, Samsung or Lufthansa, which send employees to the coworking house. The corporations hope that this will primarily bring them closer to startups, many of which are also in the shared office. Ideally, game developers meet engineers, travel experts meet programmers. This exchange also appeals to Deutsche Bahn. She has now housed several teams in coworking offices in Berlin - even though the company has its headquarters in the city and therefore actually has enough workplaces on site. For example, the subsidiary DB Ventures is located in the joint office of Wework, because it is expected to be "embedded in the startup ecosystem".

The team invests in young companies in the fields of mobility, logistics and smart cities for the railways. "We see ourselves as a startup and we want to act in this way in terms of our way of working and thinking," says a spokeswoman. The chic coworking office fits in better than the corporate atmosphere in the railway tower. For the same reason, the Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG) have also sent their employees to Café Oberholz. You should come up with something new far away from the head office. The result is an app for bike tours through Berlin.