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The limits of coworking – TechCrunch

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It feels like there’s a WeWork on every street nowadays. Take a walk through midtown Manhattan (please don’t actually) and it might even seem like there are more WeWorks than office buildings.

Consider this an ongoing discussion about Urban Tech, its intersection with regulation, issues of public service, and other complexities that people have full PHDs on. I’m just a bitter, born-and-bred New Yorker trying to figure out why I’ve been stuck in between subway stops for the last 15 minutes, so please reach out with your take on any of these thoughts: @Arman.Tabatabai@techcrunch.com.

Co-working has permeated cities around the world at an astronomical rate. The rise has been so remarkable that even the headline-dominating SoftBank seems willing to bet the success of its colossal Vision Fund on the shift continuing, having poured billions into WeWork – including a recent $4.4 billion top-up that saw the co-working king’s valuation spike to $45 billion.

And there are no signs of the trend slowing down. With growing frequency, new startups are popping up across cities looking to turn under-utilized brick-and-mortar or commercial space into low-cost co-working options.

It’s a strategy spreading through every type of business from retail – where companies like Workbar have helped retailers offer up portions of their stores – to more niche verticals like parking lots – where companies like Campsyte are transforming empty lots into spaces for outdoor co-working and corporate off-sites. Restaurants and bars might even prove most popular for co-working, with startups like Spacious and KettleSpace turning restaurants that are closed during the day into private co-working space during their off-hours.

Before you know it, a startup will be strapping an Aeron chair to the top of a telephone pole and calling it “WirelessWorking”.

But is there a limit to how far co-working can go? Are all of the storefronts, restaurants and open spaces that line city streets going to be filled with MacBooks, cappuccinos and Moleskine notebooks? That might be too tall a task, even for the movement taking over skyscrapers.

Photo: Vasyl Dolmatov / iStock via Getty Images

So why is everyone trying to turn your favorite neighborhood dinner spot into a part-time WeWork in the first place? Co-working offers a particularly compelling use case for under-utilized space.

First, co-working falls under the same general commercial zoning categories as most independent businesses and very little additional infrastructure – outside of a few extra power outlets and some decent WiFi – is required to turn a space into an effective replacement for the often crowded and distracting coffee shops used by price-sensitive, lean, remote, or nomadic workers that make up a growing portion of the workforce.

Thus, businesses can list their space at little-to-no cost, without having to deal with structural layout changes that are more likely to arise when dealing with pop-up solutions or event rentals.

On the supply side, these co-working networks don’t have to purchase leases or make capital improvements to convert each space, and so they’re able to offer more square footage per member at a much lower rate than traditional co-working spaces. Spacious, for example, charges a monthly membership fee of $99-$129 dollars for access to its network of vetted restaurants, which is cheap compared to a WeWork desk, which can cost anywhere from $300-$800 per month in New York City.

Customers realize more affordable co-working alternatives, while tight-margin businesses facing increasing rents for under-utilized property are able to pool resources into a network and access a completely new revenue stream at very little cost. The value proposition is proving to be seriously convincing in initial cities – Spacious told the New York Times, that so many restaurants were applying to join the network on their own volition that only five percent of total applicants were ultimately getting accepted.

Basically, the business model here checks a lot of the boxes for successful marketplaces: Acquisition and transaction friction is low for both customers and suppliers, with both seeing real value that didn’t exist previously. Unit economics seem strong, and vetting on both sides of the market creates trust and community. Finally, there’s an observable network effect whereby suppliers benefit from higher occupancy as more customers join the network, while customers benefit from added flexibility as more locations join the network.

Photo: Caiaimage / Robert Daly via Getty Images

So is this the way of the future? The strategy is really compelling, with a creative solution that offers tremendous value to businesses and workers in major cities. But concerns around the scalability of demand make it difficult to picture this phenomenon becoming ubiquitous across cities or something that reaches the scale of a WeWork or large conventional co-working player.

All these companies seem to be competing for a similar demographic, not only with one another, but also with coffee shops, free workspaces, and other flexible co-working options like Croissant, which provides members with access to unused desks and offices in traditional co-working spaces. Like Spacious and KettleSpace, the spaces on Croissant own the property leases and are already built for co-working, so Croissant can still offer comparatively attractive rates.

The offer seems most compelling for someone that is able to work without a stable location and without the amenities offered in traditional co-working or office spaces, and is also price sensitive enough where they would trade those benefits for a lower price. Yet at the same time, they can’t be too price sensitive, where they would prefer working out of free – or close to free – coffee shops instead of paying a monthly membership fee to avoid the frictions that can come with them.

And it seems unclear whether the problem or solution is as poignant outside of high-density cities – let alone outside of high-density areas of high-density cities.

Without density, is the competition for space or traffic in coffee shops and free workspaces still high enough where it’s worth paying a membership fee for? Would the desire for a private working environment, or for a working community, be enough to incentivize membership alone? And in less-dense and more-sprawl oriented cities, members could also face the risk of having to travel significant distances if space isn’t available in nearby locations.

While the emerging workforce is trending towards more remote, agile and nomadic workers that can do more with less, it’s less certain how many will actually fit the profile that opts out of both more costly but stable traditional workspaces, as well as potentially frustrating but free alternatives. And if the lack of density does prove to be an issue, how many of those workers will live in hyper-dense areas, especially if they are price-sensitive and can work and live anywhere?

To be clear, I’m not saying the companies won’t see significant growth – in fact, I think they will. But will the trend of monetizing unused space through co-working come to permeate cities everywhere and do so with meaningful occupancy? Maybe not. That said, there is still a sizable and growing demographic that need these solutions and the value proposition is significant in many major urban areas.

The companies are creating real value, creating more efficient use of wasted space, and fixing a supply-demand issue. And the cultural value of even modestly helping independent businesses keep the lights on seems to outweigh the cultural “damage” some may fear in turning them into part-time co-working spaces.

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Google responds to Apple App Tracking Transparency with new rules for Android

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Google released a notice today about the future of Android and user data transparency. While not a direct response to Apple’s update with iOS 14.5 – at least not explicitly – Google’s “pre-announcement” of an upcoming safety section in Google Play should effectively keep the two operating systems in-step on several privacy-centric fronts. The new section in Google Play for Android apps will “help people understand the data an app collects or shares, if that data is secured, and additional details that impact privacy and security.”

Suzanne Frey, VP, Product, Android Security and Privacy posted a note this week about how developers and users will be affected by the update to Google Play and Android. Android already has a system in place where apps alert users about what permissions they seek – location data, contacts, personal info, audio, storage files, and camera access. With this update, it’ll all be a bit more clear up front, listed in Google Play.

What will apps show?

Developers will be asked to share the following items with users in their app listing in Google Play: What type of data is collected and stored, and how the data is used. That should be simple.

• What type of data is collected and stored: Location, Photos & Videos, Audio files, Storage files, Contacts, and Personal Information.
• How the data is used by the app or the developer/group that makes the app. This could also include disclosure of data sharing with 3rd-party sources.

Google Play will also begin listing information as follows in a new Safety Section for each app. New elements will highlight whether:

1. Security practices are in play (data encryption, for example) for user data
2. Google’s Families policy is followed with user data
3. The app “needs this data to function or if users have choice in sharing it”
4. The app’s safety section “is verified by an independent third-party”
5. Data deletion is an option for the user upon uninstall of said app

When Safety Section will appear on Google Play

Here on May 6, 2021, Google first made their “pre-announcement” of this new policy. In Q3 of 2021, the policy will be “available” for the public and developers to read. In the fourth quarter of 2021, developers will be able to start declaring information in the Google Play Console as outlined above.

In the first quarter of 2022, users in the public will begin to see the new safety section in Google Play. At some point in the second quarter of the year 2022, Google will set a deadline for all new and existing apps to declare the information outlined above.

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This HP EliteOne 800 G8 AiO has video call talents every PC should steal

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HP has revealed its latest all-in-one PC, and we can’t help thinking it’s wasted in businesses. The HP EliteOne 800 G8 All-in-One comes with a choice of 23.8- or 27-inch displays, with a pop-up camera on top that includes video call-friendly face tracking.

In fact, the array that slides out of the top of the AiO PC has dual 5-megapixel cameras inside, plus an IR camera and a time-of-flight sensor that can track distance. With all that, and an extra-wide field of view compared to the average webcam, it means the EliteOne 800 G8 can use digital tracking to center you in the middle of the frame, cropping accordingly.

There’s also auto scene detection, to adjust the lighting automatically depending on ambient conditions in the room. HP has fitted its AI-powered noise reduction system as well, for the first time on a PC, with the ability to spot and filter out over 350 million types of voices and noises. The filters work on both outbound and inbound noise, so even if you’re talking with someone with a lesser microphone system you’ll still hear the benefit.

There’s HP Dynamic Audio for speech, music, and movie audio tuning to cut through background noise, along with Dynamic Voice Leveling to automatically adjust the volume of your voice so that it stays consistent even as you move closer to, or further away from, the microphone. Even the cooling system has been designed to lower the fan noise while you’re on calls.

It’s all wrapped up in a design that could be mistaken for just being a standalone monitor. Inside there’s a choice of Intel 11th Gen Core processors, up to a Core i9; they can be paired with up to 64GB of DDR4 memory and up to 6TB of M.2 PCIe storage. On the graphics side, there’s a choice of Intel UHD Graphics 730 or 750, with the display resolution offering up to 2560 x 1440 depending on panel.

As for connectivity, on the wireless side you can have WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0. For ports, you get a lot more than a new iMac 24-inch offers: three USB-A, two USB-C, HDMI, DisplayPort, and ethernet are all included.

Clearly these aren’t the machines if you’re looking for serious graphical grunt (or gaming, for that matter). Still, the video calling systems HP has fitted could make a big difference if your schedule is still filled with back-to-back Zoom appointments. Meanwhile the EliteOne 800 G8’s design manages to step away from the norm in enterprise hardware, and wouldn’t look out of place in a home office instead.

No word on pricing at this stage, but HP says that the new all-in-one will go on sale later this month.

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The Google Assistant is adding new ways to corral your family

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Google is adding new Assistant features and tweaking some existing ones to make them more user-friendly, including expanding its Broadcast system. The new Family Broadcast takes the existing functionality – where you can pipe your voice through multiple Google smart speakers and smart displays in the house, useful for announcing meals are ready or reminding people it’s time to leave – and enhances it for smartphones and replies.

So, you can now create a Google Family Group, consisting not only of smart displays like the Nest Hub and speakers like the Nest Audio, but also iPhone and Android smartphones. Saying “Hey Google, tell my family, it’s time for us to hit the road” will broadcast your message across all of those devices in one fell swoop.

Those who hear the broadcast, meanwhile, will be able to respond by voice too. You’ll be able to say “Hey Google, reply ‘I’ll need a little extra time to catch the cat,’” for example, or tap the reply button to bypass the Assistant wake-word.

Meanwhile, Family Bell reminders are also getting a new convenience feature. Added to the Assistant’s array of talents in November last year, Family Bell is basically a group alarm for reminders. Google pitches it as useful for notifying everyone when it’s time for home-schooling to start, or for group chores.

Soon, though, you’ll be able to say “stop” to end the Family Bell alert by voice. It’s a shortcut that the Assistant already works with for individual alarms and timers, that’s being extended to Family Bell in English to begin with. Google will also add the ability to have Family Bells sound across multiple home devices simultaneously, not just one.

For other languages, Family Bell will be extended to support French, Japanese, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, German, Hindi, and Korean. That’s arriving in the coming weeks, Google says.

The updates come on the heels of new, behind-the-scenes changes Google has been making to its core Assistant technology. There are new pronunciation options, which allow users to correct names that the AI gets wrong, for example, along with better contextual understanding which the company says should improve how the Assistant handles things like timers and conversational queries that include multiple questions and responses.

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