Coworking is often associated with enhanced team productivity and innovation due to collaborative working. How can R&D teams – a key internal resource for the company’s innovation – benefit from coworking?
More than half a million people around the world work from 10,000 different coworking offices.
Coworking places are defined as membership-based workspaces where entrepreneurs, remote workers, independent professionals and other diverse groups work together in a shared, communal setting.
Access to external networks
Although it is often inspiring design and energy that is attributed to coworking places, one key attribute of such an environment is access to external social networks. Think about working under one roof with tech start-ups, marketing specialists, IP lawyers, clinical researchers, management consultants to name a few. All of that diverse knowledge and experience sitting next to you.
Research in social networks explains how a coworking space could become a collaboration opportunity and enhance innovation.
Jill E. Perry-Smith, a professor at Emory University, studied researchers in the United States focusing on various technology areas ranging from information technology to aerospace engineering.
Perry-Smith found that weak connections facilitate creativity and that strong ties do not. She explains that exposure to a more diverse set of direct contacts may facilitate a variety of cognitive processes. In contrast, strong networks, amongst which your work colleagues are, may lead to conformity and result in a lack of a different perspective on your business problem.
Problem solvers in other markets
Nikolaus Franke, Professor at WU Vienna University of Economics and Business, together with his colleagues Marion K. Poetz and Martin Schreier, found that problem solvers from “analogous” markets – that are distant but share a similar problems – provided more novel solutions than problem solvers with expertise in the area for which new products are to be developed.
Analogous markets are those that share a related problem, but where the producers, products, use contexts and customers differ substantially.
These findings suggest that it might pay to search across firm-external sources of innovation that were before out of scope for most managers.
Inspiration from diverse communities
Coworking is becoming popular in the corporate world as companies realise that giving opportunity for their employees to work within those diverse and vibrant communities can tap into external sources of innovation.
Not surprisingly, corporations such as Visa and Chicago Tribune send their employees to Grind, a hub based in New York and Chicago. Ricoh’s innovation team spent time in Next Space, a coworking space based in Santa Cruz, where they were inspired and developed a new solution for paperless meetings – Smart Presenter.
Maria Trindade, a Development Director at Impact Hub King’s Cross in London tells that over the years their members included, amongst others, companies such as Ecover, Heinz, Diageo, and Macmillan.
Giles Jepson, CMO at Heinz UK, shares his team experience at Impact Hub King’s Cross:
“With a strong business concentrated in mature categories and a track record of consistent delivery, in September 2011 Heinz launched a new growth and innovation business model to further step-change transformational shift.
“I was challenged to set up a new Explore team at arms-length from the main business to focus on potential new sources of growth. When I discovered the Hub, I knew I had come to the right place.
“New growth comes from innovations that meet real social needs, ideally in new ways. The Hub is populated with budding young social entrepreneurs who think this way – and being amongst them has led to new opportunities for Heinz we previously would never have imagined existed.”
Collaborating with disruptive start-ups
In addition to spending time on digital innovation platforms, there are different ways how established R&D teams can collaborate with potentially disruptive start-ups.
Large organisations can support individual team members spending one or two days a week working from a coworking space with access to business acceleration programmes, hackathons and networking events. R&D teams can also develop joint projects with entrepreneurs, start-ups and innovation leaders.
However, such partnerships will not happen just by physically being in a quirky environment. Open mindedness, willingness to find a common ground and long term orientation are prerequisites for collaboration to happen in a coworking space.
Written by Dr Ieva Martinaityte,
Lecturer in Business Management at the University of East Anglia
Reference: Perry-Smith, J. E. (2006). Social Yet Creative: The Role Of Social Relationships In Facilitating Individual Creativity, Academy of Management, 49: 85-101.