Beat the Bring-Your-Own-Network Blues: An Open Letter to the Co-Working Community
Co-working communities are a booming business, and they are opening up everywhere. I saw quite a few earlier this year when ShoreTel was looking for new office space in Hong Kong.
The co-working concept is a great fit with ShoreTel’s vibrant culture. For a start, co-working communities are extremely flexible. Unlike home working, where people can often feel isolated, co-working communities create a lot of energy. Bringing people together lets them share ideas and enthusiasm, and that creates the critical mass required for business success.
These attributes make co-working communities popular with all kinds of enterprises, from startups exploding into life to corporations that are keen to change the way they work. However, there are also some disadvantages.
Pros and Cons
Unlike a traditional business centre or serviced office, in a co-working community there is usually little or no infrastructure – not even a deskphone. And you won’t find much in the way of storage space either, so there’s nowhere to put all those essential bits and pieces, like marketing materials or demo equipment.
Sure, there may be basic Wi-Fi, but a typical set-up usually doesn’t include a LAN connection. It’s pretty much just a desk, a power socket and some meeting spaces. That means that people have to use their mobile phones, and often their own hotspots, to get connected and stay in touch.
I call this the BYON approach, which is short for Bring-Your-Own-Network. It’s not really good enough for today’s highly-connected, data-intensive ways of working. In fact, I think this kind of connectivity challenge could turn out be one of the biggest factors preventing people from taking the plunge and choosing a co-working community over a conventional office or business centre.
Unified Communications as a Service
So what’s the solution? Well, if you work for ShoreTel or one of our customers, you already know the answer. It’s unified communications (UC), with a co-working community twist!
UC is a very modern way of working. You don’t need a physical deskphone, which costs money and takes up space. With unified communications, you could come to a co-working community with a laptop and immediately have a softphone on your desk.
There’s no reason a co-working community couldn’t offer Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) as a value-added offering that members could start using as soon as they join the community.
It would be an attractive option for many community members. Most of them are likely to be independent workers, or maybe startups with a few staff, who aren’t inclined to invest in a lot of infrastructure. But UCaaS is even better news for the co-working community itself.
With today’s cloud-based options like ShoreTel’s Connect CLOUD, it’s easy to implement UCaaS because everything is virtual. Rather than purchase equipment and install and maintain an application, the community can simply subscribe to a service. All of the cloud applications – including cloud VoIP systems – are located offsite in secure data centers.
In our case, ShoreTel takes responsibility for owning, configuring and managing all of that, and the customers connect to the applications through the Internet or private connections. It’s charged on a pay-as-you-go basis, so the running costs are minimal.
UCaaS provides the community members with a great tool that can transform their business in minutes. Just install it on a mobile phone, laptop or both, and they’re good to go. It also has the potential to be a tremendous differentiator for co-working communities, especially for the early adopters who roll it out before competitors jump on the bandwagon.
Making a good idea great
While an upscale serviced office will provide an IP phone on a desk, a UCaaS-equipped co-working community could offer much more without any equipment. Moreover, as well as attracting more customers, a UCaaS solution could significantly increase the “stickiness” of those who do use the co-working community, improving retention rates and, thus, contributing to a healthier bottom line.
But I still think co-working communities should also consider providing physical storage space. Even if it’s a chargeable added extra, along with UCaaS and other value-added offerings.
If they had, then ShoreTel might be working out of one in Hong Kong today. Although we’d have definitely gone the BOOUCS route – Brought Our Own Unified Communications Solution!