Field: Infrastruktur & kompetensförsörjning
Coworking and local development outside Sweden's metropolitan regions
Co-working, in the form of office hoteling, work hubs and others is a relatively new phenomenon in the Swedish labour market.
In contrast to traditional remote working at home, co-working takes place in office environments with some level of shared office infrastructure and where social contacts and networking are also prioritised. There is a variety of flexible formats, from having access to a desk in an open-plan office to having one’s own room or own departments within the co-working space. Individual usage of co-working spaces also varies greatly, from the odd day per month to full-time.
The pandemic of 2021-21 had wide-reaching effects on the Swedish labour market. Large groups of professionals were ordered to work from home supported by of different online solutions. Research shows that the large majority of remote workers appreciated the new, albeit imposed, situation. The majority of those surveyed wanted to continue to work remotely for approximately half the time even after the pandemic.
Most people that have worked remotely have either worked from home or from their holiday homes in the countryside. An unknown quantity have also worked entirely or partially from co-working spaces. Even before the pandemic, the number of co-working spaces was already on the rise, not least in the Stockholm area. During the pandemic, several of these were later compelled to shut down or be put on hold, while co-working spaces in popular tourist destinations, such as Åre, were reported to have expanded.
The aim of this report is to:
• Analyse the extent of co-working in Sweden at a regional and municipal level.
• Provide an initial view of the potential of co-working spaces for local/regional development outside of Sweden’s major city areas.
• Formulate a number of questions for future analysis.
More than 600 co-working operators
After extensive investigative work, 649 co-working operators were identified in Sweden in February 2022, distributed across all 21 regions. Most co-working operators were located in the Stockholm region, followed by the counties of Skåne and Västra Götaland. If we calculate co-working operators per inhabitant though, tourist regions such as Jämtland, Dalarna and Gotland top the list. At a municipal level, co-working operators were found in 200 of Sweden’s 290 municipalities, i.e. in 69% of municipalities.
Co-working is a young phenomenon
A telephone survey of 37 randomly selected co-working operators shows that, with a few exceptions, co-working is a young phenomenon in Sweden. The median start year for the entire group was 2019, in other words, the year before the pandemic. Many co-working companies are thus believed to have started up during the pandemic. Only 11% of the co-working companies surveyed had started prior to 2015.
Co-working spaces run by those interviewed are generally small. The median size for those who answered the survey is 18 work spaces. However, there is great variation between types of municipalities. Co-working spaces in city municipalities are significantly larger than in the smaller municipalities.
There is a large difference between the different municipality types in terms of the proportion of users who also have another work place. In total, 40% of users have another work place. In the municipalities of major cities, however, only 19% have another work place, while 73% of users in the municipalities of sparsely populated areas have another work place. One possible interpretation of this is that the co-working spaces are populated by different groups. In major city municipalities they are believed to primarily be used by self-employed people without any other work place, while users in sparsely populated areas use co-working spaces to avoid having to commute to their regular work places one or a few days per week.
Co-working can have a positive contribution to local development
To gain deeper insight into how co-working spaces outside the major city regions function, interviews were conducted with representatives of the owners as well as members in four municipalities in Jämtland/Härjedalen and Västernorrland: Fjällhubben in Funäsdalen (in Härjedalen municipality), Gomorron Östersund and House Be in Åre and Sundsvall.
During the interviews, many examples emerged showing how co-working can have a positive contribution to local development. Several informants pointed out the potential of co-working spaces as initial locations for companies that want to set up in a new place, and examples were given of companies or departments that have grown and gradually spun off from the co-working space. Other examples showed that companies use co-working spaces in attractive rural/mountain areas as a component of their recruitment to widen the company’s geographic area for recruitment, and that individuals and companies in co-working environments informally help each other out and also formalise cooperation by buying services or products from each other.
Co-working creates valuable personal networks
The interviews conducted were supplemented with a questionnaire to members of Gomorron Östersund. This showed that a large majority view the co-working space as a beneficial environment for identifying new business opportunities and for creating important work relationships. The co-working space was also very significant for the social environment of the members. Most members emphasise that the co-working environment was important to their personal relationships and internal contacts and networks, as well as for getting information and new ideas. On the other hand, only a handful experienced benefits in the form of shorter travelling time and lower business costs.
Knowledge about co-working is still scarce
This study has demonstrated that co-working is a more comprehensive and widespread phenomenon in Sweden than previously known. It has indicated that the co-working spaces share many similarities, but that there are also substantial differences between them in different types of municipalities. Co-working in the major city regions (which was only covered in the analysis section of this study) probably differs between the city and the suburbs in terms of the users’ home locations and travel patterns. Similarly, it is likely that co-working in regional centres differs from the sparsely populated municipalities in terms of the location of the members’ ordinary work places as well as their commuting needs. However, these are only tentative assumptions that should be explored in future studies.
Further important matters for future studies include:
• The co-working phenomenon as a new form of work place that does not fit perfectly within the institutions, laws and frameworks established within the traditional work-place model.
• The function of co-working spaces as the initial point of establishment in a new place, as company incubators and as hot-beds for company spin-offs.
• Co-working (or remote working) as a component in the recruitment of new workers.
• Attitudes to co-working and remote working within municipal and regional public organisations.
Coworking and local development outside Sweden's metropolitan regions
Serial number: PM 2022:09
Reference number: 2021/147