Between the Mount Blanc Belgium Chocolate Café and the H&M, I took the last free table at a surprisingly full coworking space in Forum, a shopping mall in Gliwice, Poland. I was happy to find a place to work where I wasn’t obligated to buy coffee, but startled to discover there was a coworking space in the mall. It was an idea that had never occurred to me. Why put a coworking space in a mall?
As I sat there, reading the inspirational quotes on the wall, I thought of a few reasons. A mall-housed coworking space is a public amenity for couples when one person wants to shop and the other wants to work so they compromise by using the mall workspace. This aligns it with other amenities offered by the mall, such as the childcare space right down the hall.
The very nature of malls has evolved from offering one amenity (a place to shop at all your favorite stores) to offering every amenity. Since they originated in the 1940s, Malls have grown into a center of activity and life in many parts of the world through their rising number of amenities. Consider the Mall of America, where you can visit an aquarium, ride a roller coaster, get married, play mini golf, and break out of an escape room all in one day.
In the Polish mall coworking space, I saw similar people to those in my own coworking space back home in Chicago: freelancers, small business owners, IT workers, and remote workers. The primary difference was that this space was free. Operated on a first come, first serve basis, anyone could walk in and set up at a desk. Of course, it did not have the style, comfort, coffee machine, and free printing offered by most privately owned coworking spaces, but it was pretty amazing. A few students were even gathered there for a quiet place to focus and do homework after school.
The idea of working at a mall is not limited to Poland. A startup called Cowork at the Mall recently began a space at the Water Tower, the biggest mall in downtown Chicago. According to Chicago Tribune reporter Cheryl V. Jackson, the unique space not only offers coworking, but also provides a retail space to “test the market for products from local entrepreneurs and national brands that are primarily sold online”. This mall has embraced yet another amenity born out of coworking, a bridge between the online shopping world and the physical that benefits the customer and the creator.
Coworking shows how work is evolving, but it also fosters that evolution. In the future, perhaps all workspaces will be amenities offered by malls, where workers can easily step out for a latte at the mall cafe, exercise at the mall gym, or visit their children at the mall daycare. Perhaps they will grow to offer more of a link to the online world, connecting digital nomads and testing products that will eventually be sold online. From the spaces themselves to their expansions to malls, coworking spaces are becoming the instrument that’s creating the new work landscape.
This is the first post in a series we’re doing at Free Range Office blog featuring quirky coworking spaces around the world. We want to explore how different types of spaces affect work and change the nature of coworking itself. So come back to read more in the coming weeks about other bizarre coworking spaces, set up on the seaside or even in your own home.