A Place to Work and Play

There seems to be something special about co-working spaces. We used to speak about office space as a service, but it turns out that the future of offices may not be about space at all. It is hard to deny the popular appeal of co-working spaces with 71% of participants reporting boosts in creativity and productivity. With increased diversity in the workforce there are shifting expectations of what defines work and where and when it should happen. One of the most sustainable option for employers and employees moving forward is to continue to redefine the parameters of work, and how it is conducted and rewarded. This social movement is now disrupting real estate and design industries as well as how companies define their cultures. It is anticipated that 15-20% of the real estate market will move into some sort of co-work space as a service market. These spaces provide an innovative ecosystem where the office space provides merely a platform for the “curated community” -a crafted environment that is a combination of a well-designed work environment and a well-curated work experience.

I was curious: What makes these membership-based spaces where diverse groups of freelancers, remote workers, and independent professionals work together in communal settings so effective?

First, unlike a traditional office, co-working spaces consist of professionals who work for a range of different companies, projects and ventures. In this ecosystem, there is little direct competition or internal bureaucracy, removing the need to put on a work persona to assimilate. Working amidst people performing different kinds of work can reinforce one’s own work identity. “Creativity is fueled by cross-pollination of ideas,” said Natalie Chan, co-founder of Bat Haus. Each co-working space, from WeWork to Liquidspace, has its own vibe and unique experience and offer guidance, networking events, training programs, and social events. As a member of WeWork, I have attended happy hour, movie nights, whiteboard marketing sessions and company “pitch nights.”

Second, the social mission inherent in the Coworking Manifesto, an online document signed by members of more than 1,700 working spaces. It clearly articulates the values that the co-working movement aspires to, including community, collaboration, learning, and sustainability. These values get reinforced at the annual Global Coworking UnConference. The mission goes beyond simply going to work- it is a social movement. WeWork is the Ace Hotels of workspaces – with receptionists, refreshments, and programming similar to that of a hotel company, from design to operations. In contrast is ShareDesk, the Airbnbs of co-working spaces. WeWork, with a valuation of $16 billion, places an emphasis on creating a place where you join as an individual, but become part of a greater community.

Third, people have more job control. It is Christmas day and I full access to a work space with amenities and people…none of which are my actual co-workers. Co-working spaces are usually accessible 24/7 and members can decide whether to put in a long day when on deadline or take longer breaks and go to the gym in the middle of the day.

People can choose whether they want to work in a quiet space, or in a collaborative space with shared tables where interaction is encouraged. And while coworkers value autonomy, they equally value some form of structure in their professional lives. Too much autonomy can cripple productivity because people lack routines. Coworkers reported that having a community to work in assists in creating structures and discipline. Thus, paradoxically, some limited form of structure enables an optimal degree of control for independent workers. From an economic standpoint, co-working spaces allow companies to test new markets relatively risk-free, as the world experiences an increase in the freelance economy.

Despite the origins of the co-working movement being directed towards freelancers and entrepreneurs, there are implications for traditional companies. In fact, co-working design and operational principles can be integrated into a traditional company’s strategy. First, companies can create alternative places for employees to work. There has been a dramatic increase in the use of co-working space by enterprise employees, from teams using meeting rooms to individuals from global companies in need of remote offices. Just as it is important to encourage flexibility with the mobile workforce, there is an equally critical reality for integrating flex work environments within corporate walls. This goes beyond simply adding an open floor plan layout and and a coffee bar. People need to craft their work in ways that produce purpose and meaning to them with designers implementing a 1:1 ratio of desk seats to shared setting seats. The majority of modernized offices have increased common space and made private offices smaller, reducing the space per employee by 30% or 176 SF.

My advice, as a design professional, co-work member, remote professional [Millennial], to traditional companies who want to learn from co-working spaces is to provide people the space and support to be their most authentic selves. The result will be employees who are more committed to the company brand, produce their highest quality work and continue to bring their best ideas forward.

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