ADR: How have co-working spaces adapted over time, from a design perspective?
Madeleine Joyce: The popularity and demand for co-working spaces has steadily risen over time (8,700 in 2015 compared to 13,800 in 2017 as shown in Deskmag’s Global Working Survey 2017), and so the design of co-working spaces has unsurprisingly adapted to meet the growing trend and the needs of the increasing number of workers who choose to call them their office.
We’re seeing the design of co-working spaces evolve towards a less corporate environment with aesthetic features such as exposed slab ceilings, concrete and timber floors and less built form. The model has also progressed further with the offer of residential and hospitality styled areas, such as lounges, cafés and even sleeping spaces and bars for people to collaborate and work while remaining relaxed and energised.
I recently travelled to London to visit some of the most progressive co-working spaces and saw another factor that is influencing the design is feedback from clients. Co-working spaces such as WeWork in London’s Paddington regularly updates its fitout based on member feedback.
Co-working operators also seem to have fewer boundaries when it comes to their environment and location – many have embraced green and outdoor spaces, derelict buildings, churches and heritage buildings – places other corporate businesses would be hesitant to take on. For example, Macro Sea in New York turned an abandoned Brooklyn warehouse into a successful co-working space for tech entrepreneurs.
Another big driver in the design of co-working spaces is technology. With the advance of mobile phones, high-speed internet and wi-fi, the ability to work anywhere has reached a new level. This creates flexibility in how a space can be designed.
In what ways are the co-working spaces in other parts of the world the same or different to in Australia?
The concept for a co-working space is to create a shared environment that suits startups and entrepreneurs. This concept is the same whether it’s in Australia, Europe or America. What changes is the way in which it operates, just like any other business.
In a co-working space, this depends on how flexible the membership options are. For example, there are some co-working spaces that target tech startups only. The design and operation of these co-working spaces will differ based on their members, rather than the country it is based in.
You describe non-ergonomic furniture as a fixture in many co-working spaces – can you explain what that is and why you think this is the case?
Business environments are typically arranged to enhance the wellbeing of staff, and so employers tend to use furniture like supportive, adjustable chairs that encourage users to sit and work for long timeframes, which can create a very corporate tone. While this might seem like the most productive method, a number of reports have found that sitting for too long in the one spot can actually have a negative effect. Many co-working spaces are acknowledging that people should not be sitting in one place for too long, and are using non-ergonomic furniture like armchairs, sofas and bar stools to encourage movement as part of the culture.
Diversity can be better achieved within a co-working space if a wide range of furniture types and settings are used. For example, Second Home in Shoreditch, London, (designed by SelgasCano) provides a large organic shaped workbench during the day. Each evening this elevates into a ceiling void (via a pulley system) to accommodate an early yoga class the following morning.
What are the key requirements for a successful co-working space?
A successful co-working space should offer a diverse range of open and enclosed flexible work settings to support any sized group of people. The space needs to be warm and inviting, almost feeling like a second home to workers – because, in reality, many people go to these places because they want to feel like they’re working from home.
Organically shaped spaces are also key in enhancing the flow and movement around the space, along with natural light, inclusion of plants and outdoor space, which allows a reprieve for workers should they need it.
What do you see as the evolution of co-working spaces?
Co-working spaces have provided a solution in an age where businesses are having to adapt to differing work arrangements, such as flexible hours, hot-desking and remote working.
Adding to this, advanced technology and the increasing need to be flexible for a growing variety of workers will continue to drive and impact how co-working spaces are designed and how they operate in the future.
Co-working spaces are already influencing larger corporate businesses in the way they operate, while encouraging them to look at the way their office space is designed and how it could be improved. According to a recent Unispace report, it is anticipated that within five years, assigned desks will disappear and companies will open up their doors to customers and the wider public in co-working arrangements. We’re excited to bring our extensive knowledge in co-working design, teamed with contemporary workplace design to transform businesses into some of the most progressive office spaces in Australia.
Lead image, Second Home in Shoreditch designed by SelgasCano, photo by Iwan Baan.
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