Co-working is more than a Trend; It’s a movement

What is co-working exactly?

The term seems to have been used for the first time by entrepreneur Brad Neuberg to refer to the first shared office environment he established in San Francisco in 2005.[2] After leaving his job in a tech start-up, Neuberg started to miss social aspects of office life. In a recent interview, he recalled: “I started asking myself, ‘Why can’t I combine the structure and community of a job with the freedom and independence of working for myself?’[3]  He started renting a space two days a week and made it available to others. The concept soon took off in San Francisco and around the world wherever there are large groups of young independent minded tech workers or “digital nomads”, and it’s still expanding today.

Co-working, the sharing of work facilities, by different individuals called “members”, is a dynamic response to the new ways of working facilitated by the internet and by the technological revolution that has given rise to new types of creative, knowledge work. New economic arrangements are emerging requiring more flexible workforces. There is also a generational and demographic dimension to this change, as millennials prefer more flexible working arrangements; valuing their freedom but also seeking engagement with like-minded people. Workers in many different industries can work virtually anywhere now, using their smartphone, tablet or laptop. For many businesses, especially start-ups, this can dramatically reduce overheads. Many large corporations are also exploring the benefits of outsourcing core activities to contractors, part-timers and freelances to cut costs and to increase efficiency.

But working independently as a freelancer or remotely as a contractor can present many challenges to the individual. It can be lonely, alienating and frustrating. While technological advances have in some ways freed the knowledge worker, from a desk, an office, a hierarchy, this freedom has not been problem-free. Independent workers can suffer from a sense of isolation, the lack of a supportive professional network and a loss of the sense of community that comes with working alongside others. Work connections are not only important for professional reasons, but for social and psychological ones. The collaborative office is an innovative way to accommodate the need for a more flexible workforce, while providing emotional and professional support to workers.[4]

Co-working environments can offer much needed structure and continuity to independent workers. One comprehensive definition of this phenomenon is provided by an industry resource and is referenced by Wikipedia: “Co-working is a self-directed, collaborative and flexible work style that is based on mutual trust and the sharing of common core objectives and values between members”.[5]

 

Collaborative Offices on Employees’ Health & Well-being

While the number of co-working spaces is growing dramatically, corporates are also trying to get on the co-working, collaborative office bandwagon. In April 2017, in a first deal of its kind, IBM signed a partnership with Wework, the co-working powerhouse. Under this this deal IBM will move 600 of its full-time corporate employees to a WeWork space in Greenwich Village, New York. WeWork will be responsible for managing the entire space for a single client, while IBM will benefit from all the benefits of an efficiently run co-working environment.[6]  According to Harvard Business Review (HBR): “The real revolution in co-working may have less to do with freelancers or start-ups than with employees of large companies working beyond the boundaries of their organizations”. Dozens of corporates from disparate industries are experimenting with co-working and collaborative offices.[7]

This shift in working culture is having an impact on commercial fit out and office design. Fit out contractors are not only responsible for understanding the different ways people work today, including remote work and activity-based working (AWB), and cross-functional teams, but with anticipating the direction of the new collaborative office trends. Businesses are becoming more interested in creating healthy, productive, employee focused working environments because of the demonstrable impact on increased efficiency and profitability. For this reason, many companies are adopting some of the characteristic features of co-working spaces, like open layout work areas, work tables, hot desks, etc., alongside more conventional solutions – so that we see the emergence of hybrid office fit outs. Workers expect to work differently in collaborative offices and that has a direct and significant impact on every aspect of design, from the floor plan to fit out, from lighting to furnishing.

The driver behind the growth of collaborative offices in the world’s economic capitals lies in the needs of members for this kind of working environment, combining the freedom from traditional office structures with the advantageous of cooperating and interacting with like-minded people. An HBR article summarized several studies showing that co-working not only reduces the loneliness and disconnection often experienced by free-lance or remote workers, it also has concrete professional benefits including expanding their professional networks.

  • 83% of users of collaborative offices report that they have benefited
  • 84% of people co-working members feel more engaged and motivated
  • 89% co-workers reported being happier
  • 82% felt that their professional networks had grown
  • 80% said that they receive work help and guidance from other co-working members
  • 64% that their co-working networking helped to increase work opportunities and referrals[8]

 

Top Design Trends in Co-working, Serviced and Micro Offices

Co-working is being talked about as a paradigm shift and a cultural transformation. Mainstream offices are becoming more collaborative due to the same changes that have given rise to the co-working space, so have micro-serviced offices. Some of the most interesting fit out and office design trends influenced by this technological and cultural shift towards co-working include:

  • Flexibility: The modern workforce is diverse, in terms of age, background and skill set. Even mainstream or “traditional” corporate set ups must integrate people working on different tasks and using different methodologies. This new office environment must be structured to accommodate diversity while fostering a sense of community. Flexibility and scalability therefore must be implanted in the office design and fit out process from the start. This may involve solutions such as moveable partitions or modular furniture and fittings, and so on.
  • Layout: The new collaborative office or co-working space must include a combination and variety of layouts to accommodate different working styles and changing space requirements. This may mean combining open plan with private areas, different sized and shaped meeting rooms and spaces for collaboration, as well as separate private working zones for individual and focused work. Hybrid solutions and design must be customized to suit the demands of each business.
  • Design Diversity: Co-working spaces tend to cater to a young demographic. The millennial aesthetic is functionally attractive, colourful but not overpowering, working casual, but always professional. This means using deft touches of colour and texture in fit out. For corporates, this can mean using subtly shifting moods between more and less formal working areas. Kitchens and dining areas can be brightly coloured and funky. Individual offices and concentration zones can be quietly elegant.
  • Technological Adaptability: The modern office requires seamless connectivity, providing internet access, and the most advanced telecommunication services, including video conferencing, virtual meetings, and more.
  • Employee Well-being & Productivity
    • Biophilic design: The integration of elements from nature improves human health and concentration. This includes plants, natural lighting and open window views.
    • Physical Comfort: Ensuring that employees are in the best frame of mind to concentrate means ensuring their acoustic and thermal comfort, as well as their physical well-being. Fit out features such as occupancy sensors for lighting, cooling and ventilation are important. Allowing employees some control over temperature is also desirable. Finally, using furnishings and equipment, such as sit/stand desks, and ergonomically designed work stations, can greatly improve employee health.
    • Breakout zones and Recreation Areas: One thing that has been learned from the co-working movement, is that people need time to decompress and recharge during the work Talking with colleagues or like-mined individuals can help with problem solving. Areas for rest, relaxation and brainstorming must be carved out because sometimes, the best ideas come up in casual conversations.

 

The Collaborative Office: Growing International Demand

It may be that the traditional office environment, cubicles and separate offices is not going out of style any time soon. But co-working and the collaborative office space is becoming ever more popular with the expansion of the gig economy, freelancing and remote working arrangements. Some of the latest statistics and forecasts reveal that the demand for cooperative working spaces is growing exponentially:

  • It is estimated that by the end of 2018 there were will be 1.7 million people working in around 19 thousand co-working spaces around the world[9]
  • Currently there are nearly 14.5 thousand co-working spaces globally and this is set to increase to more than double by 2022
  • The number of co-working members is set to increase to 3.8 million by 2020 and over 5 million by 2022[10]

 

Co-working is having a significant impact on corporate real estate requirements and on the demands put on the commercial fit out industry. Contact us today to discuss how co-working and collaborative solutions can increase your competitiveness, improve your bottom line, and help you keep your employees healthy, happy and productive.

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