11/07/2018

Building and Sustaining the Best Co-working Environment

The Co-working industry has exploded in recent years and it’s estimated that “by the end of the year, the number of co-working spaces worldwide will double from 2015’s statistic.” 

Whilst initially co-working appealed mainly to freelancers and small teams that couldn’t lease full offices for themselves, there is now a notable shift from the larger corporate companies moving departments or new innovation teams into co-working spaces to benefit from the opportunity for networking. Now the “watercooler moment” opens up possibilities for cross-company networking, improving not only the opportunity for business development, but also feeding individuals’ social needs and sense of wellbeing.

With more and more spaces opening up to meet the ever rising demand, we asked ourselves what do people really want from their office space and how can those offering co-working, stand out amongst the crowd?

First Impressions Count

The first thing to hit you when you walk through the door of a co-working space is what the space looks like. This is something experienced by every employee, client, investor, journalist or potential new hire or client. Whilst hard to quantify, image is important and first impressions certainly count.

Gone are the days when tiny, uniform cubicles, multiplying down a grey corridor will appeal to a potential client. Modern aesthetics include bold, colourful, open plan offices that employees actually want to work in. Lighting and layout is paramount to a seamless flow from desk space area to communal kitchens. Artwork and foliage give functional spaces identity, and retro signage and inspiring quotes provide point of interest and vibrance.

Getting Down to Work

Once the wow effect subsides co-workers are going to get practical. What options are there regarding desk space. Some teams require private offices whilst others are happy having a dedicated desk in an open plan area. Freelancers or solo entrepreneurs that aren’t in the office every day might simply require a desk within reach of a plug socket, on which to set up their laptop. Being able to transition from one membership type to another as the size of the company changes is also important otherwise co-working spaces run the risk of losing clients as their teams outgrow them.

Other aspects that should be considered by anyone thinking of opening a co-working space include meeting rooms, soundproof call booths, registered business address and post management, as well as printing facilities and additional third party services with preferential rates. Offering AI solutions such as personal assistants or 24 hour meeting room booking services will set the most forward thinking co-working spaces above the rest.

Networking & Events

One of the main benefits of sharing an office space is the opportunity to meet other people and what better way than at an event. Co-working events can be either internal – run by the club for members only – or external, by hiring event spaces to event organisers who bring in interesting content and speakers.

Internal events can be as simple as a breakfast meetup where members can introduce themselves and their companies, and get to know others over a coffee. Nurturing connections between members is a definite win for co-working clubs as companies that feel entrenched in the community are more likely to gain subsequent benefits from other members, and are less likely to leave.

A number of co-working spaces, like We Work, have internal member directory platforms that help members connect with each other across spaces and even continents. This can be hugely useful when looking for freelance or contract staff for a specific project; member searches in the morning and is meeting with the correct person over coffee that very afternoon. Advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning can help members discover useful contacts within the network, through relevant and timely suggestions for introductions.

External events make new connections and interesting and useful content, easily accessible to members. It also gets new people through the door to experience the wow factor of first impressions. Member companies might themselves want to run events and as such special hire rates on well equipped event spaces can be a large appeal. The Trampery’s zig-zagged floor event space is the perfect blank canvas for talks, workshops or networking events and provides modern AV equipment and back of house kitchen facilities.

Flexible spaces like Second Home’s Auditorium (https://secondhome.io/private-hire/spitalfields/auditorium) with it’s “flying table” that can either seat 35 or be raised into the ceiling to make more room for theatre style or standing guests – can be a real asset to co-working spaces catering for many needs.

Harmonious Flow & Work Life Balance

The danger of wide open spaces where everyone is meeting and mingling, is that no one actually gets any work done. This is where layout and design really come into play. Using furniture, lighting or glass partitions is a common way to separate areas whilst maintaining the open plan feel of multipurpose spaces. Central working skillfully divide dedicated desk areas from more informal meeting space, by using waist height pine screens and contrasting seating options. Music can also be used to set the tone, with the same audio playing at different volume levels across different areas.

Co-working is in part a reaction to the changing world of work and with that is a demand for more flexible work-life balance. Forward thinking co-working spaces not only need to consider the work aspect of that but things like sports facilities, lockers and showers, as well as unisex baby changing facilities and daycare. will be appreciated by those with family responsibilities and the need to combine health and fitness more seamlessly into their day-to-day.

Eyes and Ears

Finally but most importantly for any decent co-working space is the need for happy, motivated and engaged community managers. Whilst architecture and design of the space can make a huge difference to how members behave and work, ensuring there is always a member of staff on hand to greet people at reception, to answer members questions and to manage facilities, is paramount to a productive environment. However even more than making sure things run smoothly, community managers are the eyes and ears of the co-working space. They are the first to know of any complaints or new ideas that come from members; they personally get to know members and so can recognise where valuable connections can be made, and they are the link between members and higher management focused able to better influence the bigger picture.

There are a huge number of useful tech tools being developed to aid community managers and at AskPorter, we’re especially interested in how property managers handle the new challenges that co-working spaces present, as the industry continues to grow.