Co-working Spaces are complex creatures. The house companies of all kinds, providing a great platform to work, learn and collaborate. If designed and operated effectively they can go far beyond than just a simple office space. There are many challenges that a shared workspace must overcome, ranging from the design of the workspace to the services offered; and by challenges I really mean opportunities. Opportunities, when fully grasped, can help create a wholesome experience for their clients. These days the world focuses on the common association of a coworking space as a hotbed for collaboration, entrepreneurship, networking etc. Though this element of community is very important, people often forget that the first innovation of a shared workspace is in the design of the space itself.
The design of any workspace and the culture of a company are always symbiotically intertwined. The former has an impact on the latter and vice versa and if the office space is not designed in congruence with the culture then the relationship becomes parasitic instead. For example, if a company, that has traditionally worked out of private offices, moves to an open plan, it’s important to inculcate the company’s change of culture in its employees. If not handled correctly, problems can manifest and escalate themselves in signs as simple as the lack of availability of meeting rooms (because people are using them to just work alone), decreased productivity and even increased attrition rates. Understanding how companies use their workspaces is useful for architectural design and through that create an office space that can help guide a transformation. Similarly, design as a tool in a coworking space helps resolve its primary challenge, i.e. making a shared workspace function effectively for the different cultures of different companies. The spatial arrangement of the shared workspace must be intelligently designed because the mix of public and private areas is an important facet. Companies going into the millennial years need spaces that help them innovate and for that, you need to be able to focus, collaborate, socialize and learn in the right quotients. Co-working spaces naturally lend themselves to such a requirement for they provide a range of shared areas from large event spaces to phone booths to exercise zones that can help them collaborate, zone in or take a break as and when they so choose. This freedom helps invigorate the workforce and does so at affordable rates by virtue of being a shared economy.
The design of the space also enables communal involvement which in turn creates a hotbed of learning, exchanges and ideas. There is an increasing number of event companies that educate audiences to a range of relevant topics from health and well-being to training for hard skills such as UX design or digital marketing. By creating tech-enabled event spaces, co-working spaces have an opportunity to curate and create the events that cater to their client mix. Channelling this energy is vital because such engagement can enhance the ability and growth of the employees and in turn vessel it to the companies. If collaboration is vital for companies to innovate, so is the ability to focus. Overindulging in one over the other leads to distractions and this can be the pitfall for most coworking spaces.
The requirements of privacy are paramount in co-working spaces. While the proportion of time spent on collaboration vs. private work may vary by company, every organization will still require a structure that supports privacy and hierarchy. Co-working spaces must address these concerns and build spaces to allow employees to focus on. Exploring acoustic design to control the movement of sound can add another layer to space. Acoustic insulated ceilings, partitions with higher sound reductive properties etc. are some examples that help reduce noise transitions, giving clients greater privacy and ability to focus on their work.
The final pillar, where shared offices can really stand apart, is service. Different companies may signal different requirements, with the expectation for the co-working space to be nimble to their needs. These requests may range from hiring executive assistants to organizing an inauguration event for a company. It is essential for a co-working space to have an adept and capable team who is both quick on their feet and always professional. Going the extra mile by offering great discounts for members to providing legal and accounting services, help the coworking space extend from a physical space to becoming a support system.
Innovation in design, curating the right collaborative environment, addressing the needs for privacy and offering bespoke services are advantages that enable co-working spaces to create a unique work environment. If done well then they can be platforms for companies to be able to innovate, collaborate, inspire and grow.
This article has been contributed by Architect Robin Chhabra, Founder and CEO of Dextrus, a shared workspace in BKC, Mumbai