Coworking spaces have suddenly begun to absorb more and more companies into their ecosystem. At a recent conference, I was asked if this development worries me – as a professional in the business of space. The brief answer is – no. I look at the evolution of workspace design more as a new opportunity than a challenge. As the needs of the teams evolve, so will our approach to design. The work we recently put into creating the Regus office has further cemented this belief.
The Regus project was the first time we designed an environment simultaneously housing tech firms, consultancies and creative agencies. In these environments, the cubicle culture is ditched in favour of shared tables in open spaces. These are punctuated with quieter zones, some enclosed spaces and even “phone rooms”. Team members from different companies can switch between these sections depending on the kind of work they’re doing. This sense of flexibility of movement allows the right balance of community and autonomy.
Most people believe that these spaces are only home to fresh start-ups and small companies. But now coworking spaces have evolved beyond their initial years as incubators for new businesses. Large corporations are rapidly flocking to coworking brands like Regus, WeWork, CoWrks and Awfis. According to a 2018 Confederation of Indian Industries survey, large companies make up for a whopping 10.3 million seats out of the estimated 12-16 million in the county’s coworking industry.
Networking opportunities are a key ingredient that make coworking offices a unique proposition for companies. The ecosystem of different teams operating within the same space simulates that of a high-end business school campus. Individuals with different unique abilities interact, leading up to opportunities for collaborations. Thus, it is not just the sharing of facilities that makes up a coworking space. It is actually the sharing of an environment charged with the energies, unique abilities and DNA of diverse organisations.
Large companies sometimes even use the infectious positive culture of a coworking space to boost fresh ideas for smaller teams. For instance, a team working on a project that requires more focus on innovation is moved to coworking spaces, instead of the whole company at once.
Companies also spend a great deal of time and money into team building exercises to help members develop a good working chemistry. This sense of community and synergy, however, is automatically integrated into the very fabric of coworking culture.
While the human advantage of a coworking environment is evident, large companies are taking note of the administrative advantages. For instance, the sprawl includes plenty of lounge areas with couches, and multiple conference rooms. This makes it easier to arrange meetings anywhere within the complex or the building. Plus, the peripherals and housekeeping are outsourced to facilities experts. This allows a company to concentrate on its core strengths – producing the product or the service they’re meant to deliver. Coworking spaces also have a battery of training and skill development sessions running throughout the month. That is another peripheral responsibility that corporations can hand over to the coworking brand.
Moving completely to a coworking environment, however, may not be feasible for a lot of firms – especially those where confidentiality and privacy in conference rooms is paramount. There is also the issue of customised design. A lot of companies need their décor to reflect their aesthetic, and that’s harder to achieve in a communal setting. But there are some steps that a company can take to mimic the good things from a coworking ecosystem, within their own organisation. Globally, companies are temporarily renting out unused desks or conference rooms to other smaller businesses to work out of. This creates a semblance of a coworking environment – with ample opportunities for cross-pollination, community and partnerships.
Elements of the coworking culture will thus be inevitably seeping into traditional offices. It is the next trend I’ll be watching out for. It would lead to offices becoming more inclusive environments that inspire innovation. The resulting space design would act as a catalyst for leveraging everyone’s unique ability. It would also be the end of everything that makes a workplace staid and uninspiring. In the words of Leo Burnett of the eponymous Leo Burnett Advertising Company, “Creative ideas flourish best in a shop which preserves some spirit of fun.”