The evolving design of coworking spaces
Wednesday, December 12, 2018
One of the fastest-growing areas of commercial real estate is coworking spaces. They have become increasingly popular with freelancers, entrepreneurs and self-employed professionals and paraprofessionals, whose numbers have expanded considerably post-recession, as well as with business travelers, who use them as hoteling spaces.
As the number of users has grown, so has their diversity and their diverse business needs. Today’s coworking space providers are having to respond to the same types of demands for better working environments as are companies everywhere.
According to a recent report from global real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield, some 15,000 square feet of coworking space is being added every single business day. The proportion of total coworking space relative to all commercial office space is expected to triple in size from its current level of 1 to 2 percent to between 5 to 10 percent in the next decade.
Driving this demand is the rapid growth in independent workers whose numbers in the U.S., states the report, has nearly doubled, from around 10 percent of the workforce in 2005 to over 17 percent by 2015, along with the rise in U.S. small office-based businesses with five or fewer employees, which accounted for half of all new small business jobs last year.
And not just in the U.S. Coworking has become a global phenomenon.
A survey conducted last year by Deskmag, a magazine devoted to coworking, found the number of coworking spaces worldwide jumped from 8,700 in 2015 to 13,800 in 2017, and the number of coworkers skyrocketed from 510,000 in 2015 to 1,180,000. Two-thirds of the coworking sites participating the survey said they had plans to expand or move to a larger location in order to keep up with demand.
An outgrowth of the Silicon Valley start-up economy, coworking spaces in the beginning were fairly minimalistic, open-space offerings. In the Deskmag survey, 60 percent of respondents described their coworking environment as “casual” and another 24 percent as “hip and trendy.” Although users enjoy the sense of community and creative energy coworking spaces offer, as the number of occupants has increased so has the need for greater variety and flexibility of available workspaces.
In an article for Allwork, a website devoted to the flexible worksite industry, Mark Phillips, co-founder and managing director of workplace design firm K2, states, “The varied needs of occupants is a key influence in the overall layout and aesthetic of emerging modern workplaces. Therefore, there is little doubt that design is a significant factor for many new coworking providers seeking to create ‘a destination workplace’ — a space where people want to work.”
A study conducted by K2 earlier this year on what employees want from their workplace found one-third of respondents (36 percent) said their work environment lacked quiet spaces and nearly one-fourth (23 percent) said it lacked private spaces.
A major complaint was poor lighting conditions (32 percent), and nearly one-third (31 percent) said they would like their work environment to have more color, art and graphics. About one-in-five respondents (21 percent) said they would be more productive in a better-designed work environment.
Similarly, employees participating in surveys commissioned last year by modular office furnishings firm ROOM said they had go to a bathroom (12 percent) or closet or hallway (31 percent) to take a private phone call, and more than one-fourth (27 percent) said they had difficulty finding a private or quiet place to take a work-related call.
Not surprisingly, 62 percent said they would prefer a more closed layout, and 83 percent of those who have closed offices said they did not want to move to a more open layout. Moreover, 1 in 8 said they had considered or were considering changing jobs because of the stress, noise, distractions, and lack of privacy in the work environment.
Yet another aspect to consider as the coworker population has become more diverse is the needs of women and gender minorities. In an interview for a podcast produced by the Work Science Center of the Georgia Institute of Technology, Ali Greenberg, founder of The Broad, a co-working and community space for women and gender minorities in Richmond, Virginia, noted that most coworking spaces are not designed for women.
Emphasizing the importance of a well-designed work environment, she cited a number of design considerations incorporated into the space at the Broad to make it more supportive for women, including a private room that can be used as a changing and pumping room.
As coworking spaces expand and mature in the coming years, design will increasingly become an important factor in attracting and retaining lessees. Observes Phillips, “Unquestionably, companies and coworking providers will have to significantly up their game when it comes to office design,” and creative office designers are the ones who can best advise them on how to do that.
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