Co-working spaces now dominate the industry landscape. We toured some of London’s many facilities to find out how brands are setting themselves apart in a competitive environment.
Co-working spaces have exploded over the last decade and become the dominant market influencing the sector. The proliferation of these spaces has led to branching innovations in the ethos of design, reflecting and influencing the latest working practices. The modern workforce demands a space that offers more than simply an office or desk, there is an expectation for a workplace to be a holistic experience and lifestyle hub. There is now an assumption that a modern co-working building will supply tea points, cafes, bars, gyms, yoga studios etc. However, as the facilities become identikit, how do brands stand out? The modern tenant, with access to reviews, feedback and invested in their own wellbeing, will likely be much more familiar with the ethos and reputation of a landlord, so developing a brand with a reputation for combining facilities with feel is crucial.
It becomes much harder to define, but the environment of a space therefore is now as important as the facilities. While the facilities may reflect the demands of the modern, younger workforce, it’s important that a space reflects the diverse needs of the population.
The biggest game-changer has been the influence of the hospitality sector. Many hotel providers are taking steps into the co-working market and this influence is seeping into the designs of existing providers. Increasingly front of house facilities in offices are adopting the meet and greet experience of higher end hotels. Office space receptionists are now concierges, providing information about the building, locality, and giving a warm and proactive start to the experience of a space. The integration of F&B into entrance spaces immediately provides a warm smell and feel, enhancing this hospitality like experience.
Office provider Fora have integrated this across their spaces. Their new space in Borough has a distinct hospitality feel. We were warmly greeted by a concierge space manned by two Fora Guest Experience Managers (GEMs), offered teas and coffees and immediately set at ease. A high class restaurant and bar space is visible just beyond the entrance. The deli café is part of the lobby. Calm and understated tones, with high quality materials and finishes, create a premium feel of a space catered to discerning professionals.
Another hook for a modern refurbishment is the heritage of either the building itself, or designing an environment that reflects the local context. This gives an identity to a space and working life that can feel transitory and untethered. Most modern co-working spaces seek to create a network amongst its tenants. Giving the space a contextualised identity and singular feel catalyses these communities. The space therefore has a cultural and geographic link while being designed for the future. .
Soho Works new space in Shoreditch is a great example of this; the location’s industrial focus reflected in the stripped back feel of the space. Many of the buildings historic sliding doors are retained to serve as entrances to meeting rooms while retaining an urban vibe. Basic finishes continue the industrial theme. There is an almost antiquated design space provided to tenants, with manual tools supplied. A seemingly anachronistic 3D printer in the corner demonstrates that while the feel is stripped back, the space is geared for the modern industry. Soho as a brand is identified with a cool, hip atmosphere and they have transplanted this into their co-working enterprise. Taking their cues from the existing building and their brand ethos, they have created a space that combines the young, creative and modish with the historic and rustic.
Other providers create a theme that transcends their locations. With a lot of space handed over to ‘non fee earning’ areas, the above mentioned residential facilities, the space for actual co-working needs to maximise its profitability potential. Creating a feel of intimacy without it being cramped, proximity without invading personal space, can be a dilemma. This conundrum is successfully eased by many providers by creating a homely, intimate and comfortable environment. Artwork adorning the walls, a low key musical soundtrack provides a space workers can relax in and stay focussed when surrounded by their co-working community.
When we walked into the Uncommon space Fulham, we were immediately struck by the abundance of flora. The emphasis on worker wellbeing and relaxation is clear. Plants hang from the ceiling and creep up the walls. The walls in the entrance lobby, which serves as part of the co-working area, feature large windows meaning a constant supply of high levels of daylight. Low level, ambient music filters through the space. You are greeted at the door not only by an enthusiastic member of staff, but by sights, sounds and smells all designed to induce a sense of comfort. As you move through the building you notice each area is infused with its own unique scent. The attention to detail is a testament to how seriously Uncommon take worker comfort. By focussing on wellbeing and welfare, natural light and nature, ambience and atmosphere, Uncommon create a blueprint for co-working happiness which they are able to replicate across their network.
Of course, no company wants to stay in co-working forever. While entrepreneurs, start-ups, and freelancers provide near constant tenant supply, and have precipitated the boom in co-working, when a company grows in size it will invariably graduate to its own private office. Flexible offices then, which provide this duality of workplaces, must ensure they are in a position to facilitate growth for it’s tenants and be ready to capitalise when they are looking to upscale their premises. Providing a quality co-working space along with flexibility and opportunity for growth is therefore a priority.
Workspace’s latest flagship space, The Frames, places clear emphasis on creating a welcoming space for co-working and collaboration which inspires comfort and loyalty in its tenants. The entrance sequence is always at the heart of a Workspace building – a desire to give impact, encourage movement and facilitate collaboration results in well thought out space incorporating reception, co-working and café. The double height space of the entrance at The Frames gives immediate drama while providing a focus to the community and networking opportunities that being a Workspace customer offers. A contemporary piece of wall art dominates and proves a colourful foil to the otherwise cool and restrained backdrop of black and timber. Workspace business model relies on fledgling businesses graduating to its upper level private spaces as they grow, and this focus on operational excellence, flexibility and growth is achieved in the hi-spec professional finish and carefully considered layouts.
It is clear then, that a successful modern co-working space must provide the anticipated lifestyle facilities, but also must have a clear ethos and identity. Whether it’s grounding a space in history, emphasising worker comfort and collaboration, or drawing influence from other industries, or indeed blending all three, it is apparent that the modern workforce expects their needs to be met not only in terms of lifestyle, but attention to their emotional needs, their senses and their sensibilities.