Frost on… co-working

what makes a modern co-working space tick?

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 on-site gyms, yoga studios, zen gardens, sleeping pods 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.

hospitality

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.   

identity

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 somewhat 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.

feel

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.

growth

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.

verdict

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.

Frost on… extensions

Extending your existing home by linking to an outbuilding is an increasingly popular and cost effective way of expanding your living space by making use of a garage or storage space that is no longer used the way it was intended. The way we live and use our homes is changing all the time. We value high quality living spaces for working, relaxing and entertaining over a place to keep the car dry! Similarly, a nicely converted garage to provide a stunning sun room or play room may not get the use it deserves if you need to walk out in the rain to use it on a winter’s day.

This is where the simple extension link is a great opportunity to do something a bit playful and different. By joining spaces together they can become much more useable and can really add space that is both valuable and enjoyable.

A glazed link is often a great idea. Not only does it bring light into a space that might otherwise be dark and enclosed, it also allows the two elements to be read separately, providing a sense of the site’s historic narrative. Inside the link, the external walls of the building become internal walls, which can work out quite nicely – our Hare Lane project used the exposed brickwork to add character to the new space. By creating a distinction between the traditional and contemporary you can clarify what’s new, what’s been retained, and explore the relationship between the two.

If the outbuilding is in close proximity to the house, whether and how you link them depends on how you live and intend to use the space in the future. Flexibility of use is important, it may start as a study or playroom for the kids, but over time become a media room, home office, or artist’s studio. The possibilities are endless and it’s important to retain versatility while ensuring the design and function reflects the short term requirements of the space.

It is of course important to consider planning and building control requirements when undertaking any building work. Whether or not planning permission is required is project specific and dependent on a variety of factors, such as proximity to boundaries, neighbouring buildings and if the building is listed or protected. We recommend seeking advice from the local authority before proceeding with any plans.

With a little knowledge and creativity, there are many ways to give those under used spaces in your home a new purpose.

 

Frost on… wellbeing

Office environments are continually evolving as we adjust and adapt to meet the demands and opportunities that technology offers. But are we meeting the needs of the modern-day worker? The ability to be ‘on-line’ and available 24/7 puts a strain on the mental and physical health of us all. Working environments, therefore, need to respond to meet this changing dynamic. The mental environment is as important as the physical environment and wellbeing is now high up on the workplace agenda.

So what makes for a place of wellbeing? Designers are well practiced in putting the pieces of the physical jigsaw together to create high quality spaces. We are masters at using light, colour, ergonomics and materials to create spaces people want to be in. But we need to look beyond these physical and sensory experiences. We need to consider working practices. Admittedly this requires a receptive client and is perhaps beyond our normal remit, but the commercial realities of offices are changing. Technology has given people more options than we thought possible. Employers are having to alter contractual terms to meet the demands of the employee, who now leads the charge when it comes to how we work.

What can we do as designers? We now need to be experts in knowing the market (location, technology, style), knowing the demands of the workforce, ultimately knowing our clients better than they know themselves.

Every day the market makes strides in evolving trends and our industry follows. Can we predict and anticipate the next trend?

Co-working is the hot trend at the moment. This relatively small part of the sector has given fresh impetus to the changing workplace. Subscription membership, hot desks, dedicated desks, team rooms – all variations on how we structure space. These spaces are popular not only for sole traders and start-ups, but give the range of environments everyone likes to work in – informal work areas, quiet work areas, presentation spaces, meeting rooms, break out, cafe. This mix of spaces allows the chance to ‘switch off’, unwind and have a change of pace. These spaces and the means to do so need to be part of the workplace offer. We must look beyond our surroundings and embrace aspects such as nutrition, exercise and fun, if we are to keep pace with the demands of today’s workforce.

Only then can we hope to have well-beings.

By Daniel Frost RIBA

Crown Estate – Future Offices

In 2017 the Crown Estate commissioned a competition for Architects to design the office of the future, utilising their building portfolio.

Our proposal for the competition was for a Distributed Office environment that allows businesses to retain a fixed, leased office space while offering shared resources, spaces and facilities available on-demand. With greater physical flexibility, fixed office spaces can be smaller than required in a traditional office setup. Businesses subscribed to the proposed co-working membership scheme will be able to offer their employees access to a large network of office spaces across the city. With greater flexibility workers will be able to work more locally and maintain a desired level of wellbeing.

Within each office hub, businesses will be offered a workBOX; a fixed unit to provide private space to complement the preferred operational model of each business. Each workBOX varies in size and provides traditional office space in one location or a network of private office spaces across the city, or simply a fixed storage space for businesses to spill out into larger shared working areas. The membership structure will provide co-working spaces, allowing start-ups to work alongside larger, more established companies and creating the possibility for networking and collaboration.

The growth of the Knowledge Economy and developments in technology are expected to be major factors in the next shift in office working practices and design. Our workBOX proposal provides a platform for the evolution of the workplace.

By Abre Etteh RIBA