Tue 6 Aug 2019

The science behind the perfect coworking space

How the innovative yet ubiquitously cool design of co-working spaces has contributed to their success


Caption: A great space can do wonders for creativity

We are undoubtedly living in an entrepreneurial age. More than ever before, people are eschewing the constraints of the nine-to-five in favour of working for themselves, starting a business or going freelance. According to a 2018 study, a third of all US workers will soon be made up of these nontraditional career paths. 

As a result, there has been a recent boom of co-working spaces, which offer people the opportunity to pay for desk space per day, week or month and provide a flexible work environment which can accommodate their needs as the business grows.

There are a number of benefits to working in a co-working space – including access to things like meeting rooms and locations which are often in a city centre. But one of the things which draws a lot of people to them is the design aesthetic. These are spaces that look nothing like the bland, corporate offices we’re used to, and for people trying to get creative about their careers, it can feel like the perfect externalisation of their ambitions.

Bright, comfortable furniture, airy spaces, industrial chic decor and an inordinate amount of plants are common themes among some of the most popular co-working spaces across the world today.

Dari Schechter is the managing creative director at Mindspace, a co-working space brand with locations from Tel Aviv to Bucharest and San Francisco. She joined the company at the point of inception, and has been instrumental in creating its look and feel. She works with up and coming artists to create custom pieces for each space and sources vintage items like record players and books to create the feeling of being in an inspiring, yet comfortable space.

“I’m a person who is very sensitive to my environment, so I know how much design affect your mood and creativity,” she says. “It’s important to think about the bigger picture, but also the small things – having comfortable sofas if people need a rest, have a quiet room where people can make a call, and a kitchen where employees can really relax and enjoy their lunch.”

The business dynamics of a co-working space encourage this attention to detail: in a traditional workplace the employers involved in the design hold all the cards, while in the co-working industry the clients are the people using the space, so creating something highly appealing to workers is crucial.

On of the big aesthetic differences between a typical corporate workplace and a co-working space is the lighting. While offices have historically incorporated a harsh bright light, co-working spaces think about this a lot more, and often use low lamps and dim lights to create a more intimate-feeling space. The science bears out this innovation: according to a 2013 paper in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, lower lighting can help promote internal reflection and creativity by removing focus from the distractions around you.

The design of co-working spaces also tends to gear towards the egalitarian. There are usually neither cubicles nor private offices – everyone is sharing a desk regardless of their role at the company. This is important not just to create a sense of camaraderie but also because it allows for people who work in different sectors and industries to interact on a regular basis.

Rob Shapiro is the VP of Product at Muck Rack, a public relations service which is based in a coworking space in New York. He said: “The fact that you can run into people outside of your day-to-day team, allows you to learn more about what other people are working on and always keeps things interesting. You don't always have to go to a networking event to engage with people at other companies, which is nice.”

Another young business utilising co-working spaces is Safomasi, a textiles company based in New Delhi. Co-founder Sarah Fotheringham said of finding their first co-working space: “We didn’t view different spaces, it was a fairly new concept in Delhi at that time so there weren’t many other options. But it was a beautiful, light space with large windows a big terrace and a very creative atmosphere, shared with a design agency and a music events company and that was very appealing.”


Caption: Being able to meet people working in different industries due to the open plan space is appealing to many entrepreneurs

She credits a lot of the early success of the company with being in a space that felt creative. “It just puts you in the right mindset,” she says.

Co-working businesses are often targeting young people in metropolitan cities who have an interest in innovation, so it’s important that they make the right impression. Entrepreneurs want to work in a space that feels – to clients, investors and employees – like an extension of their own creativity.

Uncommon is a co-working business with spaces across London. Co-founder Tania Adir believes their design has been instrumental in their success. “You just need to walk in to one of the spaces to see and feel the impact of the design – from the thousand plus plants, the bespoke scents and the bright natural light,” she says. They also carefully curate music choices to create a more unique experience.

Clearly the re-imagining of the workplace is having an impact. Recent figures show that the number of coworking members will rise to 3.8 million by 2020 and 5.1 million by 2022, while 84% of people who use coworking spaces are more engaged and motivated.

Anis Qizilbash is a an author, motivational speaker and entrepreneurship coach. She encourages startups to join a co-working space mainly because of the social benefits of an open plan workspace, but she also agrees that the aesthetics are important: “Productivity and performance is linked to your wellbeing and satisfaction,” she says. “An aesthetically pleasing and relaxing environment can certainly help entrepreneurs feel inspired and spark inspiration.”

While countless freelancers and entrepreneurs are seeing some value in this new style of workplace, not everyone agrees it will remain that way. Harry Simons is a partner at design firm MPL Interiors. He’s been designing offices for some time, and sees co-working as an interesting option, but thinks the style that’s currently appealing won’t remain on trend for long. 

“When we hit saturation point and co-working spaces feel 'tired' and identikit, we will see that departure to more eclectic and informal styles, with creative touches and flexibility,” he says. “Working trends change, employee dynamics change and technology changes – this means a fresh approach to every project is needed, with a healthy dose of future proofing thrown into the mix too.”

For the moment though, it appears that co-working spaces have managed to build a creative, productive and aesthetically on-trend product where everyone wants to be. As long as the striving for innovation doesn’t stop, their ubiquity and success needn’t either.


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