August 2015

“The biggest challenge is how to create a mixed environment where everybody can adapt to their workflow”

Eduardo Forte completed his studies in Law and business management, while simultaneously developing his skills in marketing and management. He is the co-founder of Betahaus Barcelona, an open space that offers passionate professionals the opportunity to develop themselves in a creative and inspirational atmosphere. Eduardo will be speaking at this year’s Social Workplace conference, and gave us a glimpse into what it’s like to run a space catered to the “new coworking class”.

How does Betahaus Barcelona define the social workplace?

For us, it is a place where people can have access to an inspirational atmosphere filled with individuals from various backgrounds. For example, Betahaus currently has 200 members from 40 nationalities. This diverse community not only allows people to expand their business contacts but also gives them the chance to share and find others that are also passionate about what they do.

For us, to have “big numbers” (big community) means that we can increase that chance. You could meet someone that might be your next partner, client, friend, crush or love of your life.

What types of members chose to work at Betahaus Barcelona?

We are a big space in terms of members (+200), thus we have many profiles. Overall we attract international and open-minded people that have chosen Barcelona due to their lifestyle. Our members range from creative professionals (designers, illustrator, etc) to entrepreneurs and startups. We also have an in-house workshop, so we attract many makers and product designers that want to build their own prototypes.

Betahaus Barcelona is pretty focused on design. Why are the look and feel of a workspace so important?

Eduardo Forte

Eduardo Forte

We worked really hard to design our space that provides the best working experience possible for our members. One of my co-founders, Pedro Pineda, is a designer and he is also in charge of developing and improving the concept of the experience you will get when you become a member of Betahaus.

The design is not only about having a nice and comfortable chair, or hip meeting room. It’s primarily about developing something that is useful and shaped for the user. Overall, the design aims to improve your working experience in general.

How have open workspaces influenced the culture of work

I think these social spaces opened up more possibilities for workers because they offer members the chance to meet other profiles that they wouldn’t typically encounter in a traditional office.

In a coworking space, you’re in touch with people that don’t necessarily share your skill-set, thus you have the chance to open your network and develop a much broader vision of your own work, and that definitely changes (in a good way) the way you will work in the future.

Do you think that larger companies are now looking to join open workplaces?

I think that’s not 100% true. I think that small to medium-sized companies are much more open to social workplaces. It’s very complicated for corporations to change the way they work because they’re big and less flexible. Also, large companies are a community within itself, so the question is: How you put a community inside another community? It wouldn’t really work. But what we will start to see is larger companies and corporations will we send small teams to social workspaces to gain inspiration, or understanding about what is happening in the startup and freelance ecosystem.

What are the challenges of creating a productive workplace for freelancers?

There are many challenges! But I think the biggest challenge is how to create a mixed environment where everybody feels comfortable and can adapt to their workflow. When you are dealing with different profiles, the various work styles don’t necessarily fit together, so you need to find the way to make them come together. That’s the biggest challenge.

“It’s essential that people realize that our space does not tie you down to one specific location”

Flywheel Coworking is a space based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. They define themselves as an innovation space, where entrepreneurs and other professionals can come together to work, meet and collaborate. In addition to building a dynamic community for their members, Flywheel is also currently exploring ways in which social workspaces can connect with more conventional corporations.

We spoke with Flywheel’s community manager, Jennifer Berg, to find out more about why traditional companies are gravitating to more open workspaces.

Hi, Jennifer. How do you view an open office and does it represent a new model of work?

An open office is a workspace that while designed to be a productive atmosphere, also encourages communication and socialization. It is easy for people to assume that an open office comes with plenty of distractions, but what we’ve noticed is that the variety of spaces and people within our space help to keep people motivated. When the majority of people in the space are working and focused, you really don’t want to be the only one who isn’t!

What would we see if we walked into Flywheel?

Our space is about 11,000 square feet, with plenty of work space options. In addition to open desk space, we also have enclosed offices, meeting rooms, and soft seating throughout the area. There’s also a pool hall, which includes a pool table, dart board, coffee and beer bars, which is adjacent to our quarter-scale basketball court.

Why is space design important for productivity?

The design of the space is so important because of the options it provides to our members. It’s essential that people realize that our coworking space does not tie you down to one specific location. Instead, it gives you the opportunity to move around throughout the day, and try out new and creative workspaces.

What kinds of members typically join Flywheel and what services do you offer them?

We have a variety of members, ranging from entrepreneurs/solopreneurs/startups, to consultants and freelancers, to professionals who work for established companies but have the opportunity to work outside the office. All memberships include Wi-Fi, free coffee and water, free beer on tap. We also offer an allotment of free meeting room hours each month, as well as a discount on the hourly rate for anyone who exceeds their allotment in addition to free (or heavily discounted) admittance to our events, classes and other programming

In your opinion, how has the development of social workplaces influenced contemporary work culture?

I believe that it helps to foster a new type of creative atmosphere, where regardless of your background or experience, you want to jump and help where you can. I’ve watched people meet here at Flywheel, and within two or three days, they are collaborating or even just helping out with thoughtful advice or ideas. It’s rewarding to see how much people want to help other people, even if they’re just new acquaintances!

What does a social work environment offer that a traditional one does not?

It definitely offers a creative atmosphere. It also gives an opportunity to network and learn more about other professional areas. It’s wonderful to watch new members interact and learn about professions that they never even knew existed!

Today we see larger companies/corporations gravitating towards social workplaces, why do you think that is?

I believe that it’s due to the fact that it gives their employees more variety, whether it’s in their physical desk location, or with the people they interact with throughout the day. In my opinion, variety keeps people focused and motivated, and helps reduce the risk of boredom/lack of focus.

Does Flywheel have any corporate members?

We do. We have corporate partners (similar to sponsors), as well as members who have chosen to come and work out of Flywheel. With the members, most of them have the opportunity to work from home/remotely, and have found that they aren’t as productive in their home offices, or prefer being around people.

Why do you think that they chose Flywheel and do they feel a more social work environment has contributed to their success?

With the corporate partners, they see this as an opportunity to not only be supportive of the professional and entrepreneurial community in Winston-Salem, but also as a way to show how their services can beneficial to a variety of professions.

The Social Workplace to become the next mainstream office environment

The Social Workplace to become the next mainstream office environment

DTZ UK, via the Financial Times, recently disclosed a survey which stated that 816 coworking spaces are active in the city of London today. If the definition of coworking withheld by the real estate consulting firm in fact did embrace the wide scope of flexible workspaces (including business centers) the figure then confirms that traditional offices and businesses are now leaning heavily towards innovative and social work environments.

Spacious, New York

Spacious, New York

The trend is gaining traction in a growing number of cities. According to the CoStar’s ranking, in the 1st half of 2015, coworking champion, WeWork, was the number 1 deal taker in the New York City’s real estate market.

In the Big Apple alone, WeWork now operates more than 549.000 square feet (51.000 m2) of space, spread across 15 locations, which is part of a network of 49 spaces.

But the story is not only about WeWork.

In the last 12 months, the coworking scene, on the whole, raised close to 1 billion US$.

A brand new, growing industry

Today the story that is being written is focused on a new and growing industry, which is beginning to shake up the traditional office market. Today’s businesses are reimagining the role, function, and spirit of the 21st-century workplace.

The culture of work is changing and so is the physical workplace, as it is preparing to embrace a future that will be social, open, comprised of peer to peer networks, as well as convenient and human driven.

This current shift implies a new understanding of workplace tenants’ untold expectations. Today, there are more than 6.000 coworking spaces operating around the world. These spaces range from big to small, financially self-supported incubators, business centers, and even universities. It has become common knowledge that by identifying a position and nurturing a community, these spaces will manage to sustain a successful platform for future workers.

The Social Workplace, whether it is comprised of hot-desking, open spaces, lounges or private offices, is thought to better enable human interactions and a sense of belonging.

Inspiring design and facilitation 

It comes as no surprise that after one decade of coworking, social connections, open access, sense of belonging and like-mindedness, do indeed matter. Because of this understanding, these practices can be implemented on a bigger scale, either by newcomers or by existing coworking space operators who have managed to grow over the years.

Important players within the movement are now entering the era of the Social Workplace, where the whole facility and workspace environment, whether it is made out of open space hot-desking, fixed desk renting, lounges or private offices, is thought to better enable social interactions and on-demand services.

As a result, physical spaces that are home to these communities have become micro-ecosystems, based on the tenants’ personal values and modern work styles. This value proposition adds to the direct economic advantages of operating activities from a shared workspace, namely flexibility and lower costs, allowed by the mutualization of some facilities. Successful social workplaces speak as much to the users’ heart and emotions as they do to their brain and wallet.

Successful social workplaces speak as much to the users’ heart and emotions as they do to their brain and wallet. 


An opportunity generator for independent workers and businesses

As the workforce becomes more independent and digitally distributed, new needs emerge, which have created the ability to multiply business opportunities. This new style of work breaks isolation and supports a dynamic and positive community of peers that can team up rapidly for short-term projects while also giving them the chance to discover complementary skills. It is important to remember that modern workers want to move away from a purely functional work environment.

The shift we are currently witnessing is all about a new work style and values. A greater openness for social interactions also means more informality and innovative ways to approach social engagement, as we often see online.

This alchemy within the Social Workplace can occur through the concourse of two main ingredients:

  • A well thought out space design and layout, which is reflective of the contemporary values of the tenant community. This space plays an important role in fostering informality, engineered in such a way that it can offer a balance between quiet productive areas, private, meeting and social/convivial zones, which can ensure socializing and fluid space. Some social workplaces aim to look like a personal living space. Others stress the sleek and cool aesthetic focused on technology while some prioritize creativity. It is vital that the look and feel of the workspace will be inspiring and that the layout is efficient and based on “social ambition”.
  • Personal facilitation and hospitality. The added value of flexible space owners isn’t just about the provision of functional services to tenants. Today, many spaces can be operated from an individual laptop, but added value must also be focused on care and intention, community building, networking and content through the regular hosting of events.

It goes without saying that undertaking such new endeavors requires the social workplace owner to embrace new skill sets as well as the appropriate culture that goes with it.

Pure player coworking spaces have been putting these principles in place since the beginning

Social workplaces operate on a bigger scale, and often in much larger spaces. They tend to mix coworking and private offices, as well as meeting and event rooms. There is often a coffee shop, sometimes a restaurant (offering catering services) plus additional programs (training, coaching, business acceleration, for instance). And, of course, community facilitation.

Various international players have also successfully implemented this model. Let’s mention The Office Group (UK), Spaces (The Netherlands) or, again, WeWork (US) to name a few. The coworking pioneer Betahaus is also an inspiration to the growing community of Social Workplaces. Betahaus Berlin HQ now occupies an entire building from which they initially started as a small to mid-sized coworking space. It has a fully equipped cafe on the ground floor, coworking and dedicated desks, in additional to a Maker Lab, training course, and in-house startup support.

The Office Group



The road towards work villages?

If these social principles can take over a whole building, the next step might be to outline a whole neighborhood according to the same value system.

This is the philosophy behind the Urban Escape project in Stockholm. In this case, the Social Workplace isn’t just a building but a whole city block. Coworking, network and event offerings are at the core of this project, just as it is within a growing number of urban development projects around the world.

Woodstock Exchange, Cape Town (South Africa)

Woodstock Exchange, Cape Town (South Africa)

BeSpoke (via Business Insider)

Bespoke, San Francisco

Another prime example of this model is the Woodstock Exchange, based in Cape Town (South Africa). The real estate development platform has integrated restaurants, coffee shops and craft stores into the mix. The rest of the compound hosts flexible offices and coworking spaces for freelancers, startups, and agencies from the creative and digital industries.


These Social Workplaces are also moving into our daily lives. Bespoke, based in San Francisco (US), is set up in the center of a shopping mall, blurring more and more the boundaries between work and our private lives.

The lines become even more blurred as coworking is now offering more diverse services, such as sports centers and accommodation. Spacious project in New York City (see picture upside) is an aggregation of a hotel and open coworking space. Before, there were other innovative platforms that were established within the collaborative economy (co-living, shared cars, on-demand services, etc.) that are now becoming a part of these developing social workplaces.

Jean-Yves Huwart
Social Workplace Conference

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The Social Workplace Conference (London, October 16th 2015) is a unique opportunity to understand the innovation taking place within flexible workspaces that are rapidly transforming the real estate landscape. The conference explores various work landscapes and their relationship with coworking for the 1st time ever. The event will be discussion based, aimed at promoting the coworking movement’s success at integrating the human experience within the modern workplace.

“A social workplace develops and expands the definition of work, including networking” Jerome Chang, Blankspace’s founder

Since 2008, Blankspaces has been cultivating the shared workspace scene in Los Angeles. The brand has several locations, with two in L.A and one in Santa Monica, each offering freelancers and entrepreneurs shared office space, which can be rented out long-term or on a flexible basis. We spoke with Blankspace’s founder, Jerome Chang, about the development of the social workplace and how today’s office is encouraging frequent employee interactions.

Hi Jerome. How would you define the social workplace today? And how is it representative of the new model of work? 

The current open office environment includes workspaces without full-height walls, rather than offices with cubicles, which are more traditional, albeit often poor, examples. The social workplace is designed to encourage frequent interactions. Hotel lobbies with work-like areas are good examples of this.

Please describe the design of Blankspaces, and tell us a bit about why the look and feel of a workspace is so important.

At Blankspaces, I include a variety of workspaces, from small intimate areas, to large open areas, and everything in between. This helps develop physical spatial relationships that shape cultural interactions. For coworking, it’s also important to remember that our physical space is what generates revenue, so efficiency is vital.

Blankspaces, Santa Monica

Blankspaces, Santa Monica

 How did you realize what type of space design nurtured productivity?

All types of spaces can nurture productivity. Once you use all of your design tools, including details like the way someone sits, away or toward others, you can make any space productive.

What kinds of members usually join Blankspaces (more freelance or corporate) and what services do you offer them?

Any and all. We tend to attract and retain members who value a “real office” and one that has a productive vibe. This does not necessarily mean it’s quiet, or noisy.

In your opinion, how has the development of these open spaces influenced the culture of work?

Privacy can be segmented into many levels and perceived differently by everyone. Questioning how much privacy someone needs to work productively, is critical.

What does a social work environment offer that a traditional one does not?

A social workplace develops and expands the definition of work, including networking.

Blankspace's founder, Jerome Chang

Blankspace’s founder, Jerome Chang

It seems that many larger companies/corporations are steadily gravitating towards social workplaces, why do you think that is?

They are starting to see that interactions amongst others have been undervalued in the past.

How are the expectations of the modern workforce different from previous models?

Technology can finally untether workers allowing them to be productive anywhere, so they now work all the time. Oops.

What has changed in the last 5 years? What are the current expectations? How do you address these modern needs?

A workspace doesn’t necessarily need to provide space for a keyboard, a CPU, or even file storage. So workspaces can be much smaller. Dedicated workspaces may not even be required because people change workspaces throughout the day. Therefore, workspaces have to be designed with a variety of areas in mind.