September 2015

“In activity based workplaces, employees are attracted to the community more so than the physical status of a posh office”

The OpenWork Agency was founded by David Walker and Drew Jones about a year ago. David graduated from business school at UT Austin and has been a serial entrepreneur his whole career. Along with Dusty Reagan, Cesar Torres, and John Eric Metcalf, David founded Austin coworking space, Conjunctured in 2008. Drew joined the team in 2011, and has an academic and consultancy background, in addition to experience teaching Organizational Behavior in business schools and consulting businesses in the areas of corporate culture and leadership for 15 years.

Today, OpenWork has collaborated with various partners on specific projects, most recently Liz Elam of Link Coworking and GCUC. The platform aims to promote an open work philosophy and offers tools to large enterprises that will enable them to learn how to manage their cultural resources.

Hi, Drew. How did you make the transition from starting off as the first coworking space in Austin to being a global platform? And why did you feel that transition was necessary?

OpenWork is the vision David and I developed for bringing the design and ethos of coworking to big companies who were re-thinking their workplace strategies. Our recent work with real-estate developers has kind of been by accident, though it is keeping us busy. Our goal in the long term is to work with large firms as they incorporate more of an open work philosophy for managing their cultural resources.

From the beginning, being a part of the flow of two coworking spaces (SHIFT and Conjunctured) it became clear to us that this (i.e. coworking) is the most organic work arrangement that humans have yet devised in a post-technological society. Freedom of choice, autonomy, and the opportunity to form communities of one’s own choosing, transforms work from being all about other people’s imperatives to being about authenticity and dignity.

While a bit idealistic, at OpenWork we would like to bring this to as many organizations as possible, especially those firms where the flow of work currently is defined by needless hierarchy and toxicity.

What’s your definition of the social workplace, and how is it representative of the future of work?

I think of the social workplace as the intersection of spaces with policies that empower people to work according to their own rhythms. In that humans are a social species, we seek out sociality as a central, though not sole, context in which to get work done. This is why Activity Based Work (ABW) is, I believe, so important.

Companies such as Veldhoen + Company have pioneered a model of working wherein all members of a firm- beginning with the CEO and other senior leadership- forego a private office, and thus work among ‘everyone else.’ This removes the physical hierarchy inscribed in office design.

Also, and quite importantly, in ABW office, employees don’t have to come into the office every day, but most still choose to come in. Given that they are not coming in to nest in a fixed space with pictures of their family, what they seem to be turning up for is the social atmosphere. That is, they are attracted to the community more so than the physical status of a posh ‘office as perk’. This is why, despite all of the innovation that happens in the US, ABW is so slow in coming here. Our deep-rooted individualism is hard for folks to abandon.

The Open Work agency introduced a series of “work/ social” concepts, can you please elaborate on what these concepts are, and how you developed them.

Our work/social vision is a workplace software platform- Nomatik– that has so far not taken off at all. We lack the capital and skills to develop it in house, so it is just sitting on the shelf at this time. However, we would like to be able to offer clients a tool that enables a mix of full-time employees, and freelancers/contractors, to find each other and meetup to work and share resources wherever they are- whether that is at a coffee shop near their homes or at the office. Ideally, in the long run, we’d like to help create a platform where freelancers can plug into this too, as a pipeline of projects and career support as well.

Please describe the design of OpenWork Agency, and why the look and feel of a space is so important.

Since we closed Conjunctured, OpenWork is a virtual company. We work out of several different coworking spaces here in Austin- Link Coworking, Orange Coworking, and Patchwork Austin. As for the importance of design, it is critical to making sociality and collaboration possible, hopefully probable. We work with an architecture firm in our client work so that we have professionalism in how we advise in the planning and designing process.

I would add that designing policies is as important as designing spaces. A business can have the most awesome spaces in the world, but if employees are locked into Theory X policies then the space is just pretty furniture.

How did you realize what type design thinking nurtured productivity?

For us, Design Thinking is a kind of systems thinking. In my book- The Fifth Age of Work– I start with that question: If a designer were put in charge of HR and facilities management, what would she/he do? This starts with taking much of the ‘stupid’ out of work, such as unnecessary commutes, cubicles, 40 hour work weeks, 50 week work years, mindless reporting and controlling processes, etc. From there, the challenge is to physically design the spaces in a way that supports how humans naturally interact with one another. Of course, this is no one way. Philosophically, our point of view is inspired by the work of architect Christopher Alexander and his books- The Timeless Way of Building, and A Pattern Language.

How has the development of open work spaces influenced work culture?

Drew Jones

Drew Jones

So far it is really hard to tell. There is a big difference between those legacy companies who redesigned their spaces to be “cool”, but don’t actually change any of their policies regarding employee choice and flexibility.

On the other hand, when you look at the offices of companies such as Yelp, LinkedIn, Airbnb, Facebook, Google, Rackspace, etc., open and flexible cultures precede and define the spaces in the first instance. One of our biggest goals, and challenges, is to see how the open design (of coworking) can transform the culture of a large, conventional, legacy company, over the long term. We are in conversation with a few companies that show a small appetite for this, but we’ve yet to really dig in and have a go with this type of client.

What does a social work environment offer that a traditional one does not? Do you think that more corporate entities respond better to a social/work environment? Why?

An open/social work environment offers choice, flexibility, and autonomy. Sadly, the operating system of most American public companies is all about control, centralized decision making, and shareholder value. The idea that young knowledge workers can (and should) come and go as they choose and work when and where they choose, is sadly just an annoyance (and possibly a new cost) for people locked into the culture of shareholder value returns. I am convinced that, if firms actually implement open policies in conjunction with open spaces, then their people will be more engaged, energetic, and productive. People just need to be set free to get to this point.

How are the expectations of the modern workforce different from previous models? What are the current expectations, and how do you address these modern needs?

A combination of technology and the rising generation of Millennials is transforming just about everything about work. So much of what happens in offices, still, happens because that’s the way it’s always been done. Given that firms and employees no longer have much of a mutual commitment to one another, the whole calculus of work is changing.

Workers know that they are likely just passing through, doing some work here and there on their way to the next one. For their part, companies need to acknowledge this, and respond by allowing workers (full-time and freelancer) to work in ways that work for them.

The good news, for both sides of the equation, is that if firms allow young knowledge workers to drive this process, it not only works for the workers but is also, via the cloud, mobility, and a much-reduced real estate footprint, it can also be good for firms as well.

Amanda Gray

“Forward-thinking developers will incorporate a social aspect in the workspace” Sophy Moffatt, DTZ

Central London commercial property researcher, Sophy Moffat, is an expert in real estate market trends. She is currently the head of the Central London research team at DTZ  (recently merged with Cushman & Wakefield), which offers investors, tenants and developers industry knowledge, in order to help them find the best solution to their accommodation needs.

Sophy will be speaking at this year’s Social Workplace conference in London, and we caught up with her to learn more about her latest research project ‘How You Work’.


Hi Sophy, what are the current trends you are seeing in the real estate and commercial property market in London?

Firstly, there are attempts to attract and retain talent in the face of global skills shortages, which means many businesses are taking a more employee-centric approach when it comes to real estate. Ultimately, this means that they are placing increased emphasis on workplace strategy and design.

Secondly, the head count in high-cost locations is under review; many firms are thinking about what roles need to be located in New York, London and so on. Also, many businesses are opening or expanding into additional hubs in more affordable locations.

Thirdly, technology is of growing importance. It helps ensure that tasks are simple, space is optimized, and remote working and cross-border collaboration are possible. Making room for flexibility and fostering innovation, as well as technology helps to optimize space and ultimately reduces real estate costs.

Overall, the trends we are seeing are centered on workplace strategy and design, as well as technology-enablement, location, and cost.

What do today’s tenants expect from a commercial property? Have those expectations changed in recent years?

In London and other gateway cities, the majority of global businesses we work with seek Grade A office space. That’s usually a given. It’s the social aspect – outside spaces, work-hubs, breakout areas, atriums, gym-quality services – that are of growing importance. This is because the world of work is changing: the ‘social workplace’ is no longer sought by the tech, creative and media sectors alone, but by a growing pool of large corporate tenants. Additionally, technology companies may have been first to customize their own unique experience around a core product and there is also a growing expectation that property should work like that too.

How has the transition from traditional office space to the “social workplace” affected the property market? Has it been a positive change? If so, why?

Having a more social, employee-oriented office is generally seen as positive. Perhaps most exciting for gateway cities globally is the fact that the ‘social workplace’ is playing an integral role in urban regeneration. When we look at regeneration schemes and concepts including King’s Cross in London, Dumbo Heights in Brooklyn, Factory Berlin and Fuxing Plaza in Shanghai, it can be seen that flexible office providers like WeWork and The Office Group, who epitomize the ‘social workplace’ are early stage tenants of this movement.

Thus, forward-thinking developers will choose to incorporate a social aspect, knowing that the vital injection of business diversity that stimulates many of the economic and social dynamics is needed in the workspace.

Sophy Moffat

Sophy Moffat

What have coworking spaces and social workplaces done for commercial property? Have they improved their value? If so, how?

So far, there aren’t many hard and fast stats on coworking because it is a relatively new industry. But, it is clear that the adoption of Activity Based Working – which has been the subject of various research studies does create value.

In 2002, Deutsche Bank started to introduce ‘db Smart Office’ – a new way of working within the organization that provided a wide range of settings to support the full spectrum of working tasks, from collaborative team space, to heads-down working areas. The aim was to help promote a multi-functional use of office space, encouraging communication, flexibility and also privacy.

The benefits so far have include reduced occupancy costs, due to reduction in spatial requirements projected to be between 10-30%, recouping of associated project costs within only 24 months due to savings made. We have also seen improved employee productivity at work, better technology in the workplace, and the ability to increase employee populations without additional real estate expenses. So yes, encouraging communication and flexibility do seem to create value!

What changes does the commercial property market have to make in order to meet the needs of today’s worker?

As businesses adjust to the realities of increasing rents and the rapid pace of a globalized, technology-enabled market, one of the biggest challenges they face is people.  Businesses will find that ‘social workplace’ trends are not simply about creating open plan layouts or adding cafés, but also about giving people control and flexibility in their environment. This is all about enabling connections and creating a community beyond corporate meetings, as well as allowing employees to work in ways that give them meaning, and purpose.

The principles embodied by the ‘social workplace’ can help surmount a range of challenges. As Jay Cross, president of Related Hudson Yards, puts it: “You not only want to have a smart phone today — you want to live in a smart building and a smart community”.  What the commercial property market has to do is keep up with tech, design, and new workplace strategy trends.

What will you be speaking about at this year’s social workplace conference?

I will be speaking about our latest research project ‘How You Work’ which, explores the trajectory flexible offices have taken by analyzing growth determinants and assessing the impact of modern cultural trends on the demand for flexible working.

The report shows how companies in New York, London, Shanghai, and Berlin are using flexible workspaces to share resources, reduce infrastructure spending and increase employee efficiency. It will also look at how talent recruitment and retention are critical drivers of the flexible office market.

Amanda Gray

5 Banks that Embraced Coworking

Inspired by the coworking movement, corporations around the world have started to break down their cubical walls and replace them with open-plan workspaces in order to ease both their business and employees into the workplace of the future.

Yet, there are still some types of enterprise that would seem to have a hard time redefining themselves, and one of those is the bank. The banking industry seems to be defined by the barriers set between the customer and the teller. A space that can be utilized only for business transactions and leaves little room for collaboration and change.

As we prepare for the upcoming Social Workplace conference, we set out to find how far coworking’s reach has extended and found that some banks are already adopting the model. We found 5 international banks that are reaping the benefits of coworking, whether it’s supporting an existing space or even opening their own.   

NAB, Australia

The Australian Financial Review recently wrote piece highlighting the convergence of banks and coworking spaces. This is not just good for employee well-being, but the growth also gives anyone with a real estate footprint the chance to cater to the market. The National Australia Bank has opened their own space, The Village, which has seen great success. For banks, the coworking and social workplace model, gives them the chance to use their space more efficiently and also attract new clients while satisfying the current ones.

St. George Bank, Australia

St. George Bank, owned by the Westpac Banking Corporation, opened their first space last year and has just recently opened a second one. Phillip Godkin explained in an article on AFR that the coworking model has created a sense of community amongst their small – businesses customer, which has been good for the bank overall. Their space, Business Hub, is committed to helping small businesses get their start and offers memberships to those who are both customers and non-customers.

BNP Paribas Fortis, Belgium 

Located in the center of Brussels, co. Station is home to a variety of young companies and business startersgeared to supporting fledgling digital enterprises at the growth stage – known as ‘scale-ups’ – which are in search of the right people with the right expertise to help them take the next step”. The space has forged a partnership with Belgian bank BNP Paribas Fortis, in order to offer the resources to innovative companies that will ensure their success in an increasingly social ecosystem.

KBC, Belgium 

In cooperation with BelCham, the Belgian-American Chamber of Commerce, KBC bank opened a shared workspace in mid-town Manhattan, Atelier. The space caters to members who are looking to expand their business in the United States, and offers regular meetups that aim to help their coworkers to become acquainted with what’s happening in the European business world as well as in the US. Coworkers range from family offices, to Angel investors; VC’s and various selected members that focus on entrepreneurial projects.

Silicon Valley Bank, USA

The Silicon Valley Bank doesn’t have it’s own space but is part of the “urban core” strategy, which utilizes coworking spaces in order to become more approachable. In Austin, Texas, the bank moved from their office building to a location that puts them in close proximity to coworking spaces like WeWork.

As Silicon Valley Bank is dedicated to working with tech companies; being close to open workspaces allows them to have access to a pool of local entrepreneurs, which ultimately brings in new business.

How a coworking space imagines corporate coworking

Conjunctured Coworking in Austin, Texas (USA) was easily one of the city’s most well-loved spaces. After 6 productive years, Conjunctured closed its doors and the partners have now moved on to their latest project: The OpenWork Agency. The platform offers clients, from traditional offices to government agencies consultation on how to leverage the traditional coworking model in order “build community, commitment, and greater levels of engagement, serendipity, and innovation.”

How a coworking space imagines corporate coworking

Austin is an economic boomtown with newcomers locating there every day. Many people looking for a coworking space in the city end up at Conjunctured, run by very attentive, forward-thinking people with an eye for design and a heart for mankind. They are launching a pioneering initiative called corporate coworking, bring the coworking model into the heart of the corporate body in order to reshape and revitalize corporate structure so they attract and retain the best minds the U.S. workforce has to offer. Meanwhile, David Walker works on transcending the stranger society.

So how does one restructure a somewhat rigid system and integrate a social and creative side, which will be able to benefit people and business? David Walker has been tweaking the website to formally launch the Conjunctured’s new pivot, which takes the idea of a coworking ecosystem and combines it with corporations looking to rediscover their culture and rediscover the heart of their organization. Call it cultural evolution consulting.

He’s lucky to have, co-running the Conjunctured team, the esteemed Thomas Heatherly, a former marketing field specialist at Google who calls Conjunctured’s coworking community a friendship machine and works to connect the space to the external community, and Drew Jones, a corporate behavior anthropologist/professor who helped put together the first book on coworking.

After he read an article in 2006 about the very first coworking space in San Francisco called The Spiral Muse, he had been collecting clippings about every article that came out on coworking while teaching full-time at a business school in England. His new book,The Fifth Age of Work, will be out in late October/early November. Jones has the gift of looking ahead by recognizing the interweaving patterns of cultural trends.

“I knew it was the beginning of a pattern,” he said. “There were, at that time, already 20 million freelancers and it just made sense.”

It was Jones’ idea to combine coworking with corporations to help corporate bodies evolve with the new demands and expectations that go hand in hand with the types of recruits growing up in today’s workforce. The guys at Conjunctured love to quote the statistic that by 2020, 40 percent of the U.S. workforce will be a freelance economy. It’s the mantra that drives them.

“There’s not a coworking space yet that is putting together an offering that is presenting coworking to companies as a change management process,” Jones said. “Companies of all sorts are at different points in their growth. They look to change directions, recruit different sorts of people, or they’re going through a merger, trying to be more mindful of the values they want to try to support in the company.”

They’ll do this by, for one, focusing on opening up the physical space and designing different areas to benefit a range of tasks. Jones doesn’t take all the credit; corporate coworking is Conjunctured’s twist on “activity-based work,” a parallel movement taking place in Germany, the Netherlands, some of the UK and primarily in Australia, Jones said. It’s a concept a Dutch consulting firm first put on the map and started using.

They are inviting a selection of companies around Austin and Houston for daylong workshops to introduce them to the concept of coworking, back up how it works and present it as an option.

“We’ll start that in August; time it with the publication of my book at the end of October so to tie these together,” Jones said. “Come fall, we’ll be much more aggressively supporting this concept. These are new concepts for lots of people, they don’t sink in quickly for many people.”

Welcome To Conjunctured, Are You Familiar With Coworking?

Austin is an economic boom town with newcomers relocating there every day.

It boasts a high rate of successful established coworking spaces all over the city, including Link and Posh Coworking in the North/Central area;Brainstorm Coworking, Opportunity Space, Perch Coworking, Soma Vida, Conjunctured, Space 12, Chicon Collective and Center61 in the East area; GoLab Austin and Capital Factory downtown;  and the art-heavy Vuka located South of downtown. People looking for the perfect coworking space to suit their needs in Austin try a few different ones before settling on their favorite. Many people end up at Conjunctured, the first free-standing coworking house in the United States.

During the 1920s, a family lived in this very house and stored wine in the cellar during Prohibition. Today people work here with the open freedom to bring out their full personality in an office environment. The Conjunctured house has three rooms with large, sleek wooden table where people work at their laptops and thin desktops.

Down the hall there is a bathroom with a sink that holds stones, so when you wash your hands it’s a little like being at a little river; a Zen-garden lagoon below your hands, if you will; a more romantic way to wash up. Across from the little washroom is the conference room, where a ping-pong table doubles as a conference table. There’s a kitchen with a full coffee bar, and around the corner from that is the fridge they keep in the lounge room, equipped with lime-green couches, musical instruments, magazines and a scalp massager.

Sometimes it’s full of lively chatter, jokes and brainstorming, and sometimes there’s just one person half-passed out for a post-lunch siesta.

The One-Week Trial

David Walker is working on a theory he calls Transcending the Stranger Society, wherein coworking spaces are the world’s first cultural stepping stone for a stranger-less environment.

“It’s really funny that we live in a society where you go to a coffee shop and you sit next to someone for hours on end but you don’t have social permission to introduce yourself,” he said. “It’s this weird bubble you exist in; you remove your personality from a situation and everyone is removing their personalities from these retail spaces. Anywhere in our entire society, people convert themselves into strangers; it’s all these strangers hanging out in this place together.”

Walker says a one-day trial isn’t enough time for a potential coworker to feel comfortable in the new space, and it takes closer to a week to merge with the undertones of the social atmosphere. In a society of people suspicious of others intentions, there is a real need to systematically construct trust. Trust construction, Walker calls it.

“We don’t have very many rules,” he said. “We’re lax on any kinds of guidelines we do have. That helps people feel more comfortable and feel more of a citizen rather than a customer.”

A 24-hour access membership runs $275 a month. You can also sign up for the basic membership at $25 a month to show up once a month for free and any other time you show up it will cost $15. The first day is free. You can also request a one-week free trial.

Actually, Walker envisions a system where some of us don’t have to work menial jobs that don’t use our special gifts.

“There’s this great quote by someone famous where he talks about how it’s so silly that we all have jobs now,” Walker said. “We could easily evolve as a society so not everyone needs to work. With technology scaling at the speed that it is, we can create money and generate income; we just need to learn how to share it. We should be living in a society to encourage society members to do what they’re passionate about. It’s funny we tell artists who are fantastic painters they need to work hourly wage jobs to pay rent because our society would benefit more from these artists creating beautiful things for everyone.”

We’re at a point in our techno-global revolution where these crazy ideas are tinged with feasibility.

“At the end of the day I think we’re going to evolve as a world where we don’t need to make money,” Walker said. But in the meanwhile, he’s working on bring coworking to corporations, those modern timeless money-machine factories that have been a staple of the American landscape since we seized it from the Native Americans. Wherever it is coworking is taking us, people are responding to it.

Remember When We Pretended Other People Didn’t Exist?

Walker thinks that in the future, we’re going to look back on this period of time and be like, ‘Remember when we pretended other people didn’t exist when we walked into coffee shops?’

“It’s ’cause no one has created a system in our society that has facilitated a way for people to interact with each other easily,” he said. “People are oftentimes afraid to interact with someone ’cause they don’t feel like it’s appropriate. They’re afraid of violating a social norm. The more and more I’ve kind of watched coworking grow and noticed it here, I’ve realized how unique it is to be able to walk into a physical retail space and at the end of the day actually know everyone’s name that is working there and feel permission to share with them your personality and receive their personality. I think that’s magical.”

Walker thinks the culture in the States has been driven to isolationism, and that coworking is a systematic cure to re-socialize society. “I’ll bet most coworking members don’t have high levels of stress,” Walker said. “Have you looked up stress in the workplace statistics? Maybe doctors should start prescribing coworking spaces to people. Stick it on Obamacare.”

Eva Dameron

This article was originally posted on Deskmag


“It’s not simply that a person is going to work; they’re also part of a social movement.”- Harvard Business Review

The Harvard Business Review recently published an article that gets to the heart of why workers thrive in coworking spaces. The ongoing research touches on a topic of which many of us are already familiar: coworking. It is well known that the movement has gained significant popularity due to a sense of community and a relaxed work environment, but the recent study aims to go deeper into why exactly people seem to do much better socially and professionally in the coworking environment.

For this latest piece, HBR interviewed a handful of coworking space founders and community managers, as well as surveyed several hundred workers spread out across dozens of spaces throughout the United States.

Where do coworkers find their meaning?

Coworkers, as opposed to employees working in traditional offices, are often much more satisfied and find their work meaningful. This feeling of fulfillment in the workplace is derived from the fact that coworkers are able to“bring their whole selves to work”.

For starters, most coworkers both novice or experienced, tend to appreciate that they have the ability to choose which projects they would like to take on. A greater degree of autonomy allows workers to accept projects not solely based on the paycheck, but also because it gives them the opportunity to increase their network and acquire valuable skills and knowledge.

Take this professional independence and combine it with like-minded individuals, and the result will often be a productive and happy community, much like those found in coworking spaces.

Workers dont just want to be more social, they need to be

Grind Coworking, NYC

Grind Coworking, NYC

There is a strong argument supporting the fact that individuals are more productive and satisfied when surrounded by a supportive community and the traditional office space has failed to consider our natural need for socialization and communication.

Thus, the emergence of coworking is in many ways an answer to our desire to be closer to our peers, both emotionally and professionally. As the majority of members in coworking spaces are often not professionally linked, they lose the sense that they are competing with their office mates, which promotes communication and collaboration.

As more and more spaces adopt the coworking model, employees look back at their former cubicles like an animal that has finally been let out into the wild. In other words, many workers have little to no desire to go back, and movements like the Coworking Manifesto are proof that today’s workers have a new set of standards when it comes to the workplace. These new expectations often include the need for transparency, collaboration, knowledge, and sustainability. HBR’s researchers suggest that “in many cases, it’s not simply the case that a person is going to work; they’re also part of a social movement.”

Coworking is starting to extend beyond coworking spaces

The Harvard Business Review also makes note that an increasing amount of employees from large enterprises are also joining coworking spaces. Grind in NYC and Co-merge are examples of spaces that have seen an influx in members who are coming from the more traditional employment sector. But It’s also not just the workers, the companies themselves are also looking to coworking spaces for inspiration, especially when it comes to space design and community engagement. Menlo Innovations expanded their office space by 7,000 sq ft. (650 sq meters) to make room for start-ups and entrepreneurs who will “work alongside Menlo programmers to spur community and innovation”.

While these workplace changes are often an improvement from the standard office space, it is important for these larger companies to understand that simply adding a café or communal spaces won’t immediately create a thriving workspace. Before making changes, traditional enterprises must observe and understand what changes in the workplace would improve employee well-being and build-up the space around their needs.

Overall, “the combination of a well-designed work environment and a well-curated work experience are part of the reason that people who cowork demonstrate higher levels of thriving than their office-based counterparts”.

This topic will be at the heart of the upcoming Social Workplace conference.

Read the full article at The Harvard Business Review



What Role does the Coffee Shop play in Today’s Workplace?

The coffee break has been a staple of the workday since the early days of modern industry. Office spaces soon became ornamented with automatic coffee machines and afternoon coffee orders became a daily ritual.

Yet, these breaks were often limited, to ensure that workers weren’t spending too much time away for their desks.

Today the tables have turned. More traditional companies now realize that social concepts, like the communal workspace, actually boost employee productivity and coffee culture is a major part of this. Grabbing a latte is no longer just something workers do on their break, but rather a vital part of a productive workday.

Offices around the world are now jumping on this trend, rapidly moving away from placing emphasis on hours worked and focusing more on socializing in order to promote communication and collaboration.

Have a Cup of Corporate Coffee

International office design experts, Steelcase, recently published an article titled “Real Work”, where they explored companies that are currently integrating alternative spaces into their official workspaces. They highlighted the fact that being productive is no longer limited to the desk, but can also take place while grabbing a coffee with colleagues.

It is important to remember that these office cafés are not like the ones around the corner from your house, but actually considered to be another type of office. The creation of the workplace coffee shop is a result of blending “first place” and “third places” to create a “second place” that gives “employees access to environments that offer employees the relaxed amenities of home”.

The “Real Work” article made reference to several examples of alternative workspaces, including Google’s latest endeavor the Coffee Lab. The author paid a visit to Google’s latest addition to the London campus, describing it as a “neutral territory, perfect for meeting outside vendors or partners”.

Creating added value through First, Second and Third Spaces 

Betahaus, Berlin

Betahaus, Berlin

Betahaus, which first opened in Berlin in 2009, and has since expanded to Barcelona, and Sofia, is a prime example of a contemporary collective office that has created added value through various qualities derived from alternative spaces.

By combining the “best aspects of a Vienna-style coffee house, the library, home office and university campus”, Betahaus offers their members a workspace that encourages both social interaction and productivity through architectural diversity and alternative workspace.

In fact, when you enter Betahaus Berlin, your first impression is their café. The multifaceted space that leads to the upper floors, where the official “coworking” is happening, is always buzzing with people talking, working on laptops and enjoying a freshly cooked meal. One gets the impression that just as much work is being done over a cup of coffee as it is over a computer in the quiet meeting rooms.

As the workplace changes, things that once seemed counter-intuitive, like working in a noisy coffee shop, are now being reconsidered in the professional landscape. Now more than ever we realize the importance of employee wellbeing as well as the benefit of developing alternative workspaces.

Amanda Gray

Connectivity, flexible desks, plenty of breakout areas, rooms to play significantly increase employee satisfaction

London based entrepreneur, angel investor and founder of eOffice, Pier Paolo Mucelli, is a pioneer of the collective workspace in Europe. Founded in early 2000, eOffice is a “modern workplace offering a sociable business setting for like-minded startups and entrepreneurs”.

eOffice has since expanded and can be found throughout many of London’s central locations, like Piccadilly, Soho, Fitzrovia, Holborn. The franchise is also responsible for managing a network of over 200 independent business centers and coworking spaces worldwide.

Hi Pier, as one of the pioneers of the social workplace, how would you define what’s important in a contemporary work environment?

Since we launched the first eOffice back in 2002, we have always adopted the open-plan office environment, where entrepreneurs work in close proximity to each other, offering more opportunities for people to meet and interact.

The concept of “coworking” has steadily, but surely, promoted this type of workplace, transforming it from a cool trend into a necessity for entrepreneurs and freelancers, looking for a flexible office solution, away from the solitude of working from home.

How is this representative a new model of work?

The essence of working alongside like-minded professionals is currently seen everywhere from coffee shops, hotel lounges and professional coworking spaces. Some of those spaces are even adopting the next phase in the trend, co-living. The emergence of We-Live and Common in the United States and Zoku in Europe (Amsterdam), have created a hybrid between the hospitality and workplace industries, by merging the aspects of business and leisure that are tailored to the needs of the startup sector.

Some of those spaces are even adopting the next phase in the trend, co-living.

Why is design essential for your space, and why is the look and feel of a workspace so important?

The design and feel of the workplace have become of vital importance to an employee’s satisfaction, focus, and drive. We can observe how large companies, such as Facebook, Google or LinkedIn have transformed traditional offices into a branded playground for work and interaction.

How did you personalize eOffice?

At eOffice, we have always put extra emphasis on the quality and durability of the furniture as well as the ergonomic advantages of the chairs. To achieve this, we have worked with a number of established suppliers within the office sector.

We brand our coworking centers with bright, inspirational colors, displaying plenty of artwork, designer pieces, as well as indoor plants. We are also partnering with GreenWill, following their green policy for a sustainable business center.

Your business model is focused on teaching your clients about contemporary business culture. How do you achieve this?

We provide clients with a flexible workplace environment and services, enabling them to grow their business and team. We also organize regular networking events as well as in conjunction with our business partners from the startup ecosystem. This combination offers our members the possibility to interact, exchange ideas and business contacts, as well as granting them the experience of the benefits of coworking for their own advantage. However, we do not interfere in our members’ activities, and we do not provide mentoring. If we have members who are not interested in networking they are not obliged to join with any of our organized events.

What types of clients join eOffice?

At eOffice we have a diversity of clients, ranging in size and professional background. We attract predominantly companies within the media and technology sector, but we have our doors open to all types of exciting startups and growing companies.

What types of services do you offer them?

Pier Paolo Mucelli

Pier Paolo Mucelli

Along with office space on hourly or full-time basis, we also provide a list of different services tailored to the needs of startups such as our “Virtual Office”, “Company Formation”, “Meeting and Conference facilities”, and “Business Address”. We also have an international network of 200 independent coworking spaces worldwide, giving our members access and free day office space in any of the locations.

We also partner with a number of Funding Organizations offering our members access to their network of Angel Investors and VCs.

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

Open-plan spaces stimulate and encourage communication, interaction and cooperation between employees. All of this comes naturally, which creates a stronger, more collaborative team. It also makes senior managers and team leaders more approachable, which ultimately creates an efficient and more productive workflow. Overall, open-plan spaces provide many opportunities for impromptu meetings and discussions, paving the way for problem solving and creative thinking.

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

The main advantage of the social work environment is the ability to interact with like-minded professions, creating a pool of opportunities, business ideas, and contacts. People prefer social work environments as they meet entrepreneurs from different industries and personal backgrounds, widening your professional network and commercial awareness.

It seems that some major corporations are steadily gravitating towards social workplaces, why do you think that is?

Google was one of the first fast growing businesses to shout about the importance of the innovative, open-plan workspace. Companies like UBER, Twitter and Facebook followed in their footsteps.

This transition is also in close relation to Millennials joining the workforces, which will be around 75% of the world’s workforce by 2025. The Millennial mindset cherishes collaboration, flexibility and autonomy, thus these are key features companies must take into consideration when they are re-designing their office. Social workplaces provide connectivity, flexible desks with plenty of breakout areas and rooms to rest, refresh and even play, which significantly increase the employee satisfaction. These features also promote attachment to the company brand while simultaneously cutting out unnecessary desk space complying with the mobile nature of today’s work.

What are some of the challenges of creating a productive workplace for those who might be more used to traditional offices/methods of work?

If you offer open-plan workplace environment you need to balance it with enough meeting rooms and phone booths where members can have privacy. Movable partitions and dividers allow people who are used to a more traditional office environment to quickly adapt to the perks of having your dedicated office space within a bigger workplace. A spacious communal area will also allow members to willingly interact and alternatively have a time on their own.

What are some of the major changes the workplace has undergone over the last 5 years? How does eOffice address these changes?

There are changes derived from both technological advances and accelerating urban social trends. From the technological angle, we have noticed an increase in the use of laptops, wireless connectivity, and VOIP services. This has allowed the workplaces to be more flexible and users to sit and work in the different areas workspace.

At the same time, there has been a renaissance of city living, with more and more young professionals and small families choosing to live in urban centers, rather than rural locations. A large part of this is because these individuals require a central location to work and meet colleagues on flexible basis.

At eOffice we are centrally located and able to take advantage of these trends directly in London and via local partners in the main world cities.

Amanda Gray

“A well structured, designed and focused space brings high added value both to the community and property owners”

Workbar is a network of communal workspaces based in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusets (USA), with an extensive network throughout the State. Like many social workspaces, Workbar is home to the growing number of independent workers, as well as remote workers from larger companies, who are looking for a community where they can be productive and supported. Devin Cole, director of business development at Workbar, spoke with us about the value of open workspaces, for both workers and property owners. 

Hi Devin, Can you give us a little bit of the history behind WorkBar?

Workbar has a similar story to a lot of shared workspaces. It was a combination of a little bit of serendipity and an interesting moment in the real estate market.

Workbar’s founder, Bill Jacobson, was working with 3 other people in an early stage startup based in a friend’s office who had some extra space. Yet the company that was mainly occupying that office went out of business and Jacobson and his coworkers were alone in a 5,000sq. (470 m2) building. They liked the space and the neighborhood but obviously couldn’t pay the whole rent. So they went to the landlord, explained the situation and also proposed that they would invite more people in order to cover the costs. The landlord agreed to help out and give them a chance.

How long did it take to attract new members?

They filled up pretty quickly, and those new members also brought a lot of other people with them. The landlord saw this flexible model work effectively, which was great for them since the real estate market in 2009 was really tough. One of the most positive things about this was that Workbar’s success inspired the landlord to invest in the space, which also allowed us expand.

How did you realize what type space design nurtured productivity?

We don’t have a lot of closed spaces, so people can’t just close a door for privacy. In order to meet member’s needs, we have created 4 different “neighborhoods”. Each neighborhood is a room housing about 30 to 55 people, and each one has its own function and feel. There is a quiet space, a routine workspace, a café, and a place to talk and make phone calls. As soon as you walk in the door you can find the space that works with what you need to do that day.

Do you think open workspaces are important for creating a professional community? 

One of the things that we talk about a lot is how we are using open and flexible workspace as a way to buttress community. There are many attractive offices and coworking spaces, but their workers are essentially just sharing conference room and kitchens, rather than using the space to connect. At Workbar, we are focused on open space as a facilitator of our community.

How does the open and social workplace meet the needs of the contemporary worker?

Devin Cole

Devin Cole

As people get more choice, they will choose places that are more convenient for them. They will most likely go to workplaces that are closer to their home, and they will also choose places that allow them to be with other people. Technology has really allowed people to break things into small pieces, especially with sharing services, like car sharing, which are more convenient and affordable. Today, with all these various options, people no longer have to rely on a single company or product to get what they need.

I suppose this could work with buildings as well…

A friend of mine pointed out that in high-rent districts, places like communal workspaces spaces could afford the rents through members and smaller companies. This gives the space members access to thriving areas that would normally be off-limits since they tend to be a bit pricier. So if a startup can’t afford to rent a space in this type of district that would offer contacts and a creative environment on their own, they can piggyback on the lease of a bigger flexible workspace.

Why do you think so many professionals have decided to become independent in recent years?

In general, the labor market has gotten a lot more independent. There are fewer full-time jobs that offer benefits and companies are now looking for ways to focus more on project-based work. As a result, we are seeing many established and professional people who realize that they could do better financially if they became independent. Many of those workers were somewhat forced into this situation, but no matter the way, going off on your own seems to be increasingly desirable.

Do you this more traditional companies could adopt the independent work style?

Well, it seems that a big company might see an open work model and think, “oh people like open space” but they lack the understanding of what their workers need and how to create space around those needs. For example, they wouldn’t identify separate spaces to suit specific needs and in the end the open workspace concept would seem like a failure.

What kinds of members usually join Workbar and what services do you offer them?

We have three different types of workers in our space. We house startups, independents and also employees from corporate companies that can work remotely. For example, we have 5 members from WordPress at our space.

The Boston chamber of commerce also has a group membership with us, so if they want to have a meeting in a different space they can come to Workbar. We have also partnered with some other companies like DCU credit agency, Mullen, and IHI, and they also have access to both Workbar locations and other offsite space.

Do you think that social workplaces will influence real estate culture like they have the way we work?

If done correctly, these open workplaces can be really good for a building. If a space is well-structured, well-designed and focused, it can bring a lot of added value to the community and property owners. For example, you can’t just throw in some desks and call it a shared workspace, but if you pay close attention to the design and nurture an active community, the open workspace gives landlords an active storefront. The community displays their property in a good light and keeps attracting new creative and professional people, which could lead to new leases and new tenants.

Amanda Gray