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

by | Sep 1, 2015 | Business, Real Estate | 0 comments

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 

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