Category: Design

“Just like so many other industries, Real Estate will be revolutionized by digital and coworking” – Mischa Schlemmer

Architect and economist, Mischa Schlemmer, was introduced to coworking while she was working on her Masters Degree. The focus of Mischa’s research was economic development of creative clusters at the LSE, which stayed with her as she moved on to ultimately work on building up Google’s Paris office.

Since then, Mischa has become a notable expert on the role of technology in today’s workplace, taking into account the rise of remote workers, globalization and a need for a better work/life balance. Currently, she is focused on helping conscious community leaders attract, engage and maintain optimal creativity and collaboration through emotional intelligence, peak performance and flow state.

Hi, Mischa. Can you please tell us about the role coworking has played throughout your career?

When I was building Google’s office in Paris, I reflected on their approach to building their own private creative cluster, aka Googleplex. Complete with all the perks and amenities to attract, engage and retain the best and brightest “smart creatives” as CEO Erick Schmit calls them, I recognized a lot of similarities between these creative clusters and the overall coworking philosophy and practices. I also noticed that Google was drawing on the same creative engagement and community building approaches that I had originally experienced in my “studio” shared workspace while in architecture school.

I began talking to my real-estate development colleagues and friends about coworking as it became a fast evolving trend, acting as a catalyst for more flexible relationships between office space operators and workers. This led me to become fascinated by the intersection of coworking’s bottom up approach, user generated solutions that compliment and contrast with the corporate top-down model, as well as hybrid models for nurturing creativity and collaboration.

As you are interested in how globalization influences workplaces, what are some of the ways that a global workforce has inspired the future of work movement?

With the introduction of more open communication channels, producers (entrepreneurs) who need support to bring their product or service to market can now easily connect to investors and venture capital who seek to invest their gains back into the market, which is ultimately driving the “start up” business model.

For the global workforce, there is a greater need for emotional intelligence and intercultural awareness, as well as harboring more sensitivity and diplomacy as a way to understand the needs, wants and expectations of diverse consumers, workers, investors, and governments around the world.

How has coworking, as a global movement, influenced real estate?

In regards to commercial office real estate, the relationship between landlords and tenants has changed. The shift towards “startup” business culture means that companies are created to test market demands, and they are subsequently not willing to carry the financial or operational risk as well as the demand for long-term leases.

The financial crisis led to tightening up of overhead budgets across the corporate sector and today an increasing amount of companies are exploring more flexible workspace agreements and provisions for their employees to attract, retain and engage talent/workers. Overall, contemporary businesses need flexibility and outsourced pay-as-you-go services and support.

Mischa Schlemmer

Mischa Schlemmer

The coworking model translated into space as a service model is highly flexible and customizable. In the past, landlords contracted with a company paid the end user to show up every day to occupy the workstation, but now the coworking model is more similar to a hotel where the space operator sells space as a service to end users who have specific expectations and demands. Developers, brokerages, and landlords need to understand this service and ultimately design for and accommodate the expanding diversity of needs and expectations of end users.

What are the challenges that real estate still faces today?

The biggest challenges faced by the real-estate sector today is keeping up and staying ahead of the radical changes that are constantly challenging longstanding expensive and heavily administrative traditional processes associated with the industry. The real estate sector is perhaps the last to be overhauled by the digital revolution due to the scale and permanence of the product. But, real estate will be revolutionized just like so many other industries, from music, health, financial, education, public service, agriculture, etc.

What can more corporate enterprises do to actually make room for innovation? 

Listen! Listen! Listen! Build trusting open engaged communication within their communities and ask the community members (investors, leaders, workers, consumers, partners, etc) what they want and need. Also, make sure to ask exactly how they want to help contribute to the community. Set up clear agreements and buy-in about the vision and value of the community identity or brand. Use internal CRM (contact relationship management) to track and support each community member’s growth and evolution. Empower community members to participate and serve the community in a way that feels generative for them.

What would be the best steps to take to create an original model that actually fits your community?

Make it a priority and co-create a plan that enables regular practice and engagement.

In what ways can corporate companies use coworking values in a genuine way? 

Focus on each community member as a cherished and special talent worth getting to know by unlocking their inner power of networks, creativity, and collaborative synergies.  Create programming and personalized support to help each community member explore the edges of their comfort zone in a safe and supportive environment.  Let go of control and focus on trust and empowerment.

What can the coworking industry do to maintain their values while also benefitting from financial partnerships with corporations? 

Use the emotional intelligence skills of coworking operators to make sure you have connected and clear values while you build a vision of the community identity/ brand. Make sure you also take the time to co-create a mutually beneficial relationship agreement with a practice plan of how to grow the relationship of the partnership.

Finally, how can these workspace models of the future influence the way that we build and organize our cities? (In the way that we promote better living for all)

Workplaces are becoming a place that you choose to go to because it helps you access the full potential of your mind, body, and imagination. This fundamental shift in the way we relate work to salary slavery s towards a more supportive environment that caters to self-actualization of optimized unique individuals will have a profound impact on city design. For example, more specialized neighborhood creative clusters with clear communication of common values and vision to attract like-minded neighbors, and business.

We will see an increase in coworking and coliving models, as well as more organized opportunities to volunteer time and energy towards purposeful service that will be integrated into city life.

“People come to colive for various reasons, but they stay for the community”-Stephanie Cornell, Old Oak Collective

In 2010, Reza Merchant was in his last year of university, having a hard time finding an affordable place to live that wasn’t in shambles. Over the years, Merchant and his team started to see more and more issues within the housing market and a lack of supply for a growing demand.

We caught up with Stephanie from the Old Oak Collective, the latest member to join London’s coliving movement, to learn more about what direction coliving is moving and what this concept will bring to professionals living in urban areas.

Hi Stephanie, Can you please tell us about the Old Oak development process and what we can expect from this coliving concept?

We started to purchase derelict buildings and refurbishing them, which is when The Collective brand was created. We identified a gap in the market for high-quality housing for young professionals, who crave a hassle-free way of living, hence our all-inclusive service offering. For example, a single monthly bill covers rent, council tax, all utility bills, room clean, linen change, 24/7 security, and wi-fi. This convenience element is designed to give time-poor professionals more free time to pursue their passions/hobbies or simply to enjoy some more free time.

During this time we gathered feedback from members and conducted surveys which reinforced what we believed; namely that increasingly our generation are more willing to invest in experiences over material possessions, and to share these experiences with a close community of like-minded individuals.

How did the design play a role in the process?

Refurbishing existing buildings had prevented us from providing the communal space needed to facilitate these shared experiences and interactions, which became a priority when looking for space to build our first purpose built co-living building.

When we bought the site in Old Oak we were excited by the opportunity to deliver a wealth of communal space and amenities, as it is 12,000 sq ft in total!

Can coliving provide a real solution to rising real estate prices in London?

It’s an answer to both the increasing rental prices, which are alienating the workers who are the lifeblood of London’s economy. Coliving is also a solution that could cater to the changing lifestyle trends of our generation, who’s ambitions and expectations are very different to that of previous generations, and to whom the current rental market simply doesn’t cater to.

 How does the Collective Old Oak specifically help to meet contemporary needs?

At The Collective Old Oak we are offering all-inclusive bill and access to various amenities, including a gym, spa, and rooftop terrace. And of course, you are also gaining access to a ready- made community of people in similar stages of their life journey to you, and that’s something you can’t put a price on.You are not just renting a bed or a room; you’re buying into a lifestyle.

What has been the initial response to coliving in your experience?

It’s been so exciting to see them bring the space to life and take ownership of creating the sense of community, alongside our Community Managers.

Community library at Old Oak

Community library at Old Oak

Where there has been the occasional negative comment, it’s inevitably come from people who haven’t visited Old Oak and who don’t understand the concept of co-living.

From your experience, what are people looking for when they decide to colive? 

From what we’ve seen over the past couple of months is that people move in for various different reasons, whether it’s a bad experience renting in a shared apartment, or for the ease of the viewing and booking process for someone coming from abroad. Yet, once people have moved in, the reason they fall in love and ultimately stay, is because of the community.

Do you also offer workspaces such as a coworking area, etc.?

Yes. On the ground floor we have a large hot-desking area, designed to feel like a lounge area, where people can take their laptops, sit in one of the armchairs and work remotely. During the day it will also serve as a coffee shop type environment, transforming into a bar in the evening for more informal meetings or social gatherings.

There is also a separate coworking space on the first floor, which is targeted at local creative and ambitious businesses and entrepreneurs. Again, the same emphasis is placed on community, convenience, and quality, making the space an attractive place to work from a cost perspective, as well as lifestyle.

Have you found that people who chose to stay at Old Oak achieve a sense of work-life balance?

It’s about giving people the choice to work from home if they want to, as the younger generation are moving away from the tradition 9-5 jobs and are able to work from anywhere with a fast internet connection. While a lot of our members will want to go into their offices to get a degree of physical separation between their personal and professional lives, many will enjoy the flexibility of being able to work from home. It is also important to create a variety of inspiring spaces that make room for creativity and productivity, so that when they do choose to work from home, they have enough options so that it doesn’t feel like they are just working from bed.

As we are exploring models of work in the new economy, we would like to hear the opinion/experiences of people who are actively engaging in these models. Would you say that coliving is an obvious transition from more traditional coworking?

I think there are definitely many parallels that can be drawn between the two – as I mentioned earlier the same emphasis on community, convenience and quality is placed on both, to cater to co-livers and coworkers demands. Both have the same start-up, social mentality at their core.

In terms of coliving and coworking do you think the marriage of these two concepts could risk blurring the lines between work/life balance? 

I think that more and more, our generation are pursuing their passions, following their dreams. So actually working long hours and always being “on” isn’t necessarily a chore, but a source of enjoyment and personal satisfaction. Of course, it can be a risk though and it’s incredibly important to strike a healthy balance, which is why our programme of events encourages people to get away from their desks and join a yoga lesson, inspiring talk, film night, book club or the regular free rooftop BBQ and drinks.

How could a coliving space help enable people to really embrace the sharing/new economy, through events, workshops, etc.

We actually have a very active Facebook page for our Old Oak community, which members use for everything from reporting a maintenance issue to sharing events with each other. A common theme that we’ve seen emerging is people using it to share the cost of, for example, buying their groceries. We have one member, Tracy, who regularly cooks amazing meals in large batches, which she then offers to others as dinner portions, at a very low price. It’s a win win for everyone!

The office moves towards a clubhouse

The office moves towards a ‘clubhouse’, a space which acts as a hub for soaking up the company DNA”, Chris van Houdt, PROOFF Design

When we imagine the future of work a lot of things come to mind: Smart cities, co-living spaces, even “officeless” workspaces”. Adopting similar ideas that came from movements like Bauhaus, architecture in the workplace aims to gain a deeper understanding of society and technology’s relationship to design.

To find out more about those designers that are influencing the way we imagine the future workplace, we reached out to PROOFF, a Dutch agency that “provides solutions for the new paradigm of work”. We spoke to Chris van Houdt about the exploration of activity based working by developing furniture concepts.

Hi, Chris. Why is it important for design to incorporate variety into its practice, and what does it bring to the overall result?

Working with different design studios means that we can really focus each designer’s own unique qualities and skills, as well as their specific field of research. Having one designer to create the whole collection wouldn’t generate the same outcome, as each one brings something else to the table. Together, we have created a collection of 10 furniture solutions, each product representing specific needs of the workspace.

Your designs are “intimate” but made for “public space” can you tell us a bit more about how that works? 

It’s important to carefully research the current and future needs of the workspace, translating these into furniture concepts, carefully creating prototypes, fine-tuning and finally getting the products ready for production by our selection of highly skilled craftsmen. In our case, the products are each designed with a specific solution in mind. Making life and work easier whilst boosting productivity, wellbeing and innovation in the office.

As we are looking to explore the role of design in the workplace, how do you see this playing out?

When you look at the shift towards open plan offices, started some years ago, the ambition that companies and interior designers once had (having the workforce all in one big open space will make them collaborate more and have the company be more productive, plus reducing furniture costs because of sharing workspaces) is, in most cases, not being achieved.

Staff often experience the open plan office as chaotic, not being able to focus or have a private conversation. In short, workspace design, doesn’t accommodate different styles of working and the needs of staff. Carefully designed furniture and workspaces can combat that and also play a big role in workspace wellbeing.

What is your take on the contemporary design often found in office space today? 

Today, the role of architects and (furniture) designers is really about gathering information about the workspace they are designing for. Transforming these details into a workspace and furniture that gets the best out of its users. Amplifying the productive, innovative and collaborative atmosphere at the office. Architects and designers are continuously trying to find a balance between what they envision and their client needs.

In your opinion, what types of design works best with the needs of contemporary workers? 

We see the office moving more towards a ‘’clubhouse’’, a space which acts as a hub for soaking up the company DNA. A home-base like structure, where staff can come in and out like a beehive. Today’s workers are looking for a workspace that lets them choose how they can work best, mentally and physically. They want to pick and choose their favorite spot to do focused work, make a phone call, have a private chat and collaborate with their team. This flexibility and ‘’keep moving’’ strategy enables staff and thus businesses grow.

Workspace design needs to facilitate this and the design of the workspace needs to strengthen the company DNA, think colour, material, structure based. This is where architects, interior designers, and workspace consultants play a pivotal role, as they are able to research, strategize and envision a workspace that works best for each client and their staff. And this is where furniture design comes into play. Their furniture solutions chosen need to amplify the strategy the workspace creator has in mind.

“A growing number of firms consume offices as a service”, Mark Eltringham, Workplace Insight

Workplace Insight is one of the most widely read magazines concerning “the built environment”. We spoke with Insight’s publisher, Mark Eltringham, to get an idea of what the future of work looks like from the perspective of one of the biggest magazines covering the movement today.

You have been working as a writer, editor and marketing professional for over twenty years, what are some of the major changes you have witnesses in the workplace from this perspective?

One of the interesting things about the sector is about how much it has changed and yet also how little. Many of the debates that rage now about things like flexible working, wellbeing, inclusive design, collaborative work and making the business case for office design have been with us for decades. At the same time, we have seen the office’s role shift dramatically, not least in becoming just one of the spaces in which work gets done The workplace now is both physical and technological.

In terms of the physical design of spaces, the most important change has been the growing irrelevance of the desk. Just as people now work increasingly at home, in cafes and wherever, so offices now look more and more like those spaces. People still work at desks, but not as much as they did and they certainly don’t work on vast workstations with tons of paper and huge desktop computers. That is why it’s interesting to see sit-stand desks gain such relevance.      

As a publisher, why is it so important for us to have written commentary and regular discussion about the workplace?

The important thing is to be part of a community. Traditional journals still have a role to play but they’re different beasts to what happens online. That is where the dialogue happens and it is where you discover the dynamics of a sector. One thing that I think goes underappreciated is just how influential this world is, because when we carry out our analyses of where people go to for information, we always discover that there are key individuals who command a bigger audience than the traditional trade media. It is these communities that shape the world.

Workplace Insight has published numerous case studies outlining developments from space design to the role that real estate plays in the future of work. Based on these studies, and your own experience, how has the role of the real estate industry transformed in relation to the contemporary workplace?

Mark Eltringham

Mark Eltringham

Up until recently, I don’t think it has. It has always had difficulty adjusting its business model to a rapidly changing world. In my view, the dead giveaway is its continuing adherence to the idea of space standards which are a relic of the days of one person and one desk. They are still useful, but increasingly irrelevant as offices become more about the utilisation of space and less about occupation.

I know the issue of lease lengths continues to be a challenge but I think it is the idea of space standards that suggests they are at odds with the realities of what firms – especially startups and TMT firms – want from offices.

I know the issue of lease lengths continues to be a challenge, but I think it is the idea of space standards that suggests they are still at odds with the realities of what firms, especially startups and TMT firms, want from offices.

This is the gap now filled by firms like WeWork who understand that a growing number of firms consume offices as a service.      

From the perspective of Workplace Insight, what are some of the needs of today’s workers? Are people becoming more satisfied with the way that they work, or are there still changes that need to be made? If so, what are they?

If anything, people appear to be less satisfied. You can speculate as to why that might be, but my guess would be the incursion of work into their once free time and the fact they often do this willingly and sometimes don’t acknowledge it. There is also a growing uncertainty about jobs and pay, alongside mundane working environments, an inability to escape the noise and intrusions of their coworkers, lack of opportunities, lack of flexible working in addition to the physical and psychological impact of modern working life.

We have come a long way from the days of workers holed up in their cubicles, and more and more offices are choosing the open space plan. What do you think was the catalyst for this change? Do you think the coworking movement has played a major role in how office space is designed today? If so, why is that?

Open plan is popular because it makes good business sense. I know firms like to sell it on the basis of collaborative work which is probably true in many cases, but their main drivers are clearly that it is cheap and easy.

I think coworking’s day is yet to come in terms of its influence on mainstream office design, although that will change very soon.

In addition to coworking becoming increasingly popular, many major corporations are adopting the coworking model as well. Do you consider these changes in the corporate workplace as effective, or do you think that larger enterprises still have a long way to go when it comes to changing company culture for the better?

I think I would have to challenge what is meant by “better”. I don’t think there is a continuum of evolution towards an idealised working environment and culture. What is exciting is the fact that firms have the choice of more forms of working and workplaces, even though many still may not acknowledge the fact and may not know how to match that up to their culture and ambitions.

Workplace Insight often covers design and the role it plays in workplace wellbeing. Can you tell us a bit about some of the trends you are currently seeing in workplace architecture? How does design encourage wellness in the workplace? And on the same note, in what ways does design improve productivity?

Design doesn’t improve productivity on its own. People can be happy and productive in badly designed offices and unhappy and ineffective in well-designed offices. The important thing is to create a working culture that meets peoples’ needs and then design a workspace that expresses that culture and fosters productivity and happiness.

I would make a similar point about wellness. Designed solutions are often important but secondary to managed and cultural solutions. The perfect example is sit-stand desking, which is a great product but only effective when people are encouraged to stand and move in the first place.

Many workplaces now have their own “third spaces” such as cafes, relaxation rooms. Do you think that this a positive change? Or do you think it blurs the line between work/life balance?

It’s been around for some time, and it’s undoubtedly positive as it allows people to shift their focus, work in a different way and even take time out. Whether this affects their work/life balance I have less of an idea. I think that it is something that we have to choose.

We are hearing rumors that the workplace of the future will be “office-less”. Do you think that we will one day be without a physical workplace? If so, do you think that this would benefit workers, or is having a meeting point essential to creating company culture and productive employees.

I’ve been hearing about the death of the office for as long as I’ve worked in the sector and it’s as much nonsense now as it was twenty years ago. The proof is in the lack of Grade A office space in major cities and also in the decision by companies like Google, Apple and Facebook to invest in huge new office complexes.

The reasons are both practical and linked to human nature. A lot of research has been done into what makes people happy, productive and collaborative, and a lot of it is linked to being around other people and feeling part of something. That is not to say that the role and emphasis of the physical workplace haven’t changed, but offices will be with us in one form or other while we remain human.

“Our tenants have the unique opportunity to establish their own retail space in our space, from which they can showcase their products”- Vanessa Butz, Interchange, London

We caught up with Vanessa Butz, Managing Director at Interchange, a new full-service coworking and events space based in the heart of Camden, London, which provides companies and entrepreneurs with the ideal framework for creativity and growth. Before working with Interchange, Vanessa helped build up the community at Factory, one of Berlin’s largest tech spaces to date.

London is a major business center and also home to numerous large corporations. Would you say that your space is marketed to this crowd? If so, why?

Interchange is mainly aimed at creative, fast-growth companies, who are looking for an inspiring working environment that will support them from startup through to scale-up. However, we have also had interest from companies of all sizes, including major corporations, a number of which have moved specific innovation teams into our space.

Would Interchange be defined as a facility, service, or a hospitality provider? If so, why is that?

It’s is a mix of all three really. Interchange is a coworking office, as well as an events and networking space. We also provide our tenants and visitors with a range of other facilities, as well as access to advice and support.

Furthermore, the main Interchange sites are located at the heart of Camden, which has over 28 million visitors a year, and is London’s third largest business district, after the City and Westminster. The location helps our tenants to stay connected via the central location and great transport links.

What types of members do you have so far, and are any of them new to the open workspace model? If so, how are they adapting to the concept?

We have a wide range of members, spanning industries such as design and marketing, healthcare and fintech, including accelerators and VC companies. Some are new to the open workspace model and some have moved from other coworking spaces, but all are adapting well. Ultimately it’s about finding the right fit.

Some of our current members include a healthcare startup, Doctify, who help to connect patients to healthcare professionals. We are also home to Osper, a mobile banking platform for young people, and IncuBus, which is a pre-accelerator for startups.

Has it been challenging to attract people to the space? And what do you think needs to happen in order to educate potential members about the benefits of Social Workplaces?

We generally feel that in London especially, that there is high demand for shared workspaces that meet the needs and expectations of potential tenants. Most companies and individuals, particularly startups, have a good understanding of why it’s beneficial to work in shared spaces, including the access to support, networking opportunities and inspiring atmosphere they can provide.

When you were developing Interchange, was design a major consideration? What types of design influenced the process? For example, did you focus on different types of third spaces such as a restaurant of a café? 

Vanessa Lee Butz , Managing Director at Interchange

Vanessa Lee Butz , Managing Director at Interchange

One of our buildings, ‘Atrium’, is still under construction, but once complete, Interchange will offer over 84,000 square foot of coworking space. We will also have a number of exciting facilities available on-site, including a restaurant, cafe, bar, and gym.

The Camden buildings have been designed by DRS under the creative direction of Tom Dixon, an acclaimed British designer whose past work includes Shoreditch House and Mondrian Hotel.

In your opinion, why do you think that corporate players are now looking to leave their offices? What are they missing in the more traditional environments ?

We’ve definitely seen a trend over the last few years of larger, corporate companies becoming interested in what startups are doing and the way in which they work, particularly in relation to innovative business practices and new technologies. Coworking is a big part of this, as it encourages openness, creativity and collaboration. Interchange provides a framework for these elements and is therefore an ideal space, whether for a one-man startup or a satellite team of a larger company.

Do you provide any additional services for your members? Have you curated these programs to certain types of professionals, or are they more open?

As part of the wider Interchange offering, we run regular events, workshops, talks and training sessions from our events space, which anyone can attend. Additionally, our tenants also have the unique opportunity to establish their own retail space in the iconic Camden Markets, from which they can showcase and sell their products.


“AstroLabs is more than a space for its community of entrepreneurs – it’s a meeting point for brilliant minds”

In 2013, Louis Lebbos and Muhammed Mekki, the two founding partners of AstroLabs, organized SOS, known in full as, Scaling Online Startups. The training program included more than 130 startups in the MENA region, from the United Arab Emirates to Qatar, Kuwait and also up to Saudi Arabia.

The project gave them a deeper look into the entrepreneurial scene in the Middle East, causing them to realize that that there was a need for social workspace and technology hub in the region. Their vision was to create a platform from which a strong community of entrepreneurs could gather and support one another to develop disruptive businesses.

We spoke with Tiberiu Iacomi, Tech Hub coordinator at AstroLabs, about the development of their space in Dubai. Since their opening in April 2015, the first Google-partnered coworking space in the MENA region with more than 60 startups with founders from 27 countries.

Hi, Tiberiu. What does the current entrepreneurial scene look like in Dubai? 

There is an exponential growth in the number of tech startups in Dubai and entrepreneurs are looking more towards the potential of developing their businesses, both in the region and on a global scale. So far, AstroLabs has received more than 400 applications since their official launch, and some of our events, like Startup Weekend Dubai, had 100+ participants who are all emerging entrepreneurs.

How did you come to decide to partner with Google?

Given that entrepreneurs in Dubai and throughout the MENA region now consider digital technologies as the key to scaling up their startups on a global level, the partnership with Google for Entrepreneurs was a natural step. The fact that GFE has developed a network of more than 20 Tech Hubs all over the world (US, Europe, Asia, Africa) as well as a series of training programs such as the Silicon Valley Blackbox Connect or the GFEX (GFE Exchange Program) is giving the startups based at AstroLabs access to a global network.

Last but not least, within its mentorship network, AstroLabs has attracted 12 mentors from the Google MENA office in Dubai, who are experts in a wide range of digital topic from analytics to advertising and up to mobile development.

Google is a major pioneer of the transforming workplace, has that influenced AstroLabs?

Definitely. One is able to see a series of the Google principles on workplace design embedded in how the AstroLabs hub was built and also in the way the community of entrepreneurs is shaping itself as one of the most collaborative groups of tech people in Dubai. From the 80-20 approach of dividing work time, and also mixing in relaxation and focusing energy into the multicultural exchange of ideas, the AstroLabs hub is a space that harnesses and enhances brainstorming and feedback across more than 15 industries and between amazing individuals from 27 different countries.

From the 80-20 approach of dividing work time, and also mixing in relaxation and focusing energy into the multicultural exchange of ideas, the AstroLabs hub is a space that harnesses and enhances brainstorming and feedback across more than 15 industries, between amazing individuals from 27 different countries.

What are some of the traits of AstroLabs that ensure success? Does your space incorporate third spaces, like breakout rooms, a café, or is it more focused on team-based office, etc.?

The inspiration of AstroLabs stems from the astrolabe, the navigation tool invented by the Arab people in ancient times, which extends to the modern idea that entrepreneurship can be a successful journey if proper guidance is provided.

The hub has spaces such as the shared area, which is an open space where entrepreneurs can ask for advice or offer feedback to each other. There is also a coffee boutique called 59 Degrees where they can socialize, meeting rooms where they meet with mentors on a weekly basis, the device lab where they can test their websites and apps on a variety of devices and, last but not least, the conference room where they can take part in the classes organized by the AstroLabs Academy on digital topics (ranging from SEO to Google Analytics and up to online marketing) or in events such as the Google Design Sprint or a Youtube Creators’ Day.

Have open workspaces influenced the real estate industry sector in Dubai? For example, in the United States, open and shared spaces play a role in revitalizing neighborhoods. Do workspaces play a similar role in your region? If not, what type of role do they play?

Tiberiu Iacomi

Tiberiu Iacomi, Tech Hub Coordinator

Incubators, accelerators, and coworking spaces are on the rise in Dubai and, as a result, they are impacting the economic and education sectors. First and foremost their impact on a macro level creates a more entrepreneurial society which can be more relevant in the global economy. At a local level, because startups are creating new jobs and new areas of recruitment and learning – considering only startups are based at AstroLabs, one can see there have been more than 100 jobs created and promoted through our Startup Jobs portal on the AstroLabs website.

Secondly, more universities are creating entrepreneurship courses or full degrees while more students with business degrees are inclined to set up their own startup after they graduate. At AstroLabs, we’re seeing an increase in inquiries, applications and, implicitly, startups that are founded by recent graduates from business schools.

As for the impact on the real-estate sector, I believe it’s too early to estimate.

How is work approached in Dubai, is a more traditional 9-5 approach or is the concept of social workplaces widely accepted? What are some of the specific needs of entrepreneurs in the MENA region? 

The coworking and open workspace concept is an up and coming trend in Dubai. It is not only accepted, but also embraced by more and more people coming from various backgrounds, from working professionals to freelancers, as well as budding entrepreneurs and full-time entrepreneurs.
The main differentiation point of AstroLabs is that it is a coworking space that is more than a space for its community of entrepreneurs – it’s a meeting point for brilliant minds. It’s also the starting point in the journey for scaling at a global level.

Is there anything that AstroLabs does for their workers that other office providers can’t?

AstroLabs adds knowledge resources, from feedback sessions amongst the entrepreneurs, to mentorship sessions with experts. We also offer classes, workshops, and events on the most relevant business and digital topics.

What types of members do you have? Are they typically self-employed, or from more corporate entities?

All of our members are full-time entrepreneurs dedicated to building and developing their startups.

Why do you think corporations would be attracted to a place like AstroLabs?

Corporations nowadays need to develop an internal innovation engine to ensure they stay relevant in the market. A place such as AstroLabs is a hub where their people can take part in events and courses that can refresh their perspective on how digital technologies can make them better understand their customers and the way new markets and new niches emerge.

What kinds of services do you offer your members?

Due to the partnership with the DMCC Free Zone  (which is the largest free zone in the world), we are able to offer licenses to the startups that are selected at AstroLabs, which is an essential point in their development.

More than that, we are creating the collaboration frameworks for the entrepreneurs to establish partnerships, interact with mentors, learn how to shape their business models and, ultimately, participate in pitching events with organizations such as 500 Startups.

How do you envision the future workspace in the MENA region?

Open, definitely. And more than open, open across cities in the sense that entrepreneurs will start sharing more and more their experiences from AstroLabs Dubai across UAE and MENA and outside the region.

Entrepreneurs from AstroLabs have been traveling and working from hubs such as Galvanize San Francisco, Campus London or Campus Madrid so the future workspace in the MENA region is not only an open physical space but also a global virtual workspace.

“Space cannot just look different it needs to also feel different through the way people engage with one another”

Globally renowned expert on the impact of the built environment on business performance, Despina Katsikakis, is a major player in transforming how we understand today’s workplace. Interested in the ways in which physical environments affect both user experience and their impact on business, Despina has worked with developers, funds and their design teams on how to “differentiate and future proof award winning schemes globally”. Recently a speaker at the first Social Workplace Conference in London, we spoke with Despina about the ways in which the contemporary office can create all inclusive work environments and why events like Social Workplace are so important to the future of work.

Hi, Despina. You have a lot of experience helping large enterprises, like Barclays, to reinvent their idea of the workplace. What types of projects are you currently working on?

I worked with Barclays to help them understand the best way to utilize space as a way to change behaviors, support innovation, as well as co-creation. In addition to that project, I am doing a similar project with another bank at the moment.

I am also the design curator for a new 1.5 million ft.2 [139.354,56 m2] tower in the City of London. This is a very exciting project as the objective is to design a vertical village, which will be a real-time social network that will embrace the sociability of how we work today. The aim is to create a different model for what a building can offer, from providing a variety of work areas and amenities, as well as a platform for connection and community with places and events that support collision, collaboration, curiosity, and wellness.

An increasing amount of corporations are attempting to adapt this model, but it’s not as easy as it might seem on paper. Why do you think some corporations fail when they try to implement the social workplace into their company?

I think that there are several reasons for unsuccessful adaptation. Number one, there is always a disconnect in large corporations between workspace and what motivates attracting and retaining talent. More often than not, the space comes from a traditional perspective, and the main objective is always to reduce costs without measuring what impact it might have on people’s engagement and productivity.

The times I have seen a social workplace successfully implemented into a corporate landscape is when the senior leadership recognize the role and value that physical space has in conveying the culture and values of the organization. However, in order to make it happen, it requires bringing together HR, IT and real estate in order to create an integrated people-centric experience.

What needs to happen in order to guide corporations in the right direction in regards to the future of work?

There are several elements. When you are helping people embrace something different, you have to get them to understand what they are currently doing.

80 percent of large corporations will still try to provide efficient office space, which will be adequately designed and laid out, but will still assume that people will come in and work at their desk all day long. The reality is that desk space tends to be utilized on average 40 to 50 percent of the time on a typical day. People today work in a variety of locations, and they are not always sitting at their desk, thus the space remains under utilized and does not support collaboration nor inspire employees. When in these situations, I ask what it is the company is trying to achieve and try to hold up a mirror to reflect back to them the actual messages that their current space communicates.

Despina Katsikakis

Despina Katsikakis

By creating awareness, companies can understand the disconnect and clarify what their message should me. Addressing changes in the physical environment is always aligned with guiding them through a process of creating the right culture and behaviors to support their business. Space cannot just look different it needs to also feel different through the way people actually work, interact and engage with one another.

How has the development of Social Workplaces changed the way that corporations value and find talent? Have there been some setbacks, i.e. difficulty finding appropriate employees?

I think the issue with talent is always independent from the economic cycles. Whether there is a crisis or not, organizations are always looking for talent, but what has shifted in the last few years is that employees want to have choice and flexibility, as well as authentic sociability and a sense of well-being. For that reason many individuals are now choosing not to work for big corporations because they have the flexibility to fulfill a variety of roles. Thus, it has become much more difficult for employers to access talent, so now they need to embrace a dispersed talent network which is not hierarchical but rather more reliant on skills and open sourced innovation.

Like major corporations, has this transformation affected the real estate sector? Are there ways that they can adapt and make space more readily available? What do they need to do to meet the needs of contemporary lease agreements?

Yes, definitely. Much of the current innovation taking place in the workplace comes from outside, like coworking environments, and the real estate industry recognizes that. Corporate occupiers are now looking to increase their real estate flexibility and access talent in different ways. Also, the same organizations will want flexibility through ‘spaceless expansion’, which is interesting because it means that from a real estate point of view, they will need to move away from traditional fixed leases and space in order to embrace flexible and on-demand space.

The workplace transformation is obviously benefitting businesses and employees who are already somewhat established, but what about those who do not have access to these types of resources? Do you think that Social Workplaces could create an equal playing field for various demographics?

I do. This makes me think back to Edu Forte’s presentation at the Social Workplace Conference about shared workspace. The idea that we are working towards creating places where you can bring together various individuals and generations to work side by side and create community creates more room for mobility and is very exciting.

It is always talked about that Millennials want flexibility, but so do Baby Boomers. We need to re-tap into these types of work experiences that inspire and attracts those from all demographics and age groups.

What was your impression of the first Social Workplace Conference? How do you see the conversation continuing? And what would be the necessary steps to ensuring we build a workplace environment that actually meets these needs?

The first conference was really good. Events like Social workplace are hugely important in terms of educating corporate occupiers, investors and users of space, of what the opportunities are. Also, the ability to hear these experiences first hand is very rich.

I think that we are at an amazing time of innovation and change in terms of rethinking how we live and work today. We have more opportunity to collaborate and co-create new environments, and the conference plays an important role in pushing these changes in the workplace today.

Amanda Gray 

A look back at the inaugural Social Workplace Conference, London, 2015

Last Friday saw the inaugural Social Workplace Conference, an event that aims to create content and bring insight based on “strong models taking root in community managed workplaces to a wider audience of professionals from the real estate industry and corporate world”. Experts from the fields of design, coworking, finance, and corporate innovation all gathered in London’s design-centric shared office space, The Office Group, for a productive day of talks and workshops.

The Social Workplace is shifting the way we view physical space

Presentations addressed topics such as a non-traditional user-centric approach to architectural design, which Oliver Marlow from Studio Tilt, a design and architecture studio known for its unique codesign methodology, explored in relation to the current systemic changes taking place in the workplace.

Attendees at a Workshop, Social Workplace, 2015

Attendees at a Workshop, Social Workplace, 2015

Despina Katsikakis, of Barclays Corporate Real Estate, brought to light some important statistics taken from a recent Gallup study, which states that 80 percent of office space still hasn’t changed over the past 10 years, thus continually limiting choice and control.

Despina’s presentation offered alternatives to addressing how to deal with these setbacks, by comparing contemporary office space to cities. Like the urban environment, “the office of the future should act as a social condenser that is exciting, spontaneous, and non-linear”, she explained.

Social capital matters more than monetary gain in today’s work culture 

The general feedback from most participants was focused on an interest in the developing relationship between the corporate and coworking world. Alex Hillman, founder of Indy Hall, a successful coworking space based in Philadelphia, brought home the point that the Social Workplace Conference is a chance for people working in various industries to hear each other out and work towards actual change, not only in their offices, but also in their communities.

Edu Forte, founder of Betahaus Barcelona, discussed the process of cocreation. Through this process, the coworking model allows room for the community to develop the physical space as well as programs that meet their needs.

Stefan Kiss, who has been working in the office furniture industry for over 25 years, and Séverine Blanchard-Jazdzewski , executive of the Orange Digital Transformation program, brought up several point as to why corporations today might be struggling. Stefan discussed the relationship between design and the “human factor”, which he believes once more harmonious, will help transform the current workplace. As for Séverine, she talked about the ways in which companies can meet the need of their employees and their ultimate goal of transforming Orange into an incubator for new collaborative workspaces.

What does the future hold?

Nathan Waterhouse, OI Engine

Nathan Waterhouse, OI Engine

The Social Workplace wrapped up the day by giving attendees that chance to interact and participate with the speakers. Several workshops were given, tackling topics such as “How to create value from the social workplace model: Programming, events and cross-fertilisation to ignite culture”, led by Simon Pitkeathley of Camden Town BID.

The Final panel, which was led by Kursty Groves Knight, featured Tom Day, from Travel Tech Lab, Steve Pette of Central Working and founder of London’s Bow Arts, Marcel Baettig. As Kursty is an expert in helping organizations to cultivate progressive cultural and physical environments, the panel reflected on the day’s events, discussing everything from catalyzing a community, to monetizing the workspace through partnerships that work with one’s personal philosophy.

Overall, attendees expressed their excitement in regards to future events. As conference goers headed down the bar for a bit of wine and networking, Alex Hillman of Indy Hall, reflecting on the conference, remarked: “The Social Workplace conference marks the beginning of a conversion that needed to be had, but the most exciting part is what comes next”.

Presentations from the conference are available on Slideshare and also Linkedin.

Amanda Gray

“We have built an unprecedented network that’s the Pintrest of the design world”-Kontor

William Hanley is a Vice President at Kontor, a “visual search and discovery platform for workplace design.” Together with Kontor’s director of European business development and architect, Florian Bolle, William will be participating in the premier Social Workplace conference, taking place in London, October 16th.

Kontor was founded by Kevin Ryan, “a luminary in the New York tech scene”, who also started Business Insider, Gilt, and various other successful companies. Kontor founder and CEO, Mia Lewin is a seasoned entrepreneur with a passion for design, alongside Andy Parsons, who is also a founder and CTO, who has a strong background in photo and search technologies. The company launched a private beta preview in June, and is preparing for a public launch in November.

We caught up with William and Florian to learn more about the visionary design platform and to find out why design plays such an essential role in the workplace of the future.

Hi William, can you please tell us about Kontor? Please describe the design of the space and how you realized what worked best for your community.

Kontor is a visual search and discovery platform for workplace design. We have built an unprecedented network that connects visionary companies, great architects, and innovative product makers using a combination of beautiful project photography, expert metadata, and a proprietary, design-focused search algorithm.

On Kontor, everyone involved with a workplace project can showcase their contributions, and anyone can discover interesting projects, create collections of images, and share them with each other. Think of it as a platform similar to Pinterest but tailor made for the design world.

Our own main office is a surprisingly spartan loft in Tribeca New York and our European headquarters, where Florian is based, is located in a coworking space in Paris, which is occupied by several other design-focused businesses.

How does Kontor envision the Social Workplace and how does it meet the needs of contemporary work styles?

Thanks to a combination of mobile devices, geographically distributed teams, and the global nature of contemporary work, the office has become less of place for performing tasks within a set window of time and more of a social space that facilitates personal interactions and serendipitous conversations. It sounds cliché, but fostering collaboration has become the workplace’s primary role now that we can all work anywhere.

You can find many examples of how this has shifted the design of the physical workplace on Kontor, but generally we see fewer and fewer partitioned work areas, and certainly fewer private offices, in favor of more flexible spaces and a range of different types of lounge-like spaces—from informal meeting areas to cafés to alcoves and hideaways that facilitate small gatherings.

How are the expectations of the modern workforce different today than they were 5 years ago?

The ability to work anywhere has changed how our professions and the ways that our lives intersect. At its worst, this had led to a lack of work-life balance, as we are now seemingly available at all hours of the day. At its best, it has created a sense of work-life integration that allows us to build a schedule that suits both our personal and professional needs. The key to staying on the positive side of this condition is flexibility and that also extends to office design.

How does Kontor address the needs of employers and employees today?

More than anything, employees expect the workplace to accommodate the ever-blurrier boundaries between their personal and professional lives—whether that means a specific set of amenities, a design aesthetic that fits their sense of professional identity, or a space that speaks to a particular office culture. We are a far cry from soulless rows of cubicles or even a generic open plan.

What types of modern design/technologies do companies incorporate into an “outdated” office space?

William Hanley

William Hanley

Contemporary companies require spaces unique to their businesses, brands, and the working style they wish to cultivate. How companies incorporate amenities into the office is a great example of how varied workplace design has become. Some employees might prefer things from dining to laundry to be accommodated inside the office—allowing great plans to be hatched over impromptu coffees or on-site happy hours—while others prefer an outward looking office with easy access to shops, cafés, and other amenities, where the formal workplace becomes a hub in a larger urban system.

How have these changes in the way we work influenced workspace design? 

This has led to a proliferation of office types and design ideas, and a huge range of them can be discovered on Kontor. With work by 300 design firms and 100 product brands tagged in the context of built spaces, the platform shows the breadth of contemporary workplace design. It is full of surprising architectural moves and innovative ideas from around the world. You can find anything from playful tech offices to button-up law firms and you can also search for designers or products that have similar qualities.

When we officially launch, you will also be able to share images that you find with colleagues and clients and to follow designers, brands, and people in the interiors world to get updates on their work.

What types of clients typically gravitate towards the designers of innovative offices? Why do you think that is?

Technology has enabled the new ways of working that we just discussed, and so it’s not surprising that many of the innovations that we’re seeing in workplace design started there.

We also see creative industries from design to advertising pushing new ideas about workplace design. It’s crucial in those fields to not only create an inspiring environment for employees but to also have a space that projects a company’s aesthetic and brand when clients visit. This is one of the reasons that we frequently feature the best of particular industries on Kontor. We want to show how designers are experimenting with different ideas in different fields.

What do you think that social work environment offers that a traditional one no longer can?

The workplaces that are built more on relationships and interaction rather than on a traditional, mechanical idea of efficiency, actually allow for more specificity in the way their inhabitants work. A space that allows teams to take control and to find unique systems and rhythms that help them achieve goals and develop new ideas will foster far better results for companies. 

How important is the role of design in the workplace? Do you believe that it influences productivity and worker wellbeing?

Whether you’re a startup huddled around a communal table or a global company opening your newest headquarters, having the right architect or designer is crucial. Everyone needs a complementary design team to creatively address the many, often competitive interests—from employee comfort to construction costs, as well as sustainability and ecological considerations—that go into a workplace project.

At base, a well-designed office can mean the difference between employees fighting with their surroundings and employees aided and inspired by them.

“People no longer look for 4 walls and a door. They want a space that is light and flexible to suit the changing needs of their business”-Olly Olsen, The Office Group

The Office Group is a design-led workspace provider that houses a diverse community of businesses and individuals. Today, they have over 20 established buildings across central London, Bristol and Leeds. Members can decide whether they want to work from a private office, virtual addresses or collaborative coworking space.

We spoke with founder Oliver Olsen, about connectivity, convenience and how space managers can create a healthy, vibrant lifestyle for their members.

How did you imagine an open office when you started TOG, and how do you see the social workplace as representative of a new model of work?

The Office Group Co-CEO Charlie Green and I we were spurred to set up in business based on the desire to get out of the corporate world and create offices that were markedly different to the industry standard.

In all of our various workspaces, we strive to create a sense of community and collaboration. This is important as businesses are becoming more fluid in the way they operate. For example, the use of freelancers and temporary staff joining for short-term projects tends to be more agile and with flexible working hours, remote working, and the rise of the sharing economy there is a growing need to find expertise and advice quickly.

An effective workspace should make it easier for members to find out about each other and thus connect. The person you might need on your next project could be sitting in the same room as you.

Please describe the design of your space. Why are aesthetics and atmosphere so important in today’s workspace?

Olly Olsen

Olly Olsen

One of the main reasons we wanted to create our own workspaces was that we couldn’t see any offices out there that we would want to work in ourselves.

Our spaces are designed to be comfortable, vibrant, light, and all styles of work. We display artwork from local artists and create bespoke art pieces for each building that reference the history of the building or area.

The look and feel of an office space is important simply because employees spend so much of their day at work. The environment has such a big impact on individual well-being, productivity and creativity that you have to have this in mind at every stage of the design process.

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

We learned from our own backgrounds in the industry, and we took as much from the bad things as we did from the good. We work with top architects, interior designers, furniture suppliers and a skilled in-house property team who receive feedback from our members and building managers when it comes to considering the design of a new space.

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

Open coworking spaces have proved that work doesn’t have to mean a traditional 9 to 5 office-based role. They have in turn show that a social, open workspace makes any type of work possible. Many of our members work in teams that are spread throughout the globe, but they are able to work seamlessly through conference calling, Skype and Slack.

Who usually joins the Office Group and what services do you offer them?

Our Community includes everyone from solo freelancers to multi-national blue-chip companies and every type of business in-between. We’re particularly popular with start-up tech companies, creative agencies, recruiters and design firms.

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

Today, high-speed wireless internet has allowed start-ups and smaller businesses to be more agile than ever and also allows then to work from anywhere. Therefore, our biggest challenge is to provide an environment that offers real value over and above free workspaces or working from home. We believe that the key to this value is people.

Despite the many ways for business people to connect with each other digitally, what we see is a real desire for real human interaction amongst our members. Our Community Managers get to know all of our members, and help with anything they might need and connect them to others that they might be able to work with.

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

Companies are beginning to realize the importance of social interaction with organizations, both from an employee happiness perspective and from one of innovation. They understand that new ideas can be sparked by the ‘water cooler’ moments and cross-department chats.

Many companies are actively designing their offices in a way that encourages employees to meet, chat and create the ‘eureka’ moments. Today, rather than packing the most offices possible into a building, we’re seeing an emerging trend focused on leisure spaces and open workspaces.

How are the expectations of the modern workforce different from previous models? How does the Office Group address these modern needs?

The view of what an office should be has changed dramatically in the last 5 years. People no longer look for 4 walls and a door, rather they want a space that is light and flexible to suit the changing needs of their business. Most people want a space that looks good, feels good and helps their team be productive.

In addition to this, the way we work is changing. Digital technologies are disrupting almost every industry as well as creating entirely new ones overnight. We need to ensure that our spaces meet the needs of these new ‘digital employees’ and caters equally to those who demand flexible space, like a meeting room for an hour, a desk for just a few days a week, or even just a business address or phone number.