Category: Social Workplace Conference 2015

“70% of employees would quit their current position for more flexible work arrangements”-Sam Rosen, Deskpass

Deskpass was born from the experiences of the founders of The Coop, a dedicated coworking space in Chicago. While all coworkers can appreciate the benefits of having a dedicated community, the growing freelancer economy demands variety and access to a range of communities and spaces. This is where Deskpass comes in. Founding member Sam Rosen, who also worked on Desktime, a software used for booking and managing spaces, based on work at The Coop, aims to bring the coworking world easy access to a global network of spaces.

Currently, Deskpass’s flexible membership allows the platform to partner with spaces and offer coworkers a monthly package in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Denver to give you access to all of them. There are also several plan options for people who want to cowork someplace new every day or just a few times a month. We spoke with Sam about the platform and why coworking memberships will be an integral part of the future workplace.

Hi, Sam. How long have you been operating and from your experience what have been some of the common threads that you’ve seen regarding worker’s needs? 

Deskpass has been in operation a little over a year and a half. In that time, we’ve found that most of our users primarily work from home, and like it!. Instead of replacing their home office, they are looking for a place to go once or twice a week. They either want a creative boost, a place to meet clients or a work base close to other things happening in their lives. While traditionally folks who use coworking spaces value location and community, Deskpass users also value flexibility and access to lots of spaces.

As coworking has become more popularized in recent years, it has attracted more traditional workers, and corporations. Do you see a lot of corporate players who are interested in programs like Deskpass?

It’s important for those of us who work in coworking to remember that it is still a new idea and that a vast majority of people may have never heard of it before. We’re seeing more and more mobile and remote workers across industries. Pair that with companies starting to adopt alternative workplace strategies, and innovative options like Deskpass become more and more compelling.

Sam Rosen

Sam Rosen

For example, suburban companies want flexible options downtown for talent recruitment and retention. Forbes tells us at least 70% of employees would quit their current position for more flexible work arrangements. One study from GWA showed 95% of employers say remote work has a high impact on employee retention & 36% of employees would choose it over a pay raise.

Businesses that want to compete for the best people need to keep those things in mind but also don’t want to rent offices all over the place.

What are some of the experiences that you’ve had with more traditional workers that have signed up for Deskpass? 

Most of our folks use Deskpass to augment an existing setup. They like working from home, or from the office most of the time, and Deskpass serves as an attractive alternative a few times a month. Maybe they need to travel for work or they just want to get out of the house. Again, for many people, coworking is still a new concept. We find that a lot of folks are trying coworking for the first time and come to wonder how they have worked so long without it.

On that same note, would you say most of your users are full-time freelancers and part-time remote workers who are able to leave the office from time to time?

We’re pretty evenly split between freelancers and remote workers. We definitely expected to be more freelancer-based when we launched and have been excited to see the benefits membership offers remote workers.

As Deskpass encourages flexible use of space, what is your take on the future of real estate in the workplace? 

There’s little doubt in my mind we are in a transformative moment for our concepts of the office. For the first time ever, “work” doesn’t have to both be a thing we do and the place we do it.

We’re going to see more variance in and more kinds of ecosystems for work. I imagine folks will still have a traditional office available to them but will be equally empowered to work from home. This could be done from wherever it is that’s going to allow them to get the most work done, be more focused and have a better quality of life. An ideal environment might change based on the personality type and the job. Furthermore, my ideal environment might change based on what specific project I am working on or what my schedule feels like for the week.

Overall, we’re going to see more hybrids with less dedicated space and more awesome thoughtful drop-in environments supported by better and better technology.



“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.

“Some companies may create an open space but there is often a lack of understanding of what the community actually needs” Kursty Groves Knight

Kursty Groves Knight is a woman of many talents, the author of “I Wish I Worked There! – A Look Inside the Most Creative Spaces in Business” also holds double masters degrees in engineering and industrial design. When Kursty first started writing her book back in 2008, there was very little information about the social workplace, thus she dedicated her work to exploring the link between physical space and creativity.

We caught up with Kursty to find out more about her work, and what she is looking forward most at the upcoming Social Workplace conference.

Hi, Kursty. How did you become interested in social workspaces?

I started off as an industrial designer, so the creative process was always really interesting to me. I was working with a company called ?What If!, and dealing with a lot with topics focusing on capability and innovation culture, which combined my varied interests. Thus, I began thinking, “there is something missing here” and the designer in me was itching to examine the human side of work through the lens of space design.

Do you think the topic of space design is now at the forefront of the discussion concerning the future of work?

Yes, and I find it fascinating that it has become such a major talking point when it comes to discussing the future of work. At the moment, we are at a crossroads and we are seeing all of these current trends and influences coming together and creating a perfect storm of, technology, collaboration, and physical space.

Today, we have a whole new awareness as to how we work, whereas before the topic was of very little importance. Previously, people just went to their desks and had no expectations that their workspace should even be interesting.

How have our attitudes towards work changed since you started writing your book in 2008?

What I started writing my book in 2008 and there was nothing else out there, apart from some books like Creative Office, but even those were mostly driven from the designers perspective. So when I pitched my book, I knew that there was a whole world of information out there concerning office space that was outside of just designers talking to other designers. I decided to focus on how to bring together the topics of design, creativity and innovation from the users’ perspective.

Would you say that corporations are starting to catch on to the concept of social workspaces? If so, why is that? 

Kursty Groves Knight

Kursty Groves Knight

Yes. I think that more and more traditional businesses are looking towards contemporary work models to find inspiration and new examples of how to do business. Almost all of the workplace models we see today are focused on the social aspect of work culture, as collaboration and creativity are now acknowledged as essential for innovation.

Many of these companies are also increasingly aware of the competition coming from startups, which don’t need to utilize the traditional levers that large organizations have always used, such as well-established distribution channels, brand awareness, or even sheer volume of employees. More than ever, small, agile business are more connected, and bigger companies are seeing this as the inevitable future of how networking will be done. This change is also reflected as a physical manifestation of the shift to a more social workplace.

Do you think that these larger companies sometimes misunderstand the Social Workplace? Meaning, do they try to create their own, without fully understanding the origins of the movement?

We do see that a lot. What I see the most is companies, usually driven by real estate challenges, who look at agile working and think, “oh, lets do that”. They realize something is going on in coworking that attracts people, and they try to cut and paste elements from the movement without considering the whole picture. Some companies may create an open space to enhance collaboration, or even to save money, but there is often a lack of understanding of what the community actually needs.

Do you think that the emergence of the social workplace influenced the current real estate market?

Coworking and social workplaces have had a big impact on real estate. Property owners are seeing that open workspaces are in fact a very lucrative business model, which can potentially deal with many of their previous problems, such as rising costs and empty space.

For example, in Silicon Valley some of the large campuses are now moving downtown because coworking has shown them that they don’t necessarily need these massive open plan offices filled with desks. Work today is much more flexible and moving into more intimate established shared workspace is just as financially viable and doesn’t leave one with the feeling that they are in a factory.

Why are events like the Social Workplace Conference so important in regards to understanding the future of work? And what are you expecting to gain from this year’s conference?

The Social Workplace conference is a macro version of itself. The most powerful aspect of these conferences is the act of bringing people together from diverse backgrounds, but who share common interests. At the upcoming conference in London, I have invited some people from a youth marketing agency, who are set up to help big clients to understand the needs of young people today.

The conference will give organizations like these an important opportunity to learn from people who are much more established, and that goes both ways.



“The most recent survey research shows that the social side of coworking spaces is a key reason people are members”- Steve King, Emergent Research

Steve King, partner at Emergent Research, is an expert in the changing workplace. Emergent, is a “boutique research and consulting firm focused on the intersection of small business and the future of work”. Recently, Steve wrote an article for Small Business Labs, exploring the rise of social offices, so we caught up with him to learn more about the future of the social workplace.

Hi, Steve. Why did you decide to look at the Social Workplace as an example to highlight the changing nature of work?

For several years we’ve been exploring the increasing integration between work and life. We’ve also been trying to better understand the linkages between the social side of work and how it relates to productivity, work engagement, and worker wellbeing. Our interest in the Social Workplace is a natural outgrowth of this.

How would you define the “Social Workplace” and how is it representative a new model of work?

Our work in this area is focused on coworking spaces, which are definitely a form of social workplaces. Our most recent survey research shows that the social side of coworking spaces is a key reason people are members. Key findings on this topic from our survey include:

  • 87% of members report they meet other members for social reasons
  • 54% after work and on weekends
  • 33% during work hours
  • 89% reported they are happier being a coworking member
  • 83% reported they are less lonely since becoming a coworking member
  • 78% reported that coworking helps keep them sane

11% even reported they had dated someone the met at coworking facility. This is not to say that work isn’t getting done:

  • 84% said they were more engaged and motivated when coworking
  • 67% said coworking improved their professional success
  • 69% said they feel more successful since joining a coworking space
  • 64% of the respondents said their coworking networking was a very important (26%) or an important source of work (38%)

Our definition of the Social Workplace is that it is a place where the boundaries between work lives and personal lives are permeable and blending. As this data shows, coworking spaces fit this definition.

We study coworking spaces because we see them as a leading indicator of where work is going – and because of this we believe the social/work blending at coworking spaces is a strong signal that this trend will continue to grow.

How has the development of the social workplace influenced the culture of work? And what does social work environment offer that a traditional one does not?

Steve King

Steve King

We think the culture of work is slowly changing in ways that allow more workers increased levels of work autonomy, control and flexibility.

You’ll see these same words in other answers. This is because our research pretty much always comes back to these 3 attributes. If a worker has them, he/she is much more likely to be engaged, productive and happy at work than those who do not.

We think Social Workplaces tend to be places where people have these work attributes, and we believe as the benefits of the Social Workspace becomes better known they will spread.

A good metaphor is “casual dress”. The technology industry moved to much a more casual dress codes starting in the 1970s. Over a period of a decade or so it became clear that workers liked this change and productivity was likely increased. Over time – a long time – casual dress (at least part of the time) spread to pretty much all industries (at least in the U.S.).

We see the same thing happening with social workspaces.

Has your research shown that the social workplace becoming more widely accepted? 

As mentioned above, we see coworking spaces as a leading indicator of general work change. This means it’s likely the type of work/life blending we’re seeing at coworking spaces will become more common in all types of work environments.

How are the expectations of the modern workforce different from previous models? What has changed in the workforce over the last 5 years? What are the current expectations?

We’re seeing a shift towards more emphasis on working to live over living to work. Millennials are talked about a lot when it comes to this shift, but all generations are showing more interest in better work/life balance. Pretty much everyone is also looking for more work autonomy, control and flexibility.

Some people think that happiness in the workplace isn’t really important, but recent studies are showing it actually does improve productivity, would you agree? Do you have any examples to back this up?

It’s easy to dismiss happiness in the workplace as not being important, but too many studies show happiness and productivity is tightly linked. It’s also self-evident – who doesn’t think they are better at work when they are happy?

Our research on independent workers (the self-employed, freelancers, independent contractors, etc.) shows a strong correlation between productivity, worker views of their professional success and happiness.

Put more simply, those that are happy at work do a better job and consider themselves more successful.

Coworking has been a solid example of changes in attitude towards workplace culture, do you think it will continue to grow and improve? Do you think it is possible for larger corporate entities to integrate coworking into their business model?

There are no signs coworking is slowing down – if anything on a global level the growth is accelerating. Our forecast is for rapid continued growth out to 2020 and beyond.

Corporations are already integrating coworking into their business models. This is especially true when it comes to close partners and suppliers. We expect this to continue, to expand and to become more common in the early 2020s. Remember, workforce shifts tend to happen relatively slowly.

Do you think that changes in the workplace will also affect various business platforms, such as real estate?

We do. In particular the long term lease (10 years or more) doesn’t really work given the amount economic volatility, uncertainty and change that exist today. We think more firms will choose “workplace as a service” models that provide more business flexibility and agility. This will lead to major changes in commercial real estate. Again, these changes will not happen quickly – but they will happen. The rapid growth of firms like WeWork and Industrious are examples of this shift.

Amanda Gray

“Social workplace is a shift from space defined as a “container” to space as an “enabler” – Oliver Marlow, Studio Tilt

Oliver Marlow, designer, Creative Director and co-founder of Studio TILT, has “always been fascinated in the way people interact with space”. Oliver looks at the ways in which organisational “dynamics play out and how design can help or hinder the way people can come together.” As the co-organizer of the upcoming Social Workplace conference, we spoke with Oliver about how the emerging social workspace is influencing today’s work culture.

Hi Oliver, why was it important to you to co-organize the Social Workplace 2015 conference?

Coworking is now the workplace zeitgeist, but we have also been involved in coworking for 10 years, long before it had a name. Today, we recognise that it is the perfect time to come to together to look at how Coworking 2.0 might look.

What’s your definition of the Social Workplace and how is it representative of a new model of work? 

Oliver Marlow

Oliver Marlow

The social workplace returns to effective human needs. It is a shift from space defined as a “container” to space as an “enabler”. It looks beyond the monumentality of working environments to something more fluid, humble, connected, inspiring and healthy.

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

The characteristics of a social work environment are associated with high innovation potential and with creating a user-centred language of space and use.

Social workplaces are designed based on how surroundings affect mood, behaviour and the ability to create. They allow for a flexible space that can be used to gather varying stakeholders together.

Please describe how your “codesign strategy” influences workplace interactions, productivity and the overall dynamic of Studio TILT. How did you realise what worked best?

We design together, with people. We enable space to create experience and community, as well as identity. If you do this well, you can create an atmosphere in a place that people want to belong to and where you can thrive.

Codesign for me is the essence of the social workplace. It enables a community of workers to explore and understand their needs in order to work together more effectively, with joy and also with purpose.

Is the social workplace becoming more widely accepted?

The conversation around the impact of the physical environment on workplace behaviour has grown over the past few years. This has been aided by the changing nature of the way we work and the increasing importance of creativity in many industries. However, there is still no resource that is either extensive or conclusive specifically around building environments for creativity. We are at the beginning of this journey.

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

Freelancers work for themselves, but they need to work together to survive. By being part of a community of work a freelancer feels connected and supported. This model will be the norm in the years to come, and the design challenge is to find ways to allows others to join such a community. It shouldn’t matter where you come from: different sectors, age groups, skills sets, organisational experiences.

How are the expectations of the modern workforce different from previous models? How do you address these modern needs?

I think expectations today are towards a more profound need. Work is so all encompassing that the work-life balance is now the work-life integration. The key design factor is one of convergence. The modern workforce needs so many more physiological needs met within their place of work. This will only continue.

As a designer, I address these emerging needs by looking at ever more ways to layer the functions of workspaces. I look how to mix different types of spaces and create environments that feel convivial and rewarding to be inside. This convergence of spaces is leading us back to an understanding of how the mix of civic, commercial and leisure spaces are all an integral part of our everyday lives.

“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