The exponential growth of We Work and other co-working operators over the last 12 months has thrown the idea of co-working firmly into the world’s gaze, and as media and business leaders discuss this phenomenon, it presents a new set of questions for traditional office occupiers.
The questions are, should traditional office occupiers feel threatened by these spaces and how can elements of the co-working concept be incorporated into traditional office environments?
Before we answer them, it’s important to acknowledge the major shift in the younger generations’ expectations of work for this has almost certainly given rise to the success of co-working. The Millennial generation in particular wants collaboration, to work for companies whose values they share, to be happy in their work, to be empowered to choose how, when and where they work and for greater work-life balance. Consequently, employers need to stop viewing the office as accommodation, and instead recognise it as a tool that can meet these needs, curate a positive and engaging employee experience and improve company performance.
The answer to the first question is yes, traditional office occupiers should feel threatened. As more businesses embrace mobile working, many employees will be attracted to the growing number of dynamic, creative and incredibly well-equipped co-working spaces across the UK. These spaces combine work, play and entertainment in one and present great opportunities for employees to expand their networks and make new connections. However, time spent in these spaces is time away from the office, employer brand and culture, which could lead to lower employee engagement and even attrition over time. As employees are most engaged, loyal and hardworking when they feel valued, supported and with shared-goals, the workplace should be a physical manifestation of these things. It should be the place where brand values are brought to life, knowledge is shared, collaboration is enabled and innovation occurs.
Successful co-working operators understand this very well and have found a formula that meets the needs of today’s more agile and digital-savvy employees and employers.
There are five ways to build elements of the co-working concept into the traditional working environment. These are:
1. Activity based settings.
Co-working has become popular because it offers flexibility and a variety of workspaces, each very well equipped for the task in hand. There are clear spaces for collaboration and team work, areas for solace and concentration as well as zones for sociability and networking to occur. Taking an activity-based approach and doing away with desking as the mainstay of the office, will help to harness this task-led way of working in a digital age. Choice and flexibility are attractive for employees and is shown to boost creativity too.
2. Evoke culture and promote sociability.
Co-working spaces build positive cultures based on sociability, connections and creativity as they forge meaningful connections with other like-minded businesses using the space. This same idea can be integrated into traditional office environments by focusing on building an open and friendly culture where employees feel encouraged and supported to thrive. This can be achieved through physical design, with break-out spaces and café zones, as well as through team-based activities, staff socials and shared charitable activities as well as inter-departmental buddy systems to foster connections and share skills.
3. Creative design and memorable spaces.
One of the reasons that co-working has attracted so much media attention is to do with the level of creative design employed in those spaces. Reflecting current interior trends, these spaces make great use of furniture, planting, acoustic management, unexpected design touches, colour, light and texture to create spaces that are ‘sticky’ – where people actively want and choose to work. Finding ways to factor more engaging design and stimulus into the workplace will reap countless benefits, helping with staff recruitment and retention and engagement and productivity.
4. Hotel experience.
Co-working is based on the idea of mobility, where people come and go, sometimes working there all day and other times just for a few hours. At the centre of this concept is an easy plug and play mentality – power sockets are easy to find, meeting rooms can be booked via apps and on-site concierges help with enquiries, restock printers and ensure there’s a plentiful supply of refreshments. Replicating this within the workplace will help to ensure that mobile and remote workers feel well supported and able to be efficient when in the office.
Unsurprisingly co-working spaces are typically tech-rich, from digital sign-in for visitors and room booking, right through to high speed internet connection, the latest in AV and meeting room technologies and ample charging points for people’s multiple devices. Take a closer look at the tech experience in the traditional office and identify where improvements can be made to infrastructure and the experience of increasingly mobile workers.
The proliferation of co-working spaces has made high-design, high functionality and engaging workplace experiences accessible for even the smallest and newest of companies. As a result, employees are no longer willing to accept standard corporate workspaces.
The co-working phenomenon is encouraging traditional office occupiers to see the connection between treating employees as customers and unlocking greater engagement, productivity and loyalty. While this requires a very different mind-set, it highlights that employees are not just assets to be worked and that their everyday experiences have a direct impact on company performance. It is only by taking a fresh look at employees’ needs and doing things differently, that employers will be able to compete in an experience-rich and choice-led world.
The traditional office can almost certainly rival the popularity of co-working – it just needs the appetite and vision of employers who are willing to put the employee experience first. Get it right and productivity gains are sure to follow.
To find out more about agile working, what it means for the physical office environment and how to manage the shift to agile working, download the full ‘Introduction to Agile Working’ whitepaper: