Coworking: Past, Present and Future

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Over the last few years we have seen an explosion in the provision of coworking space, especially here in London. Our session explored the rise of coworking, looked at where it is in its lifecycle – and also how it is likely to evolve and change the future.

It was (genuinely) standing room only as the cream of London’s design community joined us at Milliken’s fantastic Clerkenwell showspace for our first MixInspired event of 2019. We would, of course, like to say a huge thank you to our MixInspired sponsors – Milliken and Arper – and a special thanks to Milliken for allowing us take over their space once again.

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Our expert panel comprised Katrina Larkin, Co-founder & Head of Experience at Fora, Mark Bott, Head of Serviced Offices at Colliers International, Stewart Whiting, Head of Product for Storey and Tim Yendell, Head of Choice & Design at RBS.

Here’s just a snippet of what was a fascinating and enlightening session – beginning with our guest panelists introducing themselves to our audience:

Katrina: I’m co-founder of Fora – which has six spaces operating across London, plus one in Reading. By the end of 2019 we’ll have 12 spaces. We call ourselves ‘proworking’ – we draw a lot of inspiration from coworking, but even more so from hospitality.

Before that, for a little context, I hadn’t worked in the workplace arena previously – I started a festival called The Big Chill, I ran that for 16- 17 years, I had three bars, I had a record label, brought out books…I’ve always been about culture and communities and people – and completely separately and randomly, but something that has been incredibly useful when it comes to my work with Fora, I also run a retail store.

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Mark: I work for Colliers International – we’re a global property consultancy, working with landlords, corporate clients and London-based domestic clients as well. I helped set up a serviced office department, which was a new service line for us. We had clients coming to us saying that they needed to implement this into their strategy – they needed flexibility, agility and wanted to attract staff for the new projects and office locations they’re working in.

Stewart: I’m Head of Product for Storey, which is British Land’s flexible workspace business. We launched a couple of years ago. We’re slightly different from coworking in the sense that we really target businesses that are between 20-70 people, who are maybe a few years further on in their journey and require a space that’s a little more managed and has an element of flexibility – yet still very much feels like their space, represents their culture and works in the way that they need to work as an organisation.

Tim: I head up Choice & Design at RBS. Translated, Choice is the group’s activity-based working programme that increases flexibility across our population and supports people throughout this transition. The design part is that I’m responsible for the built environment at the bank. We’ve undertaken recent partnerships with coworking organisations such as RocketSpace – we co-designed their facility in Angel, and we’re now developing our own version of that for our own people.

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We ask our panel what factors have led the market to look beyond the traditional serviced space?

Tim: From my own perspective, it’s about the quality and the creativity of the space that’s being provided. I think historically, if you look back, the serviced office was no different from a corporate office space – albeit the rentals terms were different. What we see with coworking is dynamic space, there’s a range of services, there’s a sense of community and the technology is probably a lot better. That has created quite a compelling and attractive offer for people to buy into.

Katrina: I completely agree with that. For me, a serviced office really meant selling a desk space. Coworking, prowoking, what we all do now, is we’re selling an experience – an environment. A desk might well be at the centre of it, but you’re wrapping all the facilities that people in London expect around it – especially today. People expect quality coffee, they expect a personal trainer, they want convenience and they want a better flow to their day.

It’s a bit like retail, which has changed dramatically over the past few years, in order to survive. I know from my own store that I have to take into consideration that 60% of people coming into my space at any one time are not walking in to buy a product – it has become part of their leisure time. So I have to adapt to make sure that I can keep them in the store for as long as possible. It’s about all those ‘sticky’ factors, such as the music and the smells, which we’re also bringing into our coworking spaces now.

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Stewart: I agree with all of that. It’s interesting how that is really changing expectations for everyone – everyone is suddenly aware of that. Businesses have come to expect these things and people are far more aware of these spaces. They’re in the media much more than they were and they are becoming more and more aspirational. Workplace culture is also becoming more important – we know this. People are looking to create these experiences for their employees – it is no longer enough to simply provide a desk and somewhere to sit. You actually need to do something different in order to protect your talent – and maybe this is the answer to that.

Katrina: Also, you need to consider the shared economy. We have a new generation now that doesn’t expect to own things. We don’t own record collections or CD collections – we’re quite happy to have a much wider catalogue of music that we just have access to. It’s that accessibility that is absolutely driving coworking. I can have a more enriched day – but I don’t have to own the boardroom or own the gym. As long as I can have it when I need it.

Stewart: The idea of space as a service absolutely learns from other environments and other sectors – and is really starting to come through now.

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Tim: Through our collaboration with RocketSpace I think we learned some important lessons around what was important to an organisation that was trying to attract people to that type of facility. It was about community, it was about collaboration and learning, it was about technology, it was about great coffee, like Katrina said, and it was also about choice; choice in terms of the types of space you could inhabit, how you could inhabit and use them – and being part of a wider community was undoubtedly important to people. We’ve taken a lot of ideas from RocketSpace (and we had some other things in play) and because we’re working in what is an incredibly competitive market for talent, we knew that we had to do something different for our people. Different generations are coming in and technology has changed – therefore you can liberate people from this slavish adherence to the desk and get them to work in different ways. We’re really thinking about the space and what it’s doing for our people – about why they’re coming in; they’re coming in to collaborate.

Mark: The terminology has changed – and I suppose the terms serviced office, coworking, flexible workspace and managed space are all fairly interchangeable. The biggest differentiator is that coworking has the cellular suite, the private offices, but it also allows other companies within the building to interact with one another – and that’s what our clients want. They want to attract the best talent. We’re working with a corporate client who’s currently setting up an office in London. Because they want to attract the best talent in their market, they need the best building, with the best amenities.

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It’s no longer acceptable to be in bland space with no showers, no breakout space, no F&B on site. This is the expectation of a new generation.

The other angle we’re now looking at with our corporate clients is for them to potentially take touchdown points within coworking centres in strategic areas in the City – so they can reduce their corporate footprint and also allow their staff to allow flexibly, in a choice of different locations – so they have this element of freedom.

What is very important is the robust infrastructure of being in a coworking space, if it’s within a Fora or a British Land space. That’s certainly at the forefront – but having all those amenities is also right at the forefront.

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Our Partners’ View

Arper

Arper is delighted to partner with Mix Interiors for this MixInspired panel discussion, where industry experts share their unique perspectives about how workspaces are developing and evolving.

In the past decade, we have seen a major shift in the way businesses and people are approaching the working environment. Following the increasing influence of younger generations, technology and speed of change, there is a growing demand across sectors for casual and flexible spaces that blur the work/life boundary.

A new coworking revolution is on the rise and it is led by businesses, ranging from start-ups to large multinationals, driven by a shared vision of the advantages brought by this workstyle.

Of all the interesting viewpoints shared by the panel, the one that particularly resonates with Arper is how, unlike traditional corporate offices and shared offices, coworking spaces are becoming more and more human-centred, immersive experiences, designed to support wellness and to engage the senses.

Coworking spaces are designed to meet the needs of our contemporary lives, and the panel discussed how the driving factors behind this format are not only related to a greater flexibility and comfort, but, above all, to create a sense of community and collaboration.

Members of coworking spaces feel part of a community – a tribe. They share common core values and enjoy learning and growing together. They live fluidly and shape their worlds in creative and expressive ways.

As work and life continue to blur, we believe that humanistic spaces with sensory design, emotional quality and intelligence have a significant impact on everything, from wellbeing to fulfillment and productivity.

Soft spaces awaken the senses. Wellness and style are performance. At Arper, giving shape and sense to human experience is essential to everything we do.

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Milliken

It’s always a pleasure to work with Mix Interiors. The MixInspired events bring together the most interesting and knowledgeable individuals in our industry and that certainly leads to a fun evening and an insightful discussion.

The latest MixInspired event proved that we are really only just scratching the surface of the coworking movement. We’ve always had the idea that coworking spaces are synonymous with start-up businesses, sharing the costs and infrastructure of a communal work space, but with the rapid increase of coworking spaces in major cities, it was interesting to learn that the format can also be successfully adopted by large organisations. With London trailblazing the movement, we can start to see what makes a coworking space effective and appealing. A top line conclusion is that successful coworking spaces are underpinned by understanding the occupants, how they work and putting their needs first.

As a founder member of the WELL Living Lab, Milliken has a vested interest in wellbeing in the workplace. As a large, corporate organisation ourselves, we have a responsibility to not only manufacture products that contribute to a healthier and happier workspace, but to also understand how the occupants of a space work most efficiently and at their happiest. As technology evolves, we’re seeing a desire to work more flexibly and collaboratively.

The shackles of being bound to a desk are loosening and workers are wanting the choice to work independently or collaboratively whilst still feeling like they belong to a community. Have we seen the death of the desk as we know it, as Mark Bott from Colliers predicts? Let’s watch this space! It’s certainly an exciting time for workplace interiors, especially with health, happiness and wellbeing at the forefront of the conversation.

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