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HOW TO DESIGN CO-WORKING SPACES FROM 2021

COVID-19 displayed working remote is possible resulting for most companies to decide to let employees work half of the week at the office. Although co-working places suffer a lot during lock-downs, their use will increase significantly when companies decide to let people work by default from home for a couple of days a week. Co-working spaces may provide a good addition to both home offices and the main office that might be a far commute. But how to you make sure a co-working space is designed to be complementary to both?

GENERAL INTRODUCTION

 

There are three major themes of attention when it comes to nowadays work spaces: Sitting, stress and satisfaction. The Triple S - CARE method guides you through these themes and points out how to design the home office for maximum well-being and satisfaction.

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IMPACT OF WORKING FROM HOME

ON CO-WORKING SPACES

Every house contains potential clients. Two-third of the company CEO's mention they will let employees work from home half of the week by default. This means that every family house contains a potential client for co-working spaces. Initially, co-working spaces started as hubs for startup ecosystems in city centers and business districts. Since working from home becomes standard, every residential suburb needs a co-working space as well. People in residential neighborhoods need well-equipped video conferencing spaces, silent workstations and the feeling to be part of a professional community to network. There is going to be a need for on-demand pay-per-hour use of spaces when one works from home and has kids making noise while finishing an important task. There is also going to be a need for home-workers who feel the need to be part of a professional community close to home. Providing services meeting these needs will make co-working spaces thrive in residential areas, urban and suburban.

When parents are working from the kitchen table, there is also going to be a higher demand for high school kids to find a silent spot to do their home work. Anticipating on the need of high school kids to use professional facilities of the co-working spaces could contribute to the ecosystem of tutors for home work assistance and be a good acquisition for when they become entrepreneurs themselves.

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S1: SITTING

Together with stress, sitting is the largest problem at work. Our bodies are evolved to move and our brains grew large because our bodies are able to execute very refined movements like playing a music instrument and writing by hand. The past decades we are designing our work to be digital, resulting into the ability to do almost everything without using our bodies. Sitting longer than 3 hours a day is already unhealthy, whereas people with a regular office job sit around 11,3 hours a day including time spend off from work (2013).

You can recognize a bad office space

when all work stations look the same

Prof. Monique Frings-Dresen

How do you solve this with a co-working space? The great thing and the pitfall of a co-working space is that people rent a furnished space. The user has no ability to decide what their work station looks like. The opportunity is you can gather expertise, be innovative and design co-work spaces with furniture people didn't even know they desire. The threat is that the identity or architecture of the space or the brand is that dominant, it doesn't allow to facilitate different needs of users, making people sit unhealthy, without being able to focus or feel lack of ability to communicate. The strength of a co-working space is that freelancers or occasional users do have the ability to use professional equipment for an accessible rate and the weakness is to lose clients because you cannot fulfill their biological needs.

In 2017 Enrichers was asked by furniture brand Prooff to research well-being at work. To understand how a workspace can enhance performance, I interviewed Professor Occupational Health Monique Frings-Dresen. She provided very clear insights to what can be considered a good or bad working space. People perform tasks on a scale from routine tasks to complex tasks. For routine tasks people need a bit of arousal to prevent themselves from getting bored. For complex or novel tasks, people need silence. One activity like reading can both be routine or complex and every job contains both routine and complex tasks. Every person should have the ability to work in a space with arousal, where people communicate and can be approached and also have the ability to retreat, sit with silence without being disturbed. When you create a co-working space, make sure you are not only providing one fixed desk, but also provide x-times more working spaces with complementary characteristics which are always at the disposal for people who use the co-working space.

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S2: STRESS

 

When half of the work force works from home, using digital means to meet become a larger part of the hours we work. Employees who communicate often with their phone or computers are twice as likely to get sick from stress. At co-working spaces this is likely to be an even larger problem. Co-working spaces are often designed to be open and spatial filled with colorful designs. These designs function for providing interaction but are very stressful when it comes to making a video call or being disturbed by other people on their phones.

One solution would be to design booths for calling. But there is one funny thing about humans. Just like any other animal, humans are territorial. Extremely territorial. Probably you have noticed that when you go for lunch with the same people, you'll find yourself sitting at the same table on the same seats. Often co-working spaces are either rented per desk or they are flexible in use. People have the need to appropriate a space. But one single spot cannot provide the full scope of stimuli a person needs to receive for feeling focused and energized. Appointed desks as well as full-flex are both problematic when it comes to stress. People need some distraction when they work on routine tasks whereas they need complete silence and no disturbance by people asking their attention when they work on a novel task. How do you facilitate both while your business is renting out desks? The are two things you can do: design a floor plan with a natural flow from social to silent and design flexible spaces in correspondence with the rules. One part of the co-working belongs to you personally and the flexible part is clean-desk policy only.

HOW TO DESIGN THE FLOOR PLAN?

To reduce stress at the co-working spaces, the working space should facilitate silent work stations, calm work stations and social work stations. This can be organized when the spaces are organized as a corridor with a dead-end. At the dead-end are the silent spaces, in the middle are calm work spaces and close to the entrance of the work spaces are the shared facilities with the social work stations.

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Social work stations

 

The social area is the working space with desks most close to the entrance, elevator or main hall. At the social area are all shared facilities like the coffee corner and printers. This is the area people can make a phone call and have informal conversations. From here, people can also reach to other areas like meeting rooms and video call booths. Next to the work stations are bars and informal working spots for people to occasionally sit.

Calm work stations

 

Calm work stations are located after the social work stations. People can work here and have calm conversations, but making phone calls is not allowed. There are no shared facilities to avoid people from entering the calm area without staying there to work.

Silent work stations

 

After the calm area are the silent work stations. There are no shared facilities, desks are individual, the acoustics are great and there is a lot of natural light. At the silent area you are not allowed to talk, nor to make video calls nor regular phone calls. This area is a dead end. There is no other way to get here but to cross the calm area and the social area. It is important people cannot make short cuts to get here. Otherwise this area will lose it's natural character for being silent.

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The scheme of a floor plan above is an example how a co-working space can be organized for reducing stress. The work stations can only be reached by one single entry from the main corridor. People subscribed to the co-working space have one fixed desk at the silent or calm area. There are enough vacant spaces in the flex area where occasional users or tenants are able to work when they feel they need a more silent or social work space suiting the task they perform. Directly opposite to the social working area are support rooms for video calls, meetings, phone calls and other spaces.

S3: SATISFACTION

 

If you would like the co-working space to make people satisfied at work, there are 4 elements to take into account: Competence, Autonomy, Relatedness and Enrichment. Competence, Autonomy and Relatedness are psychological components relevant for building a community and for adding value to the facilities. Enrichment can be applied for stress reduction and to reduce the harm of sitting 8 hours a day.

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C: COMPETENCE

 

People feel competent when there are contributing with their expertise, skills and talent. At an home office, children, roommates or a partner doesn't ask one to calculate the strength of a bridge or estimate the risk of losing a case. At a co-working space you are likely to have fellow entrepreneurs around you or employees working for similar companies, but the people around you are often not by default part of your team. Therefore competence is an element which is lacking if there are no initiatives or design nudges to make people interact based on their knowledge. How could you add competence at the co-working space?

1. Exhibitions: Hallways and entrances can be used to create every season exhibitions of what members of the co-working spaces are working on. By displaying people their projects, everyone knows what every individual is working on. A conversation at the coffee corner can become an occasion to have content based exchange instead of the regular: "How are you?". Make sure the exhibitions are guided, curated and made by visual professionals: avoid the use of posters and stimulate the use of photos, renderings, videos and 3D models. Or even let people manifest their project as a spatial experience. Always make sure up-to-date portraits and names of the persons involved with the projects are next to the project displays.

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2. Every member is an expert: Work is the common ground to communicate with each other. Stimulate people to hire each other for their projects with a time bank, vouchers or hire members to provide workshops and consultancy to each other.

3. Made by us: When you need to refurbish the space, make content for branding or organize an event, engage the members of the community. The more ability members of the co-workers have to add value to the co-working space, the easier it is to them to display their competence to their surrounding

A: AUTONOMNY

A natural component a member of a co-working space has, is autonomy. At the co-working space an employee of a large firm doesn't have a manager next to him or her checking on the way he or she works. Although team members or employees of small companies using a co-working space as their main office will not have this benefit. The good aspect of a co-working space is that a part of the working stations are flexible in use, making people have the ability to choose what environment they need. Later in this article, with the part about 'Enrichment' I will elaborate about how physical design can contribute to the sensation of feeling autonomy. One aspect the interior design of a co-working space should facilitate to create a feeling of autonomy is supplying large variation. When you want to provide variation, think about designing work spots with the following characteristics:

  1. silent versus social

  2. sitting versus standing desks

  3. static versus active sitting

  4. high visually stimulating versus serene

  5. open and approachable versus protected and closed

Another advice for creating the feeling of autonomy is to make it easy for members to rent their desk, lamp, plant and desk chair and to exchange it easily for something else at the service station. When you collect data of people's experiences, these service stations could become interesting data points for office suppliers.

R: RELATEDNESS

 

Why people would like to work at a co-working space instead of at home, is because at a co-working space people have the ability to meet others. People feel easiest with communicating with each other when there is shared interest. It can be cycling, food preference or working in the same sector. As a co-working space, you can actively stimulate activities, food preferences and business events suiting the interest of the members. By sending out inquiries and making members the owner of initiatives , you can stimulate relatedness and add value for members to work at your co-working space.

E: ENRICHMENT

 

The basic principle of environmental enrichment is to make sure a person is able to perceive its environment through 5 information paths: visual, motor, cognition, somatosensory and circadian rhythms:

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Making a good enriching co-working space, means you need to provide spaces with different intensities of these elements. It depends on the person and the activity what type of intensity suits well. The only way to find out how enrichment benefits most to your type of members and their activities is to provide them the ability to choose between the different types of enrichment. When you keep track of their preference, you can understand why a person prefers what type of enrichment for what type of activity. Along the use of the co-working space, you can anticipate and match enrichment to the users. It is not necessarily the case a person needs a low intensity of enrichment for novel tasks and high enrichment for routine tasks.

VISUAL

 

Visual stimuli is the ability to orient yourself easily; the ability to create a good mind map. Every floor should look and feel different. When a building is geometric by its floor plan you can place iconic beacons in the interior for people to understand where they are. With multiple floors, a large atrium to organize staircases and elevators provide a great mean for people to know where they are. Make sure the atrium has a clear direction: it looks and feels different seen from every angle. If there is no atrium, make sure people can look directly outside at the moment they get out of the elevator or enter a floor by staircase.

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Mood board for visual enrichment at Heineken office Zoeterwoude, Enrichers 2019

Another visual element is 'non inclusive motion': seeing movements which are repetitive, ever changing and yet predictable. It is the things we naturally like to watch. Examples are camp fires, waves hitting the shore, light reflected by water in the ceiling, leaves of trees moving in the wind, watching people on the streets. This type of stimuli is abundant in nature and outdoors, but not present in an interior. It is a type of stimulation a person needs to perceive and nowadays people spend more than 90% of their time indoors.

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It is important to understand a person should perceive this type of visual stimulation looking at the computer screen. When the work station is facing an outdoor view on trees or the sky, non inclusive motion is provided by the outdoor view. When the work station faces a window without having a view on the sky or trees, for example a building facade, there is no non inclusive motion. The interior should add visual stimuli with (for example) kinetic art and plants moving their leaves with the air flow. These visual stimuli can also be provided when a work station is far from the window.

MOTOR

Motor is all information perceived by muscles. This can be either when you are active with your muscles, when you are balancing or or when your muscles are perceiving you are carrying weight. People sit nowadays for 11,3 hours a day whereas sitting longer than 3 hours is already causing harm to the body. To supply the co-working space with enough motor stimuli, there must be plenty of variation in postures. At the flexible working spots, people are able to choose a specific movement suiting their task.

1. (Video) calling: For making phone calls and video calls, walking is a great activity. People already tend to walk when they are making a phone call. Routes can be made on every floor, providing good acoustics for a phone call, little visual disturbance (one should experience privacy and not bump into others) and there should be invitations to lean, fiddle and balance with the feet.

2. Treadmill and standing desks: It is a nice variation to stand for half an hour or longer in between sedentary work. Creating treadmill desks for video calls provides a good motor boost. Supplying enough standing desks allows people to execute tasks more efficient and productive. Products like comfort floors or the Floatile water floor makes it easier to endure standing for a longer period of time.

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3. Active seats: Depending on the type of person, age and lifestyle, people prefer furniture with small movements, medium amount of motion or large motions. The co-working place is a perfect place to explore what type of person can concentrate most with what type of bodily activation. We experienced persons with creative job profiles and an active lifestyle prefer active seats. People with hyper activity mention they are better with focusing on a conversation when they can release their energy physically. For others, seats providing movement from the hips provide a good amount of movement to focus.

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Macaron Candy Bar with 5 active cushion, Enrichers

4. Static seats: In case people work are drinking, eating or reading regular static seats work well. Aim should be to provide static seats for a maximum use of 3 hours a day.

SOMATOSENSORY

 

Somatosensory is everything you can experience with your skin. Often office spaces are not designed for creating an experience based on touch. Since the corona pandemic, touch should be avoided for shared facilities like elevator buttons, door handles, at toilets and at the coffee corner. The essay on Neo Hygiene provides more insight for designing a safe shared working space.

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Basic rule should be to design everything touch free which is likely to be touched by more than one person within 1 hour. Handles and buttons are designed to be used by elbows and shoulders or buttons are touch-free. An example of a motion sensor detecting your fingers in the air is Leap Motion. Touch screens and everything you need to type numbers for can be replaced with Leap Motion type of interfaces.

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Episode on Dutch TV show EenVandaag about Neo Hygiene and the use of Leap Motion, 2020

Nevertheless it is very important people do experience different tactility and materials with the hands during the day. Places people sit for longer than one hour can de designed for true tactile experiences. Desks can be equipped with stimulating materials. Design studio Alissa + Nienke developed the Elephunk table to provide a tactile experience while having a meeting. The wallpaper Mirabillia from Alissa + Nienke is an experience that can be provided in the hallway. Due to the large surface of a wallpaper it is unlikely people touch the surfaces at the exact same spots making it safe to provide such a tactile experience at shared spaces.

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CIRCADIAN RHYTHMS

 

Every person has three types of circadian rhythms: light, nutrition and social interaction. When you want to provide an enriched environment, the artificial lighting of a space should have the same warmth as the natural light outside at the time that light is present (except for countries with less than 8 hours of daylight per day). This means at dusk and dawn the work space should have a warm color and in the morning and middle of the day a cold color. The pitfall of bio lighting, is that people working on the computer still look into a blue screen, making it still possible for their melatonin system to get disturbed when working over hours. Two hours before going to bed you should not see blue light anymore. When you grab your phone in between, it can already disturb the melatonin production, making you need another 2 hours before it is back on its previous level for making you fall asleep.

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Project for Hästens on circadian rhythms based design, Enrichers 2018

Nutrition is also important for having a good rhythm during the day. When you consume caffeine after 11:00 o'clock, it will have influence on the melatonin system, disturbing your ability to fall asleep. The cantina can communicate to the co-working space members what types of food and drinks suit what hour of the day best. Neuroscientist Alan Watkins mentioned your physiology is the foundation for being able to perform every day. With the Future Prooff report, his model of performance was used to understand how to design office spaces for well-being.

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Alan Watkins' performance model, fragment from the Future Prooff report 2018

Social interaction is also based on our biological clocks. Everyone has a biological clock between 23 and 25 hours a day. If your biological clock is less than 24 hours, you perceive the day to be shorter than it actually is. This makes you want to sleep every day a bit earlier making you a morning person. If your biological clock is longer than 24 hours, you want to stay up longer and wake up later every day, making you an evening person. This also influences the extend you are open for social interaction at certain times of the day or not. At the co-working space it could be taken into account a part of the members have no need to socially interact with other in the morning by providing them an anti-social coffee corner;)