As the lines between work and home blur, the nature of shared-work environments is shifting. Perspective breaks down the latest in co-working trends and how they must now provide more than just spaces in which to work
So many players have entered the co-working space in recent years it now feels pretty crowded. So how do firms differentiate their brand to stand out from the pack? Those that are succeeding have realised there's a lot more to it than simply providing a desk and chair. These trailblazers demonstrate the innovative ways co-working environments offer variety, creativity and inspiration.
GATHERING OF LIKE MINDS
A recording studio at Kafnu Taipei; studio sets and post-production facilities at soon-to-open Ampersand Studios in Miami; catwalks and cinemas at Campfire's Wong Chuk Hang spaces; a fully catered, gourmet food bar at The Work Project in Singapore, designed by HASSELL; and an in-house community radio station and contemporary gallery space at Eaton House in Hong Kong, designed by New York studio AvroKO. These are just some of the ways in which leading brands in the co-working sector are using space in innovative ways. "It's about a gathering of a tribe of like-minded people who are connected through a shared ethos and common cause: examining to day 's world and conceiving of how we can make it better," says Katherine Lo, founder and president of Eaton Workshop, Eaton House's parent company. "Our members are social entrepreneurs, activists and artists."
Azalvo is one Hong Kong newcomer that's taking community-building a step further. It describes itself as a central hub for four strategic partners, operating in the textile, fashion and lifestyle sector. "There's a layer of development" on top of the incubation and co-working set-up, says Isabelle Pascal, a strategic consultant working with the brand, which has already opened a space dedicated to fashion brands in Kwun Tong, and is set to open one for lifestyle brands in Causeway Bay. At Azalvo in Kwun Tong, along with the facilities such as 3D printing equipment and a textile library, there's also the expertise on hand. Azalvo's four partners – A Matter of Design, InDhouse, Aussco and Des Voeux Partners – give its members access to retail operations intel, R&D, knitwear know-how and financial advice. "It's not about supporting or helping; it's about augmenting and advancing people," says Pascal.
Oliver Baxter is insight programme manager for Herman Miller's Insight Group – APAC and MEA, which researches new directions in ways of working and becoming more digitally-enabled. "There's a lot of really cool stuff that's happening in technology, but it's that 'Big Brother' thing – companies have to be careful," he says. One solution is wearables. "Companies have lost a lot of their power to dictate to employees. Wearables put the power in the employees' hands rather than the employer's." Wearable tech in co-working environments can help people navigate within the space, understand how they're using it, and help the brands adjust and reconfigure their spaces to suit the ways people are working within them. Herman Miller has developed Passport for this purpose: downloadable to smartphones, it's an iBeacon-based platform providing users with real-time information on how they're using their workspaces.
While tech will play a big role in co-working spaces in the future, Baxter is quick to point out that it's hardly conducive to creativity. "Technology is a distraction," he says. "We need time to daydream if we're going to be creative. We need the opportunity to lose focus, to zone out." One option is to create tech-free zones – something Google is already doing. "At Google, they have beacons in some settings that kill all the data. It's a dead zone for all technology. You can't use your phone, your tablet or your computer," he says.
Another way to tap into creativity is to establish areas dedicated to contemplation. "We value creativity these days even more so than productivity, but offices don't yet have the space for it," says Baxter. "Culturally, it's not acceptable at the moment that employees engage in contemplative thought. Hopefully we can change that." "I can see these natural, forest yoga settings happening at co-working spaces in the future," he adds.
"The new thing we're looking at is human health, both physical and psychological," says Sarah Müllertz, lead interior designer and partner at Henning Larsen. "Mental health could have a huge impact on productivity within a workplace; not necessarily in terms of how fast you type, but in terms of your inspiration – the ideas you come up with. Henning Larsen looked at redesigning its own headquarters in Copenhagen, a process it could draw heavily upon. "It's about looking at the human element of sustainability – not just about how a building is good for the environment, but also how it can be good for its users. For these co-working spaces, one benefit can be that they are very efficient in terms of space usage, so there is more space for being active and outdoors," adds Müllertz. This is already happening at Eaton House. "House members have access to Eaton HK's cultural and wellness programming, including our regular tai chi sessions. You'll find Himalayan salt lamps throughout our spaces and we have reiki practitioners working out of Eaton House," says the firm's Lo. Members can also access the on-property yoga studio, gym and pool.
INTEGRATED CO-WORKING SPACES
Traditional corporates have been placing their staff in co-working spaces for some time; in Hong Kong, for example, HSBC and ManuLife are at WeWork in Causeway Bay. Taking this idea to the next level is CapitaLand. From 2019, the real-estate company will offer tenants – whether SMEs or established companies – the choice of conventional offices and co-working spaces in its soonto-be-completed buildings. To achieve this, CapitaLand has just increased its investment in The Work Project Kingdom, which owns the intellectual property rights to The Work Project, to US$27.5 million. Using The Work Project's knowledge of co-working environments as leverage, CapitaLand is building what it calls a 'core-flex model' that will maximise flexibility for companies that are growing and changing. Expect to see other takes on integrated co-working space in the near future.