CoWhat? Workspace Design Models, Part 1

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Gary Miciunas
Gary Miciunas
Gary Miciunas is an Associate Principal and Director of Strategy at Cuningham.

This is Part 1 of a 2-Part series. Part 1 addresses the operational considerations for developing a shared-work environment, and Part 2 will consider associated design themes.

The singular concept of coworking today doesn’t define every shared-work environment today. And although the traditional business center model is evolving to incorporate coworking elements, it’s typically based on flexible arrangements for occupancy.

(1) Coworking

The first step in exploring shared-work environments is to frame the operational considerations that drive design. Namely, that’s the nature of your business.

  • Are you a business enterprise interested in targeting new consumers?
  • Are you part of a large global corporation looking to re-inject an entrepreneurial spirit into the workplace?
  • Are you an investment group or venture-capital firm searching for the next great start-up to launch and fast-track its growth?
  • Are you an individual worker or sole proprietor who prefers to get out of your home office and into a more energetic environment working among others like you?

There are also a variety of motivating factors behind the above scenarios:

  • Increase brand awareness or change brand perception
  • Attract new clients or a new segment of consumers
  • Extend the impression of hospitality to a new audience
  • Create an ecosystem to support and grow new businesses
  • Combine human capital to generate radical ideas, strategies, or products
  • Create a more dynamic, creative environment
  • Increase market share, revenues, and profits
  • Seek out other individual workers or “solo-preneurs” who want to work in collaboration with others — or simply overcome isolation

These motivating factors then inform six very different emerging spatial forms:

1. Brand Cafe

Both State Farm and ING Direct have advanced the concept of the Internet Cafe to create a user experience intended to attract customers to their brands. This informal, casual approach offers visitors a comfortable environment with opportunities to obtain advice and mentoring about products and services without sales pressure.

State Farm’s “Next Door” flagship in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago wants its young neighbors to know this is “your local community drop by, hang out, collaborate and learn, no-cheesy-sales-pitches-we-promise, plan-for-your-future space.”

(2) State Farm’s “Next Door”

The focus is to attract younger consumers — typically ignored by banks — who may not be familiar with the full range of financial products available to them as they start their careers and next stage in life.

2. Hospitality Lounge

A prime example of hotels finding a way to penetrate the “third place” market space is Ace Hotels. Their New York location was cited in an August 12, 2011, issue of Fast Company Magazine.

The hotel has attracted “creatives” (read: influential hipsters) to work in the hotel’s lounge; thereby creating a buzz with their inspiring tweets and social media comments. This has evolved into a hot meeting spot, increasing bookings for other services and facilities of the hotel — including its restaurant tables.

Launching Pad

These investment ventures often involving public/private partnerships that blend civic and business interests. They provide a nurturing business infrastructure that sometimes takes an interest stake in start-up companies.

There are several different models and levels of funding. Y Combinator out of Silicon Valley provides start-ups small amounts of funding as well as intense mentoring so they can launch to the next level of funding. A next-level incubator or accelerator is 1871 in Chicago; it allocates approximately 40 firms with memberships, use of space, funding, and mentorship. The hope and expectation of this portfolio approach is that start-ups will “graduate” to their own space and become self-sustaining businesses.

(3) New Work City

4. Innovation Hub

Major corporations are developing their own versions of shared work environments as a means of driving innovation in an open culture, to foster creativity and to achieve “one plus one equals three” collaboration.

AT&T has developed two “AT&T Foundry” spaces in the United States and one in Israel. Its mission is: “The AT&T Foundry facilitates innovation development through a diverse, collaborative community supported by a network of strategic technology companies. This open environment enables a range of innovation that includes Applications, Devices, Cloud Services, Enabling Technologies, and Operational Support.”

The clear objective is to create a proprietary environment for innovative applications development that will advance AT&T products and services.

5. Culture Club

GRid70 (Grand Rapids Innovation and Design) is a clear example of the corporate drive to rethink its employee experience of workspace. Four large corporations headquartered in Grand Rapids — including Meijer, Amway, Steelcase, and Wolverine Worldwide — agreed to create and share in the redevelopment and tenancy of a building to house their “creatives” under one roof.

Their mantra is: “Creativity, that’s our concept. When you put creative professionals from different industries together, you are going to inspire those happy accidents that lead to new products and concepts. And by having an open environment with lots of room to collaborate and create, you now have a space that absolutely fosters creativity.”

The expectation is that this “talent attracts talent” concept will define Grand Rapids as a magnet for creative talent doing amazing work.

6. Cowork Community

The outgrowth of the coffeehouse resurgence is coworking space. These spaces are much more informal in configuration and usage policy. Coworking spaces are open-plan environments that are relatively smaller (typically fewer than 2,500 square feet). They’re furnished with work tables and soft seating to create a casual vibe.

(4) New Work City

Coworking has evolved from a college-commons approach to more thoughtful design and furniture, secured internet connections, and small meeting rooms or phone booths for private conversations. The range of solutions is vast.

The community of users determines how the space will be designed and function. Two examples in the same metro area are CoLoft in Santa Monica (which is more open and casual) and BLANKSPACES in the La Brea area of Los Angeles (which has defined spaces and a more formal aesthetic).

Moving into design

Articulating the nature of your business, knowing your motivating factors, and exploring alternative forms of shared-work environments are three pre-requisites to more easily merge operational considerations with design concepts. In Part 2, we will address how these emerging forms take shape.


Photo Credits:

  1. Photographer, Alex Giron – Canvas Cowork, Washington, DC
  2. Photographer, Dan Gershenson – Next Door, Chicago, IL
  3. Photographer, Peter Blacksberg – New Work City, New York, NY
  4. Photographer, Peter Blacksberg – New Work City, New York, NY
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