CoWhat? Workspace Design Models, Part 2

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

In Part 1, we identified six emerging coworking environments, each with a unique value proposition and target audience: Brand Cafe, Hospitality Lounge, Launching Pad, Innovation Hub, Culture Club and Cowork Community. Here in Part 2, we identify three coworking design patterns that are also reshaping the corporate workplace. Workspace designers must understand these patterns of coworking behavior and design as a reflection of broader workplace trends.

It’s important to underscore the primary design objective to create workplaces that attract and retain talent. Attitudes about work and work behaviors in coworking environments reflect the new economy and the future of work.

Designing for these coworking trends is becoming critically important to hiring, developing, and keeping talent who desire workplace flexibility and high degrees of engagement and autonomy in their work.

Much of this sought after talent is both independent by nature and by choice. It is not for lack of permanent employment opportunities that many contractors prefer to remain independent. [1]

CoWhat? Part 2, photo by Anthony May Photography

During Chicago Ideas Week (October 8-14, 2012), Ernst & Young shared findings of its Future of Work Survey. One of the key themes identified is that “contractors are expected to have an increasingly prominent role.” In this survey, 48 percent of survey respondents “believe contractors will become more important than full-time employees.” [2] This finding is especially noteworthy in light of predictions that the overall contingent workforce is expected to grow to 40 percent by 2020. [3]

The marketplace for coworking space that supports this expanding contingent workforce will also continue to grow. As it does, there will be increasing pressures for corporations to reshape their existing workplaces to incorporate features of coworking spaces.

And, we increasingly expect to see more contractors working side-by-side with permanent employees. Their collaboration will take place in both coworking spaces and corporate workplaces. In both types of locations, workspace design will reflect a more casual and informal attitude and more fluid and flexible work styles and schedules.

Given these broader workplace trends, we see the combination of three primary design patterns as essential to creating successful shared work environments.

1. Design for Community

During our recent interview with Jeremy Neuner, co-founder of NextSpace, he summarized designing for community by saying, “Just put the coffee in the middle!”

He went on to emphasize that “we don’t rent space, we sell community!” This pattern is the essence of Brand Cafes and Hospitality Lounges. The workspace design must create a center of gravity with a vibe and energy that attracts people to gather and socialize, thereby creating serendipitous collisions of individuals and their ideas.

SHIFT Workspaces

Visual cues and sound can amplify the experience. For example, SHIFT Workspaces of Denver has incorporated this concept seamlessly in their newly-opened flagship space.

Grant Barnhill, CEO, has an instinctive design aesthetic incorporating both music in the open space and “art in motion” displayed on the four monitors in the open-plan membership space.

“We purposely chose bright paint colors and lively art and graphics to encourage a vitality and energy, leading to conversation and socialization,” he said.

Coworking Concept

Enlightened work cultures recognize that fostering socialization at work is a key element of the work experience. When individuals are seen in the cafe lounge, they are considered to be working, expanding their network, and building their social capital — not simply taking a coffee, meal, or relaxation break.

Community space also needs to be flexible enough to function as an event space for people to gather and exchange ideas.


2. Design for Collaboration

The workspace design must support self-organizing teams working together in person, sometimes joined virtually by remote collaborators located elsewhere at the same time.

This pattern includes choice for teams to select either shared enclosed and shared open spaces for “face-to-face” interaction in groups of various sizes. Whether all together in-person, or including remote members, ease of collaboration is increasingly enabled by video technology integrated into these spaces.

Coworking Concept for a Floor Plan

This way of working together apart from others yet sharing facilities is the essence of Launching Pads, Innovation Hubs, and Culture Clubs. When not working together, individual team members require convenient access to adjacent areas designed for focused concentration on tasks apart from their teams.


3. Design for Concentration

The workspace design must support individuals working alone quietly in the presence of others. This option should include areas where an individual may work in fully-enclosed space for privacy or confidentiality while conversing with remote collaborators.

This kind of working solo among others doing the same is the essence of a Cowork Community. In conventional space planning, a single individual space standard tried to accommodate too broad a range of activities.

Now with greater mobility, individuals are provided with a variety of choices to select the kind of setting that best suits their changing activities and needs at various times — rather than being  limited by working in an assigned, single-purpose space that underserves most of their needs most of the time.

Coworking Concept

The combination of these three patterns relies on a “mixed-use” and “mixed-users” approach to workspace design that disaggregates very different activities into shared spaces.

This shift in thinking is as fundamental as the difference between single-family homes and co-housing arrangements in which individuals have their own quarters, yet share communal facilities.

This shift is also consistent with some of the principles of a sharing economy and collaborative consumption. [4]

While much of the focus is on work effectiveness, there is equal attention to space efficiency.

Implications of these trends are affecting metrics in the corporate workplace where shared work environments will become the norm.

Efficiency targets are focused on reducing the corporate portfolio footprint by as much as 20 percent over the next several years. This will be achieved through aggressive seat sharing ratios; floor area per seat of less than 200 square feet; floor area per person approaching 100 square feet; and greater real utilization of space closer to 80 percent rather than less than 50 percent (as we observe today).

Coworking, photo by Halkin Photography

These new metrics will strive to mimic hotel industry room utilization rates and airline industry seat load factors, comparing assets available and assets filled in any given time period. European business centers began incorporating this strategy approximately four years ago.

It is no coincidence that entrepreneurs behind coworking spaces are already operating this way — not by renting out space, but rather, by creating a sense of community as the primary value proposition of the bundled services they are offering, and the very end user benefit their customers are seeking.



[1] Tammy Erickson, “The Rise of the New Contract Worker.” HBR Blog Network, September 7, 2012.

[2] Chicago Ideas Week Talks: “Work: No Longer Business As Usual” presented by Ernst & Young LLP, October 11, 2012.

[3] Sean Crafts, “The New Independent Workforce” Mavenlink Blog Posts, February 21, 2012.

[4] Danielle Sacks, “The Sharing Economy.” Fast Company, April 18, 2011.

Rendering images are by NELSON Interior Designer, Jonathan Hanson

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