The cowork phenomena has taken hold globally through two key trends: 1) the growth of independent workers who find value in connecting with others and 2) real estate players who find value in space rentals. But the heart of the sustainability will be in the strength of the brands – which are inherently created by the culture of the communities they attract.
Successful co-working spaces are increasingly offering more than desk space.
Speakers at London’s November Worktech conference said a sense of community, identity and access to business information & funding are among the benefits offered in flexible space. However they voiced caution that the currently booming sector could struggle during a downturn.
Head of property for Tech City UK Juliette Morgan said many co-working locations are now offering excellent onsite food, a programme of speakers, exercise classes and a personally controllable environment when it comes to heat and light.
“People in London are not able to afford places to live. They want work to inspire them and relax them as well because they spend so much time there. This isn’t about territory – it’s about somewhere you share,” she said.
WeWork creative director Devin Vermeulen said the company sees itself as a magazine ‘masthead’ with a distinctive brand under which different businesses…
I’m more excited than I thought I’d be to write up the AirBnB case study. I knew it would be fun, as I’ve always loved the uniqueness of the AirBnB offer – gorgeous places to stay all over the world for a fraction of the price and infinitely more intimate and special than staying in a hotel.
When I visited their HQ in San Francisco at the end of last year, I was as delighted as people said I would be by their beautiful, open, airy, light space – complete with a ring of jewel-like meeting spaces modelled on real listings from their site. I was further delighted by the philosophy and approach of the “Ground Control” (Headed up by Jenna Cushner) team to create an ’employee experience’ that echoes the thoughtfulness and creativity of Air BnB hosts to their guests.
But having spoken further this week (by phone – sadly not another trip!) to Aaron Taylor Harvey, Design Lead in the Environments team about learnings gleaned from the HQ, how their approach to space is evolving alongside the company’s overall philosophy, and how that’s been translated into a new office in Portland, well – that just tipped me over the edge.
Now it’s just a case of getting it all down on paper!
Ah the discovery of creative lubrication: chocolate and wine!
A day of getting into the world of tech giant Microsoft, highlighting three unique approaches to innovation and work: the Hive – a place for experimenting and prototyping around space itself before implementing ‘live’; The Envisioning Center – a place where future technologies are explored and brought to life contextually through human experiences; and the Garage, a geek hangout for creative souls to mix, be inspired, make and invent.
The day started with a tear as I watched the moving and hugely important TED talk by David Kelley about Creative Confidence. At the heart of #InnovativeSpaces, I think, is an ability to create a climate where people are encouraged to explore, try, share, inspire and be OK with not getting it ‘right’ first time.
Some of the key themes I’m looking forward to getting into include the d.school’s methods for encouraging creative confidence through diversity – mixing up teams, learning from each other and sharing skills. Another aspect of confidence comes from control and decision making around how spaces are set up and the postures that people choose when working alone or in groups.
Now we’re into the thick of writing up the #InnovativeSpaces book. Having spoken to over 80 people, visited 50 places and with a stack of journals, research papers, articles and books up to my armpit, it’s time to get it all down on paper.
One of the biggest barriers I’ve found to getting going is distractions. And it’s not just the distraction of the phone ringing, cooking dinner for the kids it’s also a meeting to go to, a workshop to deliver, or more interesting stuff to learn about.
So with the help of my family, I’ve created 5 days of absolute lock-down. The goal: to write at least 7 case studies, hopefully 8.
Wish me luck.
Day One: IDEO. So much to think about here, as this company is the master of innovation, and the people we met and things we saw in their Chicago and New York offices has given me enough stimulus to write an entire book. It’s going to be a challenge to get this down to just 1000 words.
As a way of helping me distill the key learnings, I think that the IDEO case study will primarily be about how they use their own approach to solving problems on themselves: understanding first that it’s about identifying what people need to do, then designing experiences around that and finally the enabling structures to make it happen.
Polished concrete, exposed ply and a spattering of bright yellow and teal: the high-tech looking temporary HQ of Google Glass is mostly behind firmly closed doors. In reception, space-aged bands loaded with the latest technology are on display, but most of the action is FGEO (For Googler’s Eyes Only).
I caught up with Ivy Ross, Head of Google Glass, who had been brought in to help the team get closer to consumers and launch a product that people better understand. Ross is used to leading diverse creative teams, but being here for her is a bit like “regression”. Instead of being the only one disrupting, she has found her “tribe”. Surrounded by people from sales, marketing, design, tech development and science, her excitement of being with like minded people from different backgrounds is palpable.
Q. So how do you create the right workspaces for these vastly different people?
IR. People are getting better as recognising their own different work styles. It’s more “I understand me. This is what I need” than one size fits all. “Here, we have options. Tonnes of options. So rather than saying ‘I need open plan or private’, it’s and/both.”
Yet the company is growing at such a rate, this won’t be home for long. And when Ivy next gets the chance to design a space for her team, she’ll be looking beyond a diverse range of settings based on function, to drastically different environments that support not only different thinking styles, but also different feelings:
IR. Imagine being able to immerse yourself in an environment that tricks your brain into thinking you’ve been lying on a beach. We can create spaces based on the feeling we want people to have, and the resulting brain states can be a conduit to creative thinking.
I’m super excited about the epic trip I’m about to take over the next few weeks, visiting some outstanding workplaces, designed to support creative collaboration, innovation and open learning.
On the list: GoogleX, IDEO, Stanford d:school, Facebook, AirBnB, Microsoft, Gensler, MIT Labs and some creative co-working spaces.
I’ll also be speaking to some experts and key thought leaders from the worlds of Design, big data Tech, Neuroscience and Creativity.
I’ll post blogs daily, so follow me to see what I’m up to… But more importantly, if there are any questions about what makes a great #InnovativeSpace, just ask and I’ll see what I can find!
It’s official: we’ve been commissioned by Nesta to get digging deep into scientific evidence, chat to as many people who will lend us their time and scout out some examples – both great successes and epic failures – of working environments that have been designed to support creativity and innovation.
The goal? To establish whether there really is any robust evidence to support the idea that we are a product of our surroundings; that the spaces in which we spend most of our waking hours go some way to enabling our best creative work.
More information on the project can be found on Nesta’s website, but in a nutshell, we need help! We need help finding great books, research and papers to read, help to find clever people who know a bit about creative culture, innovation, workplace design, the future of work, collaboration, socio-technological trends…and of course some great (and not-so-great) places that illustrate the point.
If you have any leads or thoughts, please get in touch or leave a comment below.
I had the chance to visit and run a workshop in the offices of Red Bull Dubai back in April, spending 3-4 days there, where I got a real taste of what makes it such an energetic place to work in – even without drinking the iconic energy drink!
I spoke with the “Head Coach” (HC) for Middle East and Asia Pacific (MEAP), who struck me as genuinely passionate about the business, the people he works with and the space they work in. After the tour and interview, he asked not to be named, because for him it would be sending the wrong message: the creation of this new, exciting environment is not about him receiving glory for a beautiful space; it’s all about the creation of a place that inspires the whole team, and one that they all play a huge part in.
As the elevator doors open onto the 4th floor of this commercial building in Dubai’s Airport Free Zone, the standardised uniformity of the surrounding services offices is challenged – Red Bull style. An immediate statement is made as you step into the office – greeted by a what looks like part of a giant Red Bull can – which is in fact a salvaged KLM 747 jet engine cowling repurposed into a reception desk. Dutch designer XXXX was commissioned to create the desk not only to reflect the brand’s love for precision and showmanship; his brief included a specific request to lower the leading edge, ensuring eye contact between the sparky and attractive “Ambassadors” and any visitors who come to call.
The experience here is as important as the design details and material finishes. And these two elements are evident throughout the place, driven by two needs that create an environment that at once demonstrates the spirit of the company and also serves to support the business to achieve its ambitious goals.
Drivers for change
The catalyst for this transformation back in April 2013 was a need for more space – as the company continued to grow in size, and HC also wanted to create a ‘positive shock’; the physical space became a tool to help communicate the spirit of a new chapter in the business growth. HC saw this as an opportunity to not just revamp their existing space but to reinforce a new directive and embed some of the behaviours to support the change the business wanted to see.
Where the previous space was standardised, the new space is unique. Where the old offices were closed, here it’s open. Where before you could have been in the offices of any insurance company or bank, there’s no mistaking that you’ve walked into the heart of one of the most vibrant brands in the world. White dominates, giving the whole office a bright, fresh and positive air, inspite of relatively low ceilings – and throughout, splashes of the familiar silver, red and blue provide an injection of energy.
The brand’s four main areas of focus are showcased in glass-fronted meeting rooms – all instantly visible from reception: Field– celebrating sport and in particular football (soccer) – turf and field markings with replica stadium lights; Pitstop – a nod to Red Bull’s huge involvement in Formula 1 racing – tarmac-like flooring , dynamic sweep through the ceiling and a real wing from a former F1 car; Street – Round table like a stage – platform for Red Bull’s involvement in street culture: breakdancing and music; Gallery – sculptural mural with the Art of Can.
Formula for success
In HC’s view basic condition for success is down to two elements: the right environment plus the right platform. Here, it’s about enabling people through open, professional, high quality, fully-fitted workspace with sound infrastructure, and combining it with the cultural platform of “positive energy”. Each meeting room is kitted out with best-in-class audio, projection and tech equipment that anyone can use whenever they need it. “The technology here is to serve us to do better.” With all the event and production content the team needs to share with each other, it has to be “top notch” in order to to optimize the experience – imagine trying to convey the energy and exhilaration of a envelope-pushing event like Red Bull X-fighters, or the F1 stunt a-top the Burj Al-Arab on a laptop screen!
“We set the bar high. When people come here they know that is Red Bull is providing an environment to the highest standard than we should we expect high standards in the work that we do.”
THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENT + THE RIGHT [CULTURAL] PLATFORM = SUCCESS
The working environment at Red Bull Dubai enables people to think. And to think differently. “If you want to get out of the box you need to have a different environment, “ says HC. The meeting rooms by themselves are inspiring. And there are plans to develop a different floor in the building to build a creative space and hall of fame. A flexible drop-in space with college chairs and Fat Boys(TM) and plenty of wall space.
So what’s the verdict a year on? HC is really proud of the team and what they have achieved with the space and business results.
The impact this has had is threefold: business performance is up, the bottom line has been affected and the right cultural values reinforced. Teams are more exposed to each other, communication is more fluid, more direct and less formal. Business targets have been smashed this year, compared with a struggling period before the transformation.
The return on investment has been significant, too: whilst the investment on the space was considerable, meetings are now held on-site, versus hotels. “So we’re saving money. I tell you – if we rented our meeting spaces out – and I have been asked many times – the space would be making a profit!”
For HC, it’s visible: “After a year, everything is still very white! People really look after it. I think that re-confirms the importance of taking care of the place we work in, and it reflects the care we take in the work we do.”
“When my team brings their friends and family to see where they work – they’re really proud too. They have a sense of belonging and when I see that it reassures me that the investment made has been well placed.”
White dominates, providing a refreshing and positive ambiance in absence of high ceiling
Sliding doors on meeting rooms and enclosed office spaces include acoustic barrier properties
Partitions hang from ceilings with acoustic baffling
Herman Miller furniture chosen – functional/practical/heavy duty
Overall style ambition is relaxing and comfortable; health is high priority, as most people sit for long periods
L-shape desk configurations allow people to focus on screen and people to talk/collaborate at desks