The Social Workplace Conference: Top 4 Takeaways

The social workplace (StartupStockPhotos)

At the inaugural Social Workplace Conference we learned why social workplaces matter, what’s in it for flexible workspace operators, and why a truly social environment is not just about gathering in corridors.

There’s a saying, ‘Work is no longer a place, but an activity people do’. That’s true to some extent. Today, ‘work’ still represents a physical place – but it’s becoming a much better one.

The ‘Social Workplace’ is about creating enjoyable, productive, human-driven environments that enhance well-being and nurture creativity. Jean-Yves Huwart, co-founder of the conference, says that the social workplace will eventually “become the standard work environment for all of us.”

He cites a “new work ethic” as the drive behind this shift to social workplaces, and points to the phenomenal – and still growing – rise of coworking. “Why do people use coworking spaces? Because they enjoy the company of other people, to be around others, and to join in conversation,” he said. “This human interaction is an important part of wellbeing.”

Jean-Yves was joined by leading workplace experts, coworking operators and strategists who outlined the importance of the social workplace and why it’s set to transform the real estate landscape.

Here are 4 key takeaways we learned throughout the day:

1) Power is Shifting to the People

What’s the core ingredient of a social workplace? People. So it’s no surprise that the social workplace ideal focuses heavily on users of the space – clients, managers, owners, staff, part-time users – everyone.

It’s about listening to their individual needs and creating environments that complement and enhance their well-being so they can do their job happily and productively.

Many corporates are still reluctant to make changes – but creating intuitive workplaces isn’t just beneficial for existing staff. As Despina Katsikakis, a globally renowned workplace expert, pointed out: “Corporates are realising that the physical environment is a significant tool to attract talented staff.”

Despina revealed shocking statistics on the cost of work-related stress, which in North America alone stands at $190 billion. “Wellness matters. If you don’t have healthy employees, you can’t innovate or drive effectiveness.”

And, in one of the most memorable quotes of the day, she added: “We need to create spaces that help people feel good, so they can leave feeling even better than when they arrived.”

2) Good News for Coworking

The social workplace and coworking are intertwined, and according to industry statistics, there were just under 10,000 coworking spaces worldwide in October 2014, which represented more than 60% growth from the previous year’s figure.

Olly Olsen, co-founder of The Office Group, explained that collaborative space lies at the heart of their business model, and they are now putting ClubRooms (shared spaces) in every building. “The bigger the building, the more social spaces we can provide,” he said.

Communal spaces are incredibly important for The Office Group – and have been since the company was founded back in 2003. In addition to ClubRooms, many buildings now include cafes and gyms, “to enhance vibrancy and social gathering”, and The Office Group has also partnered with Network Rail to open shared drop-in spaces across the country.

So as the ‘social’ trend gains traction, it’s looking increasingly positive for coworking.

3) Corporates Are Thinking Differently

Remember when Yahoo!’s Marissa Mayer hauled telecommuters and home-workers back to the office? It was met with controversy and disgruntled employees, which doesn’t seem very people-centric. Yet Mayer’s intention was the opposite; she wanted to create an environment in which spontaneous collaboration and teamwork could happen fluently.

This is an example of a shift in the thinking of corporate occupiers. According to Despina Katsikakis, corporates are becoming “far more agile” and are now looking for “spaceless growth”.

For instance, we heard from Séverine Blanchard-Jazdzewski of Orange Group, who walked us through a corporate-sized “HR experiment” – Villa Bonne Nouvelle – a 3,700 sq ft coworking space in the Silicone Sentier area of Paris.

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“We wanted to observe what was happening between people in their spaces, to help foster innovation,” she said. As part of this coworking development, they recognised the need for a social ‘connection’, and hired a ‘feel good’ manager in addition to organising weekly community events to discuss the workplace, and how to improve it.

The development of Villa Bonne Nouvelle is a prime example of how a major corporate occupier is working to create a social workplace for a happier, more supported and ultimately more productive team.

4) The Best Coworking Spaces Aren’t In It for the Money

“We don’t want to make money – that’s the point” – said Edu Forte, co-founder and CMO at Betahaus Barcelona, the largest coworking space in Spain.

He wasn’t the first – nor the last – to place heavy emphasis on the importance of a natural community during the conference. Offering a whirlwind tour of the secrets of their success, Edu stressed the need for operators to focus on making everybody in their space happy – not just clients, but workspace staff and visitors too.

Above all, he advised operators to listen well to their members and clients (and everyone else). At Betahaus, they hold regular ‘Member Summits’ for that very purpose. “Be ready, because they will tell you what you don’t want to hear. But you will get a lot of insights,” he said.

“Just shut up and listen. Listen to your community and good things will happen.”

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Image: StartupStockPhotos

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