When Shoeless Coworkers And Empty Offices Mean Success

it’s not just about density
Success of a space shouldn’t be measured by how much a space is populated, instead it should be measured on whether an operator has gotten the ratios right and all spaces are being maximized

This article is a continuation of the article “Why Coworking Needs a New Definition

  • During the New York City chapter event of the AIA panelists discussed the vicissitudes of creating both generic and unique experiences within a flexible workspace
  • Balancing both generic and personalized elements (such as branding) adds value to a space’s offering
  • Success of a space shouldn’t be measured by how much a space is populated; sometimes it’s non-quantitative measurements that provide great value to users

During the New York City chapter event of the AIA panelists discussed why coworking has evolved into something that is no longer coworking. They also discussed the vicissitudes of generic and unique approaches to flexible space products and considered ways coworking is evolving towards a hospitality-style model with varied market segments, brands and levels of service.

During the event we learned that Industrious makes decisions from several tiers, and the ratios of their generic productized offerings shift to custom elements as they scale up.

Eivind Karlsen, head of design at Industrious explained that “there’s an overarching need to create a space that is welcoming to all, that’s neutral in some way, that allows different companies to project their brands on top of the spaces that we create.”

For example, a West Midtown space for Verizon blends a coworking space together with an internalized café space that support Verizon’s culture; it also leaves elements like a large meeting room or phone rooms more generic.

Such flexibility is also more cost-effective for the occupier.

Balancing custom and generic elements is a mix of the architecture service solution between the default model that has an economy of purchase and scale versus the custom model from a design perspective, panelist Melissa Marsh, founder of Plastarc and managing director of occupier strategy for Savills Studley, observed.

Convene approaches the generic versus custom model from its design principle of Think Global, Act Local. In Convene’s case that means “build a chassis that is repeatable, so that wherever you go in the world you will experience the same level of service, hospitality, cuisine, fit out and finish,” Joyce Bromberg, Convene director of strategy, explained, with the goal of delivering a consistent experience with localized aesthetic and feel.

Convene also takes the position that customers are temporarily owning their space, even visitors who are there for a two or three-day conference. In those cases, Convene recedes its brand to allow the guest’s brand to shine.

“You will see people walking around without shoes. And that makes me really happy because I know then that they are owning the space and that they feel comfortable” Bromberg added.

Moving from commodity from customization can embody a kind of an instant on/off branding to transform a white box, Marsh noted, such as the ability to display a logo on the entryway as you come up an escalator or wrapping it around round columns.

“It’s a quickly transformable space that can absorb the brand or experience that any one of your customers is aiming to create in the conference style and then extending that into coworking and physical style.”

Challenges with Measurement

In the short-term lease flexibility of the coworking/flexible office/serviced office model, “people vote with their feet,” and success is often measured by how populated the space is. Many providers are investing in various sensor-style products to leverage their ability to maximize the value.

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    An inherent challenge in all measurement lies in mandating adoption, Bromberg cautioned. “Any tool is only as good as the number of people that use it.”

    “But for us, it’s more about getting the ratios right. Where are people really spending their time and how much more alternative space do we need to provide? It’s measuring usage so we can provide the kinds of spaces people use.”

    “One of the things we learned is that by and large, people are working outside the suite in common areas. It’s those meeting spaces – huddle rooms, telephone booths — the common areas that are not large desks, but are more like coffee shops with small tables. They’re small open space conference rooms created by furniture.”

    Observing what she labels as “alternative posture” in such spaces, Bromberg concludes, “people want to work in more relaxed environments and we’re seeing that in the furniture manufacturers are providing.”

    At Verizon, the focus is on measuring utilization and measurement with retail-style people counters. While Verizon has experienced resistance from employees who don’t want to be tracked, it ultimately helps strengthen relationships, according to Lucia Diana, global real estate for Verizon. 

    Real data helps analyze and resolve situations such as 25-person room occupied by three people or an overcrowded space full of people on the phone, Diana explains, who says the ultimate goal is driving a good customer experience.

    While data drives much of the decision-making and programmatic allocation of space that follows, great value can be derived from non-quantitative measurements, according to Karlsen.

    “I think the one thing that’s been the most valuable as we’ve grown has been the community manager relationship,” he countered.

    “Getting those qualitative touch points on a daily basis inform how that member is experiencing that space, what challenges they have, where we can help provide a better day at work,” he added.

    In line with the notion of “prototyping with brick and mortar” is the exploration of flexible furniture solutions that provide small opportunities within our spaces to do experiments, Karlsen added.

    And in some cases, it’s the space itself that signals a successful project, as Matthew Winter, associate at The Rockwell Group, explained.

    Describing a corporate office project he was working on that consolidated six groups under one roof for the first time, he noted that only a small percentage of individuals were allowed to keep private offices. Some departments opted for a purely democratic experience, with executives moving into open spaces with their teams, while others fought hard to keep a disproportionate number of offices.

    “The true measurement of the success of this project will be if, at the end of it, some of the EVPs and SVPs are not spending time in the office they fought so hard to keep but are instead holding court in one of the lounges,” Winter added.

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