Why We’re All Rejecting The Traditional Office Space
Trendy interiors at Work.Life. Photograph by Ms Lidia Crisafulli, courtesy of Work.Life
Welcome to the modern age – where coworking, hot-desking and networking panels are changing the way we do business.
The passers-by outside Work.Life in east London look confused. It’s too cool to be an office: all brushed concrete and exposed brickwork. Besides, everybody inside appears… happy. Maybe it’s yet another hipster café – but with desks?
This is a coworking space, a spillover of our fluid “gig” economy where music, cars and even jobs are all on an ad hoc, project-by-project basis. “There’s been a huge rise in the number of freelancers and small businesses,” says Work.Life co-founder Mr David Kosky, who is backed up by UK government figures showing there are more than 4.2 million homeworkers in Britain alone. But traditional offices are mired by long leases, big deposits and cost of furnishing, “They lack flexibility, which is why coworking spaces are attractive.”
Hitherto, freelancers had to choose between the kitchen table or a café. At Work.Life, you get free artisan coffee that you’re not obliged to drink, reliable ninja-fast WiFi and a printer. There are soundproofed phone booths so as not to distract others with awkward conversations about your rate, and a kitchen area to keep the hot-desks free of crumbs and audible mastication. If the rolling monthly contract is too much like being tied down, “agile” workers can just pay hourly for a one-off deadline crunch or meeting room booking. “It’s like Uber for offices,” says Mr Kosky. Plus you can leave your laptop when you need the loo.
A coworking space at Soho Works. Photograph courtesy of Soho House
“For some people, a laptop is all they need,” says Ms Tanya Nathan, director of Soho Works, the Shoreditch-based flexi-office offshoot of the globetrotting member’s club. “But we noticed a demand for a space that gives creatives the tools to help them work.” Like, say, a library of reference books and industry journals, on-site tech support, post and courier services and a workshop with a 3D printer. The phenomenon of coworking is by no means restricted to modish east London either: Soho Works is expanding to LA next year and Istanbul thereafter, while New York’s WeWork numbered 112 locations in 32 cities worldwide at the last count, from Berlin to Be’er Sheva in Israel.
“We believe that WeWork’s model is universal, and that the culture we’re helping to create transcends regional differences,” says Mr Miguel McKelvey, cofounder and chief creative officer. “But we definitely consider the unique characteristics of each new market we enter, consulting local designers and artists to curate the space, plus hiring a local community team with local insight to activate it. Attention to those details has played a big part in our international success and continued expansion.” Recently valued at $16bn, WeWork has more than 60,000 members and is projected to reach somewhere in the region of 90,000 by the end of 2016.
WeWork Gas Tower, LA. Photograph courtesy of WeWork
And they’re not all MacBook-toting, multi-hyphenated creatives. According to Ms Nathan, Soho Works has been created for businesses as well as individuals. In addition to hot-desking areas and “breakout spaces”, Work.Life encompasses glass-walled offices for companies large and small, with MTV, Dr. Martens and Grindr among their occupants. “Bigger businesses are taking advantage of these spaces because a lot more of their employees are working remotely,” says Mr Kosky. “But they also want to connect with smaller businesses. Coworking spaces are a hub.” Networking events abound, while members also informally exchange goods and services. One day it might be free lunch from the resident street eatery or food-delivery service; another, a complimentary yoga class from a hot-desking naturopath. WeWork even has its own dedicated social network.
These factors in turn are selling points for the companies that employ coworking spaces. As is their design, which is the way that offices should be conceived – but traditional ones all too rarely are – to optimise productivity and mood, with lots of natural light, plants and, well, space. “Work is a consumer experience,” says Mr Kosky. “Businesses want to attract the best talent, and the workplace is such a big factor in that.”