If there was a sequel to the movie Office Space made today, the set would have to look very different. The main characters might not even be in the same building. Around the world, over half of employees work remotely for at least half of the work week, according to a recent study from IWG. In the US, roughly 3 out of 4 people say that flexible working arrangements are the new normal.
As the trend toward a more distributed workforce continues, coworking spaces have risen to meet the new demand. Allwork reports that there are approximately 35,000 coworking spaces around the world, an increase of 205% since 2014.
There has been a lot to learn in a short time. One key lesson: coworking spaces can’t be designed like a traditional office. They’re spaces where people and companies interact, often in beneficial ways. They need to be spaces that foster community and allow for privacy. In short, coworking spaces and experiential design are natural partners. Here are ways that experiential design thinking has helped coworking spaces grow — and what experiential marketers can learn from the industry’s innovations.
Build in Flexibility & Privacy
Flexibility is the greatest amenity of a coworking space. You are free from the constraints of traditional office spaces — a big plus for anyone looking to avoid an office lease when a business is still in its infancy and can grow or shrink in a short space of time. What’s more, the intrepid freelancer who dislikes the solitude of working from home gets to be surrounded by people but avoids the challenges of café-based work.
Coworking spaces, as they have evolved, have become quite savvy at managing the shifting space needs of their occupants. The answer is in the architecture. Many new coworking arenas are utilizing moving walls and modular systems to delineate spaces as needed. Without even moving the furniture, shared bookable spaces create options for companies that need more space — just not all the time.
The ability to scale up or down as needed is also a key strategy for trade show programs that attend multiple shows a year of different size. The scalable booth Group Delphi built for Follow Your Heart was designed to be one large 20-foot-by-20-foot booth for the flagship shows, but also be able to separate into two 10-foot booths so that the company can attend multiple smaller shows as needed.
When you mix companies in the same space, there’s no telling how compatible the cultures will be. You may be stuck near loud phone talkers, smelly food eaters, teams with schedules that conflict with yours — and there’s not much you can do.
A bigger concern is confidentiality: company and client information is at a higher risk of being exposed to others outside of your trusted circle — even competitors. Private conversations need private spaces — ideally soundproof ones as well. As Fast Company reports, over the past three years alone, at least six new companies have started selling prefabricated and custom soundproof booths and micro-offices in response to the popularity of open plan offices and to meet the needs of coworking spaces. (They’ve even showed up on Shark Tank.)
Privacy is also a concern at trade shows, particularly where the goal is signing new deals on the spot. Adding offices for private conversations is not a new concept for trade show booths, but now designers have a wide array of soundproof options that can be incorporated into event spaces.
Keep it Human-Centered
True to their claims, coworking spaces are excellent community builders. Spaces that invite interaction, help build culture and can drive collaboration and innovation. The start-up Le Board takes a novel approach to building community: it describes itself as a “part-French, part-Greek New York Living brand currently living on the Upper East Side” where visitors are welcome to shop, sell, hang, listen, talk, create and grow. It’s a department store plus co-working space dedicated to a live, interpersonal experience.
While the main goal for most companies at trade shows is to build community with potential clients, creating a space where users of your product or service can mingle, share best practices and generate new ideas can be a valuable use of space.
The shift toward human-centered design and experiences embraced by experiential marketers in recent years is also evident in coworking space design. Coworking spaces are increasingly featuring onsite amenities that rival the splashier startups, but are also adding a unique approach that suits the coworking ethos by cross-pollinating with other businesses. Yoga studios, full gyms, day care centers, and even Roman salt baths have become collaborators, creating clusters of synergistic businesses that all serve the needs of the worker.
This same idea applies to trade shows, where you want to keep people in your booth for as long as possible (although perhaps not immersed in a salt bath). Make visitors happy with amenities such as coffee, comfy chairs, charging stations and ways to help them feel refreshed. Meet their human needs — trade shows can be draining, and not just on your phone battery. Just as in a thoughtful workplace, if people are happy, the stay longer, they’re more productive, and they’ll tell their friends.