Coworking is a growing phenomenon. Research from global coworking conference organization GCUC found 14,411 spaces around the world where people could work together on their own projects in a social environment. By 2022, that will more than double to over 30,000, it predicts. But some coworking spaces are bound to work better than others.
On one hand, you want a communal area where people can gather and share ideas. You want a social atmosphere where people feel welcome and included. On the other hand, you want a space where people can focus and get their work done. How can you balance the two?
Design public and private spaces
One of the important things that a coworking space can do is designate areas to support both communal get-togethers and private work. A courtyard feel, with central gathering spaces for social visitors and more private areas around the outside, can create a easy way for people to transition between different work states. Using smart design assets just as noise-absorbing rugs, moveable acoustic barriers and indoor plants can help break up both sound waves and the line of sight, helping to separate public social spaces from semi-private desk areas.
Completely private quiet areas are also crucial. These can be designed to support group sessions, as well as private phone conversations. This can give individuals a place to go that doesn't disturb others.
Schedule social times
Try to pay as much design attention to the coworking calendar as to the office space. Get-togethers are a key community-building tool in any coworking facility, but they can also be annoying for workers on deadline that are trying to be productive nearby. Try to outline a clear calendar with scheduled social times so that workers can plan their time around them.
Your timetable can include not just Friday evening wind-down parties, but also collaboration sessions. Consider organizing scheduled drop-in help and educational events in designated areas. These can encourage people to exchange ideas and help each other with problems more efficiently. Finally, try to delineate time for focused, private work.
Create a coworking code of conduct
In an ideal world, workers would play nicely together and respect each other's space, but it doesn't always work that way. You can issue a code of conduct to ensure that everyone gets along and feels respected. Consider including the obvious (no swearing, no racist or sexist jokes), but also try to include other helpful pointers like a clean desk policy, so other people don't feel cluttered or distracted by junk lying around the place. Guidance on noise levels can also create a more productive and welcoming communal space.
Secure your systems
A clean desk policy can also help with one of the other potential problems in a coworking environment: security. You can give workers the resources they need to secure their physical belongings, and can advise them on techniques to secure their digital environments.
This means lockers for bags, coats, and valuables. Where possible, try to position desks so that people cannot gaze at each others' screens. Also, you can configure a secure wireless network at your coworking facility by requiring password access. Even then, try to advise workers to use virtual private networks (VPNs) when connecting to the network. This can prevent other workers from 'sniffing' their traffic and monitoring their online surfing activities (better safe than sorry!).
Use technology to help
Technology can also help to create more harmonious workspaces that support both collaboration and private focus. You can use online community collaboration systems like Slack or Yammer to connect all the workers in your coworking space, whether they are in the office are not. This can provide useful private chats and group message boards so that people can ask questions and share resources without having to yell across the office.
Workers can also use technology to create private 'cones of silence'. Noise cancelling headphones can replace office noise with silence, or simply play music.
Social interaction and private focus are each forms of creativity that are vital to the running of an effective space. Armed with these techniques and tools, coworking organizers can support both.
About the Author
Danny Bradbury has been writing about technology and business since 1989. His clients have included the Financial Times, the Guardian, and Canada's National Post.
All content provided herein is for educational purposes only. It is provided “as is,” and neither the author nor Office Depot warrants the accuracy of the information provided, nor do they assume any responsibility for errors, omissions, or contrary interpretation of the subject matter herein.
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