This article first appeared on Linkedin Pulse
Commercial building owners and operators are catching up to the idea of shared workspace and multi-tenancy offerings. Indeed, it is better to turn your vacant floors into a shared workspace than have them sitting empty - and you don’t need WeWork for this; You need good design, good technology and great customer service.
There is also a trend for vacant retail space to be turned into a shared workspace, and this makes a lot of sense. A shopping centre has good transport, lots of food options and most importantly (for me anyway) good coffee!
Let’s look at how you can enable your own ‘WeWork’ type of space, without having to engage WeWork.
Most studies have concluded that open offices are not good for productivity, health or even collaboration. However, when you think of WeWork, you think of big open plan spaces. So my first tip is to not replicate this design- but improve on it.
Many confuse Activity Based Working (ABW) with open-plan offices or hot-desking. ABW is simply having the right space for the activity. The starting point of good design is defining your needs.
What type of activities will take place in your shared workplace and what space is needed to compliment these activities?
Most activities can be broken down into three areas:
1. Productivity work
These are the tasks you need to focus on and this is usually a solo activity. Some people find that focus requires background noise- and so they do their productivity work at a cafe. Others need dead quiet. So even in this one area we have identified two different personas and space requirements.
2. Thinking work
Thinking requires mental space. Good ideas rarely pop up when you are focusing on a single task. Thinking happens when you are walking, taking a shower, or commuting. Just because this doesn’t require a desk doesn’t mean it's not important- this segment often holds the most value creation. How do you create a space good for thinking?
3. Process work
The difference between process work and productivity work is that the former is mindless. It is the sort of activity that a robot is likely to take over. This can include crunching numbers, entering data, delegating emails, answering phones- etc etc. Process work simply requires the right tools for the job. Think about how these tools integrate with the space.
All three areas above will need input from someone else at some point. Collaboration is the hardest thing to get right- particularly today when technology plays such a big part. Some research shows that people who work from home engage more with their colleagues. This is with remote tools and channel based chat (eg Slack).
When it comes to physical space we need to think of different types of collaboration. In a shared work environment, a big factor in collaboration design is privacy. You do not always know the people around you. In a shared workplace you can presume your client's will have access to their own collaboration platforms so your investment should be in the physical space and privacy around it.
Do you need to change space constantly? Well maybe, but that isn’t practical. However, do not expect to design one space that can meet all the requirements of how we work throughout the day.
This is the power of the hot desk. It's not just about saving money on space, with a hot-desk environment you can move to the space that works for you at any given moment. Doing your tax return? Work from the noisy internal cafe to help you focus. Trying to reach inbox zero? Do an hour of emailing from the open standing desk. Need to rethink your marketing strategy? Do 10 mins meditation in a private nook, and stay there with a pen and paper to map out some ideas.
With a design focus on these different ways of working, you can start to map out your catalogue of spaces. But you don’t need to start from scratch - there are many companies that have put a lot of thought and research into this. There are many types of spaces you can include in your shared workspace - Amicus has some great resources on this subject which are worth checking out including this podcast episode. The furniture company Haworth also has some good resources on different types of spaces for your workplace.
I have used WeWork many times. What they have above their competitors is great service. But customer service is not new to most large building operators. Many have replaced the lobby security desk with lobby concierge. You need to apply concierge style customer service to the shared workspace and extend it to a new area: community.
Many customers of a shared workspace are attracted to the space for a sense of community. Particularly the one to three person team. Starting a company or running a sole trader business can be lonely, and working from the garage in isolation doesn’t do it for everyone anymore. They would rather be around others in the same position, sharing ideas or even chatting about what accounting and CRM they are using when they bump into each other at the kitchen. But you cannot just expect this stuff to happen by accident- promote it with communications and the physical space design. If you are serious about starting a shared workspace you should have at least one resource focusing on tenant services and community engagement.
Think about what large corporates offer their staff in the form of HR services- and see if you can pool that for all your members. Most small businesses do not get access to all the employee benefits of a large corporate, but you can leverage your size and brand to enable HR as one of your core services.
And if you own the building and the precinct, you are in a unique position to offer VIP services. You have good ins with all the neighbouring restaurants, gyms, bars and retailers. Just walk around- hand out your business card with the logo of the company that invoices them for their rent- and tell them that you have a shared workspace and would like to promote their business to all your members in exchange for discounts. It’s a win/win for you - your customer (the retailer) is happy as you are promoting them and they will continue to pay rent to you. Your members of the shared space are happy as you are giving them discounts with your leverage. WeWork will not have the same leverage in your precinct.
All the services you provide should be seamless, low friction and transparent. Aim for user interactions that happen automatically. This might require a bit of people tracking and building integration but if your members are there every day, they shouldn't need to use an app - just walk into a space and most experiences should be automated. Also, focus on the easy to automate processes so your concierge staff are not stuck processing visitors or something like that. The concierge staff should be truly focused on customer experience. Transacting visitors or doing data entry that the user could have done is not the best use of their time or the best outcome.
Automate what can be automated. For everything else, have the appropriate interface and have all services included under one single-sign on solution. This way, payments can be seamless and the retail & hospitality benefits you are providing can be included as a transactional experience.
Some of the common UX you need to focus on:
Finding the right space for the activity
All your spaces should be listed- and you should be able to filter based on key features and desired activity. The user should be able to save favourites and presets for easy selection in the future.
This should be seamless, which is not easy to achieve. How do our customers and their visitors seamlessly access the building, floor, space and/or locker with low touch interaction? That question should lead the design goal. The solution will be a combination of technology that integrates into a single platform.
The icing on the cake features are more important than you think
In my mind, these are your points of difference. Every organisation has a way to book resources, but what can you come up with that will make people thinking “that’s pretty cool!” Is it integrating smart lockers with retail collection points? Is it having the best cafe in the area deliver a coffee all the way to the desk- taking the 'beat the queue' functionality further than any publicly available app. What experience can you provide that your customer cannot get working from home?
Bringing it all together
If you have some vacant space consider turning it into your own shared workplace. Fit it out for the new ways of working and provide great customer service, novel user experiences and technology to wrap it all up. If you make it your own- you have something stronger than WeWork.
If you are a real estate company- you know more about workplace user experiences than anyone. Do not outsource this to an over valued company that are working it out as they go along.