The international trend towards co-working, defined essentially as shared office space, equipment, and services, is set to change the office space landscape in South Africa, as it is currently doing in Europe and other developed markets. We are seeing a growing move towards adopting this international trend locally.
Claire D’Adorante, director at Paragon Interface
What the co-working trend implies for large corporates, in particular, is that instead of maintaining and staffing a fully-fledged office building, they can now simply ramp up or down as new projects roll in, or existing ones are completed. The key driver here is to cut real estate costs, especially given the constrained global economic outlook and increasingly tight margins.
The major benefit of this trend for employees is that it supports what is termed ‘agile’ working, which is the logical next step of the open-plan office revolution. While traditional open-plan offices still tied workers to individual desks, and offered little in the way of shared services or collaborative working, ‘agile’ workspaces allow employees to work where and how they want to, with the full support and functionality required to do so.
Design incorporating a social context
There has been a key realisation that office space design has to incorporate a social context, with the explosion of technology in recent years enabling this cultural shift. Employees, especially the younger generations, do not particularly enjoy being confined to a single desk set-up in a multi-partitioned open-plan environment.
Savvy corporates, on the other hand, are understanding that not only is this bad for productivity and creativity, but that this is also a prime area where they can be more efficient with their real estate commitments, while driving staff engagement and wellbeing – resulting in measurable gains.
Therefore, agile workplaces represent the next stage of the open-plan revolution. What is needed is more collaboration and interaction among co-workers, which has resulted in concepts such as ‘hot desking’, which means that individual employees no longer have desks assigned to them personally, but simply utilise the office space as and when they require it.
Shift in corporate structures
As for the future evolution of the co-working trend, it could very well result in a paradigm shift in how major corporates are structured. Economies around the world are in constant flux, which means business is contracting and expanding all the time, while overheads tend to remain fixed. Suddenly there is a realisation that this no longer has to be the case, and that business has other options in how they utilise a traditional workspace.
However, there are a few key interior architecture principles that underpin effective co-working space design. Here it is important to design collaborative spaces that stimulate creativity and enable social interaction. However, at the same time there is a very real need for private meeting spaces and quiet focus zones to balance all the activity.
Within the first phase of a workplace design project, we concentrate on unpacking and gaining an in-depth understanding of an organisation and its unique cultural requirements. This means concentrating on the following elements that are unique within each respective organisation, and adapting them accordingly:
- Privacy needs are catered for by the incorporation of quiet rooms, focus spaces and concentrated work areas;
- Utilisation of acoustic materials to minimise noise transference and enhance workplace wellbeing;
- Division of open spaces using planters, filing cabinets, low screens, and existing architectural elements so as to create a sense of personal space without compromising on flexibility;
- Personalisation of dedicated team areas and neighbourhoods by the use of colour and texture and stimulating furniture and fittings; and
- Incorporating social spaces such as uniquely designed large breakout areas and kitchens that increase staff interaction and morale, resulting in improved communication and collaboration in the organisation.