London Coworking Assembly @ Workspace Design Show 2023: Making the most of the space you have

London Coworking Assembly @ Workspace Design Show 2023: Making the most of the space you have

Last week we had the pleasure of sponsoring a panel discussion put on by the London Coworking Assembly at the Workspace Design Show. Featuring long-time Nexudus collaborator, Marc Navarro, Pauline Roussel of Coworkies, Creative Works’ Community Manager, Elena Giroli, and Nook Pod’s David O’Coimin, it always promised to be a fascinating discussion, and it most certainly did not disappoint. 

The aim of this article is to give those of you who were unable to attend the highlights of this discussion, as so much of it was incredibly valuable. Each member of the panel offered up their unique view on coworking to the assembled delegates, as well as what the future holds for this growing industry. 

Why is coworking important?

Pauline: Travelling the world while writing the book (Around The World in 250 Coworking Spaces) showed me the importance and impact of coworking. If you were to remove these spaces from the world, so many opportunities would be missed. Connection and community are just two huge benefits that coworking spaces offer their communities. 

David: I built the company (Nook Pods) entirely virtually, completely without a fixed office. As such, coworking was a missive tool for me to be able to grow my business. One of the things coworking does so well is providing inclusivity for people who dont fit into corporate environments. As well as this, coworking is always at the forefront of change and innovation. 

Elena: For me, coworking is particularly important because of what it provides for young people. In so many cases I have seen, it has created a bridge for young creatives, allowing them to get into industries that otherwise would not be there for them. This is not just for the benefit of young people but is also a massive opportunity for cross-generational learning. 

Marc: To put it simply, the world would be much better if it looked like a coworking space.

What does the future look like for coworking spaces?

Marc: Coworking has a very bright future, but at the same time, it has to evolve. The future demands flexibility and the industry is very much still growing. 40% of office contracts that companies in the UK have, were signed before the pandemic. These companies won't re-sign contracts at the same length, and many will therefore be driven to coworking.

Pauline: Of the 250 coworking spaces I visited and featured in my book, only three of them no longer operate in the way that they did. They still exist but have just changed the way they operate. For me, this shows the strength and staying power of the coworking movement. 

What was the impact of the pandemic on coworking spaces?

Elena: So, for us at Creative Works, we had to change our layout and design, as well as reassess what our members wanted. We gathered that we needed to offer more flexibility, add on-demand services, extra space, larger desks - things like this. We also saw many more day passes being bought online. In essence, we had to adopt a much more flexible way of working.

Why is design important for coworking spaces?

David:  I always say, “one size misfits all”. If your aim is to build an inclusive environment, you need to think about providing choice. Now more than ever, people are looking for psychological safety, and spaces should be aiming to create zen places for people to work. Noise is the number one complaint in coworking spaces, so think about the materials being used, glass walls and wood floors, for example, are not the best materials for sound dampening. 

Pauline: I saw design needs for coworking spaces change dramatically after the pandemic. As a general rule, productive work now happens largely at home, while coworking spaces are used more for meetings. This has put much more importance on meeting rooms in the post-pandemic era. Coworking spaces also need to invest more in flexible furnishings. If furniture such as pods or meeting booths are on wheels, they can be more easily moved around the space, offering more flexibility to members and operational staff. 

How can you transform your workspace with changing trends on a budget?

Elena: In terms of design, we approached our space in a very sustainable way. We used upcycled wood, a local workforce and local materials to keep our costs as low as possible. 

Pauline: Coworking spaces are different to traditional offices. To be frank, they're just used more, which makes upcycling second-hand furniture a very good option. Obviously, it depends on the brand of the space, but leasing furniture can also be a good, low-cost option. 

David: For Nook Pods leasing isn’t really an option for us. We do try to make sure it is hackable, though, and able to have a lifecycle. For example, we often repurpose materials from conference centres and hold back ex-demo stock to make it more affordable for people. At the end of the day, though, our product has to be a certain cost to ensure they can still be built in the UK and that we dont have to move manufacturing overseas. 

Marc: People tend to think that everything is static. Of course, with the world the way it is, spaces will need to cut costs, but it is still important that they do not cut corners. If you reduce the quality of your offering it can all too easily become an inward spiral when it comes to attracting new clients. Long term, this can become a huge problem.

What are the benefits of community and how do you sustain it?

Pauline: It depends on who you are making the space for. It could be a space for chefs, maker spaces - whoever designs a space needs to understand their audience. This is absolutely vital. You have to understand who you are designing a space for to ensure they feel as though the space is made for them.

Marc: When you are running a space, you need to think carefully about who you hire. Diversity in teams is important, and finding a staff that is motivated enough to engender a true sense of community is key. 

How do you motivate people to stay in your community?

Elena: Well, firstly, you need to know what your USP is. Also, as Marc said, you need to have a staff that believes in your vision and shares your values. Have a cohesive team that is open with you about what works and what doesn't. 

David: As a coworker and a manufacturer, the sense of belonging through being known and being asked what you need and having a point of contact makes a huge difference. Good coffee helps too!

Pauline: It’s not about making it for the people but with your people. 

What is the difference between flex work and coworking?

David: For me the difference is community. Flex work doesn't have "community" in the same way as coworking. 

Marc: For me, flex work takes an approach that is far more similar to a business centre, but the look and feel is coworking. Basically, it's a more casual approach to the business centre model. The nice part of coworking is meeting new people, but it is difficult to control at scale and security issues soon begin to creep in.

Final Thoughts…

Marc: I think that coworking still has its best years ahead. There will certainly be challenges, but also enormous opportunities. Many of these opportunities will be from flex working clients, and while this will make coworking bigger, it will also require spaces to adapt. 

Pauline: What comes out every time I am involved in these sorts of discussions is the sense that the industry is diversifying. The broader coworking becomes the better because the more communities it will be able to serve. 

Elena: Effort should be horizontal. Every player has importance, regardless of their size. At the end of the day, you dont build a community, you nurture it. This, for me, is the key difference between a coworking and a flex workspace. 

David: Coworking cares more than any other entity or workspace. Nurture and caring is what really differentiate it. You can use the principles of inclusive design and thereby make a space that is better for everybody. 

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