Collaborative Space Design 101


How can we use office space design to maximize member happiness in coworking spaces?

space design

As the founder of a coworking space, a large part of my job involves designing the physical work space. I’m not an interior designer. I’m not an architect. I’m not a real estate person. I am a collaborative space designer.

Questions To Consider When Designing Collaborative Spaces

When I think about how I can make my coworking space (NoD Coworking) more conducive to collaboration, these are the questions that I ask myself:

1) How does the physical environment we work in affect productivity?

2) Can certain aspects of a physical space significantly impact individuals’ willingness to collaborate?

3) What can I do to make sure a space is designed for collaboration?

4) How can I measure the interaction between the physical space and the people in it?

5) Has anyone noticed the new white board I installed? Why is nobody using it? Why is that white board NOT being used??? WHAT IS GOING ON IN MY SPACE?!?!?! Am I overreacting?

If you are designing a space or if you are in charge of one, please take a minute to ponder these questions as well. Sometimes it really helps to take a step back and consider these types of questions seriously instead of getting wrapped up in negotiations and deals with furniture vendors and consultants.

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Perspectives on Collaborative Space Design

A good friend of mine who runs another coworking space in Dallas, Oren Salomon (Founder of Fort Work), says, “Physical environment isn’t the end-all, be-all for a community but it can set the tone for a lot of things affecting productivity. Noisiness, crowdedness, isolation are all functions of the physical space as much as they are the behaviors of the people inhabiting them.”

Furthermore he argues that “…the biggest impact a physical space can have on collaboration is incidental encounters. The more likely you are to bump into someone casually, the more likely you are to collaborate.”

Considering everything I’ve observed at NoD Coworking over the past two years, I couldn’t agree more with Oren’s comments. It’s one thing to start a community. It’s another thing to design a space that suits their needs and encourages collaboration. When we first started the space, we had 4 core members who would naturally gravitate to the four corners of the space. We all knew each other, and would chat in the break room, but otherwise we weren’t doing much of any actual “coworking.” So one day I invited everyone to literally set up their laptops and work on the ping pong table (it was our largest piece of furniture at the time). It was a fun and welcomed change which created a little more closeness among us, but obviously was not a long term solution.

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How NoD Coworking Was Designed

As we grew our membership to 10, 20, 30… and now nearly 100 members, I was almost forced to change the layout of the physical space because I now had so many more people requesting special accommodations: i.e. “Mind if we scoot these 4 desks together for our team? I’d rather face away from the wall, is that cool? Can I put up a whiteboard in front of my desk? Can we move the couch over here? What if we put a wall here to make this area quieter? And so on…

My team and I constantly listen to feedback from our members and do our best to accommodate all of these special requests. When all of that adds up, (at least in our case) you’re left with something awesome: a space designed by the people for the people. And it’s not just that the sum total of their feedback was some magical or optimal solution. It’s even more about the fact that coworkers had a say in the design of the space. (We somehow managed to collaborate on the design of a collaborative workspace!)

In conclusion, when coworkers know that their feedback is truly welcomed, they will volunteer information that will eliminate the guesswork for the space designer. And lastly: Always Be Testing. Try new things. Insert something new into the space and observe how people respond to it. Go up and ask them if they noticed the whiteboard. Ask them why they are not using it. They will tell you everything if you just ask.

Guest Author Bio: Chirag founded NoD Coworking in Dallas, TX in 2014 and currently serves as the CEO. He is also a drummer in a new band called Collateral Jammage and you can follow him on Twitter at @ChicagoGupta.