How Coworking is Changing Office Design
Coworking Allows Office Designers to be More Creative Than Ever Before
Office design is hard work. A good office design has to be dynamic; it must adapt to different needs in the short term and in the long term. The same physical building will likely be in place for decades, yet the interior design may change every few years, and the tenants and their equipment may swap out in a matter of months.
Yet, on a practical level, office design is static. It’s physical. It’s set in stone (sometimes literally) the minute the construction work finishes and the design agency sets the space up. How can office designers think far enough ahead to create the kind of flexibility that offices demand? It’s very different from designing a custom home for a family, where you can assume the family will be the only occupant for decades. How can offices be receptive to change?
Traditionally, offices were occupied for a given number of years by a finite number of tenants. Even if the designer doesn’t who the first tenant will be, they can assume that the one company will occupy the space for more than a few months. Knowing this, designers can shoot for a neutral, easily modifiable style, knowing that the future occupant will want to make the space their own.
Even so, flexibility was only needed on a basic level (e.g. it should be easy to swap out wall paintings or install new lighting). The office wouldn’t need to cater to a variety of different work styles; if a quirky company wanted to use rolling desks and non-standard conference rooms, they would probably hire their own designer to customize the space. There was a certain standard that office designs had to reach; anything more was in the realm of custom work.
Now, with coworking spaces, tenants are less like occupiers of the space and more like consumers. When space is being sold in the short term with less of a commitment, it starts to feel more like a hotel.
Indeed, much like hotels, coworking spaces can stand out by having vivid, creative interior design. It’s a selling point, a way to earn the attention of potential consumers. A space that caters to specific needs, like the aforementioned rolling desks, might be precisely what sets it apart from the competition. Of course, a coworking space can (and should) offer a variety of amenities and support a variety of work styles, rather than shooting for one particular style. There’s no harm in dedicating a small area to non-traditional amenities like the infamous ping-pong tables—those who want it will use it, and those who don’t will be content to stay within their own space.
The result is that coworking spaces are aesthetically more distinct (to appeal to short-term customers), and they’re functionally more varied (because they don’t have to commit the whole space to one work style). This is great news for startups and other short-term tenants, because it’ll be easier to find a space that caters to their more obscure and specific needs.
Interestingly, this trend also makes the designer’s job more fun, because they can pursue a unique look and feel without worrying about whether it will suit the future tenant. The designer is essentially helping to brand the coworking space itself; the space doesn’t have to align itself with brand of a corporate giant that might become its future tenant. Given that fact, coworking spaces can branch out from corporate branding and develop their own unique brands, which will then attract startups who share the same aesthetic sense.
Of course, there’s no use in designing a coworking space as if it were an art museum. The space still has to be functional and flexible, and that means taking the customers’ desires into account. But because of the variety of customers that coworking places serve, they can afford to be more experimental. Frankly, if you’ve seen a trendy coworking space, you’d know that they top all but the most lavish corporate offices.
In this environment, office designers are given more creative freedom than ever. It will be interesting to see how mainstream office design develops in the coming years thanks to the influence of trend-setting, aesthetically-daring coworking spaces.