After co-working, what’s next?

5 challenges for the next major workspace innovation.

Impact Hub Westminster, shortly after opening in 2011

When in 2011 my colleagues and I endeavoured on the ambitious project of setting up a 12,000 sq. ft. co-working space for social impact organisations in the heart of London, I often found myself having to explain at length the benefits of moving into a shared workspace. Sure, people were easily convinced of how hot-desking was more affordable than having your own office in one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world, but the added value of having a shared space that engendered “creative collisions” and a team of Hosts to build community was often lost on potential members.

Fast forward 7 years and the virtues of co-working are no longer being questioned. Co-working has become so mainstream that even corporates and established organisations have jumped on the bandwagon. And the trend is expected to continue, with the number of co-working spaces estimated to more than double in the next 5 years, reaching an incredible 30,000 spaces and 5.1 million members globally by 2022.

Without a doubt, co-working was the workspace innovation of the 2010’s. But the world of work is ever-changing and what worked in 2011 might not necessarily work in 2022 in a world fuelled by rapid technological and demographic changes. Co-working spaces, along with stand-alone offices, will have to adapt to a new reality, and address the following 5 major challenges in order to truly enable people to do super work:

1. Spaces for human excellence.

According to McKinsey, the AI and automation technologies that already exist can replace on average 45% of the tasks that we do. Even CEOs could have 20% of their working time automated. As a consequence the office will increasingly be a place that focuses on core and uniquely human activities (or what the World Economic Forum call 21st Century Competencies) like co-designing, shared sense-making and collaborative problem solving. Creating, and maintaining, an environment that is conducive to human excellence requires not only a well-designed space, but also active “hosting” of a collaborative culture through everyday interventions, from breakfast talks and lunchtime yoga to Randomised Coffee Trials.

2. Things are changing. Fast.

As technology and consumer demand change with increasing speed, so do organisations. In fact, companies undertake major organisational restructures with increasing frequency; from an average of every four years in the 90’s to every 2–3 years around the millenium. Yet, changes to the office environment tend to be a “one-off” investment capturing the organisational structure and culture in a specific moment, but sticking with it for years and years. A recent Oxford Economics study showed that only 40% of 500 European businesses surveyed had undertaken any formal workspace reconfigurations in the last 5 years. Hence we need to be able to make real-time changes to our physical environment alongside the organisational and technological changes that constantly impact what work we do and how.

3. Using data for Good.

The recent arrival of sensors in the workplace has received abundant, and sometimes negative, attention. There is no doubt that both technological and academic advancements in so-called social physics have given us unprecedented scope to analyse social interactions and their impacts in the workspace, whether through sensors embedded in name tags, in furniture or wristbands. But the real challenge is how to use that data in a collaborative and empowering way that provides positive impact on the organisation and its people. The EU-wide GDPR, the first major data protection regulation since 1995, is about to give citizens unprecedented access to their data, which provides an amazing opportunity for organisations to rethink how they collect, synthesise and put to good use the data they hold about their employees.

4. The networked organisation.

Organisations are increasingly acknowledging the value of networks and are applying a range of strategies to connect with partners and crowd talent. 
Co-location with other companies is one of these strategies, with 12% of co-working members now being corporate workers. But larger companies are also increasingly inviting others into their space and hosting startups, partners, consultants and freelancers within their own offices. This requires a networked approach that connects the people “on the books” with a range of external talent and builds cross-organisational culture and teams in new, innovative ways.

5. Wellbeing at work.

The workforce is becoming increasingly heterogeneous and by 2024 it will have become both older, more female and less white (see graph below). Hence our workspaces will need to cater to a diverse set of working styles, cultural backgrounds and physical abilities in order to keep people healthy and happy. Wellbeing in the workplace is not a one-size-fits-all solution and requires a series of targeted, and interconnected, interventions across the physical environment and daily culture, from healthy postures and eating habits to multi-faith rooms and fully accessible and gender sensitive spaces.

Let’s tackle this challenge. Together.

The five factors described above provide an enormous challenge for the future of workspaces — whether shared or individual. The requirements for the office of the future are well beyond what individual workspace managers currently have the capacity and capability to do, and will require a well-orchestrated and strategic effort from a range of actors working together.

This is an open invitation for collaborators to work with us to design, deliver and manage the workspaces of the future. 
Ping me at tim@superwork.me for a chat.