Towards a super human workspace

Why the future of the office is to optimise humans, not real estate

Co-written by Tim Ahrensbach and Indy Johar

Introduction

When co-working first started in the mid 2000’s, it was intended as a tool to help entrepreneurs scale their impact by providing a supportive, collaborative space that would help them do their best work. We know this, because we were part of the movement. In the following 15 years, co-working has grown to become a global phenomenon. But over time the very nature of co-working has changed and in a world of ever-rising real estate prices it is increasingly becoming a tool for optimising real estate, rather than optimising people. With SuperWork, we’re on a mission to change this.

From workspaces that optimise real estate…

Co-working has taken the world of office real estate by storm — its footprint growing at a staggering rate of 22% over the last 7 years vs. the 1% growth rate of traditional office space. And this to a degree that WeWork, undoubtedly the biggest provider of such services, has now become the second largest office occupier in London and the third largest in New York.

In the early years, the success of co-working spaces was primarily attributed to the global growth of the startup sector. But more recently, the industry has been fuelled by established organisations, keen to create more porosity around themselves and engage with startups and potential partners, but also to diversify geographically and provide their people with more options from where to work, without the additional cost of operating these spaces themselves. Indeed, 65% of US companies expect to use co-working as part of their office portfolio by 2020.

Outsourcing workspace operations makes perfect sense. It provides tenants with considerable flexibility and minimises risk; it allows them to focus on their core mission rather than being distracted by the daily running of a physical space; and of course, it can help to create financial efficiencies too.

As a result of its popularity, co-working as an approach is moving in-house. In 2017 WeWork announced the launch of their consultancy arm “Powered by We”, which will provide corporates with 1000+ staff with the co-working space experience in their own offices. The proposition is easy — due to its economies of scale, as well as the substantial data that it holds on space usage and management, WeWork is able to help clients reduce costs by providing a workspace that is more efficient and requires less resources to run. According to Wired, it heralds its main benefits as being able to “draw from its increasingly sophisticated data to insure that enterprise clients get the most productivity possible for the least amount of money” — citing the example of helping a Chicago-based company reduce its footprint from three to two floors.

But what if — the future of workspace wasn’t about optimising real estate to the financial benefit of tenants and landlords, but instead to optimise humans to truly flourish and take pride in what they do?

…To workspaces that optimise humans

As mentioned in a previous blog, we believe that the future of workspaces will be driven by a series of factors (including AI, globalisation and the continued need to innovate even faster) — all of which will ultimately require us to re-think the workspace as a platform for human excellence — by which we mean a place that focuses on the skills and activities that make us uniquely human, including collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and complex problem-solving. It will also need to be a place that proactively supports people’s health and wellbeing and which fuels people’s sense of purpose, continuous learning and personal fulfilment.

Creating the right conditions for these outcomes requires a carefully designed and integrated series of interventions across several domains, including physical space, operations and culture. Traditionally, companies have tended to specialise in one of these areas, but we believe that it is in the aggregation of these services that the true opportunity lies, as architecture can’t be conceived separately from the activities that will happen in the space and vice versa. Over the past ten years we have applied this approach to help organisations, from startups to charities to corporates, leverage their workspace to help them achieve their mission.

We believe the time has come to take the next step and build an approach which is iterative and informed by data, where we can work closely with our clients to continuously, and in real time, set and achieve tangible outcomes defined by quantifiable metrics.

It is for this reason that we’re developing SuperWork.

Workspaces for Super Work

With SuperWork we’re on a mission to help organisations rethink their real estate as more than a commodity, and instead as a vehicle for them to optimise their biggest asset, their people. We will do this by designing, delivering and managing the integration of space, culture and operations in the workplace in order to create the conditions for people to do super work.

Core to our approach is the fact that it is a subscription service, which allows us to iterate and evolve our methodology to the continued benefit of our client and their people. For this it has to be informed by data, and we are currently working on a bespoke interface that will collect data from several third party data-points across the digital, physical, subjective and environmental domains. This data will give us insight into how our interventions are shaping the agreed outcomes, from innovation and motivation to health and wellbeing, defined by quantifiable KPIs, thereby allowing us to constantly learn and improve (see our methodology diagram below for details).

Our approach — click HERE to download our White Paper

This approach also enables us to create an outcome-driven contract with our client linked to specific KPIs. For instance, based on a baseline of data related to say, peer-interactions, employee retention or work satisfaction, we could set quantified improvements to each of these as a contractual target. This type of smart contracting links the idea of rent not only to the locational value of an office, but also the continuous performative impact on employees, hence radically overhauling how workspace management and all associated services will be delivered.

This abundance of insights provide us with an amazing opportunity to learn and improve, but also poses the risk of data being used to negatively monitor individual employees. This requires us to act as a data fire wall between employees and management, only sharing data on an aggregate and team level, while also ensuring that the way that data is collected and stored does not compromise issues of security and privacy. This includes providing a two-layer data collecting and processing network; one local, with its own ring-fenced data and associated ethical data framework, and another across multiple sites which is completely anonymised and allows us to analyse and learn from data at a large scale. Hence an ethical AI and data framework which reinforces our mission to genuinely enable people to be their best selves at work, rather than squeeze individual productivity, is at the very core of how we operate.

Let’s work together to make this reality

Not unlike the co-working revolution of the previous decade, the next major workspace innovation has the potential of radically disrupting the world of office real estate at a global scale. Hence there’s no doubt that the next step is going to be a big one. But if we pull it off, we hope to fundamentally change what it means to go to work and to help unleash the creative, collaborative, analytical, innovative, passionate and truly human potential that lies in all of us. And to do this we need great collaborators. Take a look at our White Paper and ping us at tim@superwork.me and indy@superwork.me if you’d like to partner with us.