Co-working spaces have evolved from shared spaces in a downtown loft to sophisticated, highly flexible office environments, where attention to design and the latest co-working trends separate the best from the rest.
The concept of a co-working space has come a long way since the phrase was first coined back in 2005 by American Brad Neuberg, to describe the communal space he set up in his San Francisco loft apartment, to which he invited fellow freelancers to casually pull in, use and share.
Fast forward nearly 15 years later, and co-working spaces have evolved into sophisticated plug-and-play environments with all the convenience of traditional office space, but less of the ties that bind, particularly financially.
Based across Johannesburg, and with a recent expansion to Mauritius, The Business Exchange has been redefining the co-working space in South Africa. Its CEO, David Seinker, believes that the financial flexibility co-working spaces offer is the main attraction: “There are no obligations to sign leases with big real estate companies, no FICA requirements to meet, and no huge outlay in terms of capital equipment. It’s up to the co-working company to provide all of these, along with all the other essentials running a business requires from internet connectivity, right through to board rooms and even reception services.”
Originally the realm of creatives, professionals from across numerous economic sectors are now seeking out co-working environments, from stand-alone entrepreneurs to companies with a full staff complement - all looking for the most flexible options that make the best business sense.
The result is the emergence of a new set of trends in office environments, as co-working spaces compete to attract and maximise the experience for co-working converts: “The global momentum towards co-working is resulting in exciting innovations around sharing space,” says Seinker. “It’s evolving fast, and it’s important for operators of these spaces to keep abreast of these shifts.”
Among these are a number of key trends Seinker places high on his own top-three list of “must haves” for his co-working space business, The Business Exchange, and its members:
1. Embracing design
Effective co-working space is about far more than providing a desk space; it’s also about providing an overall environment into which entrepreneurs and corporate clients feel proud to welcome their clients, and which complements their own brand image. “It really pays to work with a professional interior designer who understands research-based, cutting-edge office design in terms not only of the actual work areas - including their flexibility and flow - but the areas ‘in-between’, where people can break away from their desks for more casual encounters with their clients. Or for networking with other co-workers,” says Seinker. Statement art pieces, a variety of indoor plants, lots of natural light and excellent soundproofing that enables optimal acoustics also speak to good design.
2. Staying in step with technology and sustainability
Entrepreneurs, in particular, are seldom clock-watchers, and the flexibility to come and go as they please is a vital consideration when choosing an ideal co-working space, particularly for those who increasingly have clients in different time zones. Apart from the usual technological requirements such as seamless, high-speed internet connectivity and access to facilities such as video conferencing, biometric access allows people to work 24/7 as does good lighting controlled by motion sensors. The latter also speaks to sustainability – another important consideration for a conscientious workforce, along with water-saving devices, mechanisms for recycling and the use of renewable materials – all of which speak towards reducing the carbon footprint.
3. Healthy is happy
It’s crucial to incorporate elements of wellbeing into shared work environments, believes Seinker, enabling occupants to maintain a balance between their physical and mental health. Break-away spaces that promote wellbeing are important and can include coffee and lounge areas where both clients and the co-working community who share a space are able to come together. The provision of facilities such as a gym and showers are another. However, a top trend these days is to also incorporate as much greenery as possible in the workspace to “connect” the indoors to nature. “Research has shown that a variety of well-maintained plants in the work environment helps to improve concentration and focus, problem solving and spark creative thinking,” says Seinker. “And think beyond just plants; the sound of running water, windows that look out onto green spaces, large landscapes hung on the wall and organic shapes in furniture all add a connection to the natural world.”