A New Generation of Maximalist Shared Workspaces Blend Experience with Enchantment
Author Byline: Kristen Tonsager, NCIDQ, head of interior design for Clutch Design Studio
Arriving in 2005, the coworking model of shared workspaces is still perceived by most as a rented desk in a sea of solopreneurs or temporary space for underfunded companies, but today it’s so much more than the cliche of ‘free coffee and beer on tap.’ After a decade overwhelmingly defined by a minimalist aesthetic with cool colors, millennial members, and startup mentality, new coworking spaces are taking a bold, maximalist, luxurious approach to the everyday featuring thoughtful design inspired by local influences and curated amenities tailored to individual locations.
Meant to infuse the workday with greater flexibility, enjoyment, and multifunctional spaces, this transformation within the shared workspace category toward saturated, experience-based design has resonated with a new population and more generations of workers. It has also helped new co-working spaces capitalize on demand created by the pandemic, as corporate offices extend remote work policies and more than 1.87 billion professionals are forecasted to seek coworking spaces by 2022*.
While copy-paste footprints and catalogue-order furniture can provide a consistent offering, the result can be an underwhelming, forgettable experience. A foundational element powering the coworking transformation is the feeling that a place can be inspired by its history and predecessors, but not anchored down by them.
New co-working spaces are drawing from those who have done this successfully in other areas of real estate in their communities. For example, designers for the award-winning reimagination of The Siren Hotel in Detroit didn’t lean too heavily on the city’s Industrial-era roots, but instead referenced the grandeur of its birth in the 1920s. Beautiful, rich colors line the walls in a luxurious variety of textures and materials. Velvet seats, rooftop views, and quaint, amenity-laden spaces on every floor remind visitors of a time and place filled with possibility.
As we look toward the boutique hotel as inspiration for the work space, we see that services and amenities are concierge-focused, “guest-first,” need- or demand-based, and flexible to allow for transition from day to evening (work to event) and accommodate the tasks in between in the most efficient footprint. This mix of hospitality, data-driven thinking and multifunctional space is also effective in coworking spaces whose tenants have likely chosen a space with a shorter commute and amenities that can provide not only support for the business, but the social amenity they are missing in the home office.
And it’s critical they do. Homeowners have swapped zip codes made possible by Zoom calls, favoring suburban, mountain and even rural locations in a grand urban exodus from major metropolitan destinations. This all points to the value of proximity — the ability to do the many aspects of life in overlapping fashion.
With the hospitality-focused mentality, shared workspace developers and designers are creating value- and experienced-based environments that are rich, inviting and embody that hotel lobby energy. Weaving in principles of biophilic design and wellness initiatives also help this new category of coworking spaces elevate above their competition and make the appeal to leave the corporate or home office that much more enticing.
Unlike the gloom-and-doom real estate trends facing traditional commercial office spaces, coworking square footage is still on track to increase more than 71% by 2025**. The most successful spaces will be tailored to members, taking into account the longevity or tenure it will serve them. Newly remote or flexible office professionals are seeking a space designed with them in mind. We’ve seen some of this member-centric transformation already with spaces dedicated to women, specific business types, and even a few focused on pet owners.
The next transformative frontier in shared workspaces combines the “drop-in” or hybrid spaces in hotels (usually next to the bar), restaurants and even gyms, with social clubs. The Battery San Francisco understands this well, merges all of these offerings in its flexible office, which is part of its members-only club. Seamlessly integrating coworking with curated events, fringe benefits, and an array of drinking and dining options, The Battery delivers a powerful mix of hospitality, community and spontaneity that keeps its members coming back and referring others.
Coworkers themselves are also maturing, often at a point in their careers where they’re in a company management position and able to work remotely as an integral part of the team, or leaving a Fortune 500 company to launch a consulting career — likely while also starting or raising families and taking on additional roles in their local community. Different shared workspace brands and models appeal to different demographics and changes in corporate office models.
“We’re seeing a number of memberships from dual-income households who find juggling their child’s remote learning within the workday nearly impossible, as well as from businesses that want flexibility for their employees,” said Grant Barnhill, who has completed some 40 projects in Denver over the last 30 years, and currently serves as founder/CEO of SHIFT Workspaces. “Our members want to work hard, they want to contribute to their communities, and they want to have fun doing it.”
At Clutch Design Studio, I worked with Barnhill on his most recent coworking project 20 minutes outside downtown Denver, amidst the agricultural lineage that still peppers the streets near downtown Littleton, Colo.
We paid homage to this lineage with our SHIFT Littleton design aesthetic through a thoughtfully crafted curation of materials, furniture and art, and a broadened net on the agricultural story. We sought to embrace the boutique hotel and members-only philosophies with an engaging experience that carries from the first step into the lobby to the office door and the shared spaces in between. It fosters a sense of comfort and, frankly, makes for a much easier transition coming into the workplace.
We were also interested in the idea of discovery, letting the space unfold and reveal itself to the guest the more she or he uses it. The library conference room features a full-size floor lamp in the shape of a horse, Oaxaca artist murals line the walls, and antique furniture pieces were given a new life and purpose within each room. While object and art curation is a primary focus at SHIFT Littleton, the design team prioritized intentional spaces that allowed for what Barnhill describes as “intuitive hospitality.”
“It’s a natural extension of caring about others to actually care for them,” he said. “We are a local B-Corp company that provides space and services to other local companies. We want our members to feel a holistic approach to their wellbeing, and give them a space where they can be creative, be productive, and also be supported and happier doing it.”
More and more, members will come for their day job and stay onsite for wellness offerings such as yoga, meditation, a colleague’s happy hour, or connecting with a potential partner. Massage, wellness and meditation rooms are some of the most commonly used spaces at SHIFT, but Barnhill says that has taken time.
Elaborating, Barnhill stated, “When members first join SHIFT, they generally start with a cordial greeting to the staff and head straight to their offices to work a full day. After a month, they start spending more time in the common spaces and are more likely to have an impromptu networking conversation or brainstorm. After a few more months, they start using the mediation room, attending or hosting events, shedding stress. There’s an understanding of what you put into the community you get 10x in return.”
While many coworking offices seem to be designed with a minimalist approach for the millennial guest, the reality is that setting begins to feel unfulfilling and weighted in expectations of scale, traction, and adoption, rather than rooted in the needs of the community. As an interior designer, I believe an inspiring space inspires new ideas, new thinking, new expectations — where we have more measurements for success.
Perhaps what we’ve been reminded of by The Siren Hotel, The Battery San Francisco and other maximalists experiences, is that spaces need a richness, a soul, a timeless quality, and a set of services that inspire and encourage possibility. Luxurious, high-level design is likely here to stay as professionals gravitate toward experiences that make them feel good, well, happy and known at a time when so much is unpredictable. The future of coworking is here, full of luxury, full of service amenities, full of intention, and the outputs created by professionals in these spaces will be felt for decades to come.
*IWG, 2020 Coworking Report
**Coworker, 2019 Special Coworking Insights