As we enter the final months of this year, each day seems even busier! Dealing with the realities of running a coworking operation means not only budgeting, and maintenance but also scrambling to get tenants locked in for another year of membership.  Then there is trying to find time to attend key events that our industry hosts, like the Global Workplace Association (GWA) Flexoffice 2018 Conference.

“I’ve got places to go and people to see!” has been our mantra, and we know whatever free time you have is precious.

That’s why we’ve put together 3 great insights from the industry pros on the panels where Upflex sat front and center at GWA in Austin last month.

Man working at a table with a lot of natural light coming in large windows.

Key Takeaways

1. Companies of all sizes love coworking

Companies of all sizes love coworking for a specific reason: it impacts the bottom line in numerous ways.

In the past, some smart companies embraced the movement to have the ability to leave a location quickly if things fell through or add space when hiring without uprooting from an existing location.

But today, savvy thought leaders, CEOs, HR directors, and consultants are including workplace flexibility solutions and design as part of their own 2019 plans, and not just to save on commercial real estate expenses.

It was made abundantly clear in everything we heard — corporations are seeing that coworking can and does make a positive impact on employee engagement and, thus, productivity. They’ve figured out that the workforce they want to hire and retain are looking for greater work-life balance.  They need to offer easily-deployed flexibility solutions to aid them in their effort to recruit/retain the best talent.  

If a company is looking to retain and recruit the best talent but hasn’t the deep pockets to custom build a campus like Google did out on the west coast, offering access to coworking locations whenever and wherever needed as an approved workplace option is the magic bullet (vs only letting staff chose from “home office”  or “corporate office.”)

But it’s not just about recruiting; many also want to ensure they are able to “get the most” out of their human capital resources and are eager to find the space design that helps employees be more productive.

Whatever the reason, whether they are building their own new offices or looking to avoid building their own new offices, the consensus is clear: employee engagement and productivity is a result of providing well-designed workspaces that reflect today’s workforce and their tastes, offering employees a variety of options about where to work.

By designing workspace better, people are happier and, wait for it… happier people produce and deliver consistently.  This concept is truly revolutionizing how companies treat their staff, and there are even awards for companies that offer unique benefits like workplace flexibility.

Experts at the GWA conference shared key findings on how space layout is important. Jerome Chang from BLANKSPACES and Todd Runkle from Gensler highlighted that employees do many tasks during the day and those who take time during the workday to unplug are 1.5 times more likely to report a great experience at work. So letting them have an area to unplug is key.

Companies also have to look at what employees do when not unplugged. There are 4 specific things to focus on, and really well designed workspaces understand this intimately and foster each of the 4 things we do at work.

  1. Focus is where we see productive “capital”
  2. Collaboration is where we generate innovative “capital”
  3. Learning is where we see the intellectual “capital”
  4. Socialization is where the value of social “capital” originates.

Diagram of four work modes: socialize, focus, collaborate, and learn.

Spaces laid out in ways that encourage and stimulate these four aspects of work are best, and deploying design around these nodes results in higher productivity and happiness. Coworking spaces know this, making them a perfect match for companies who understand these 4 distinct activities.

2.  Wellness / healthy lifestyles are exploding!

The buildings where we live, work, learn, and relax profoundly impact our health, well-being, and productivity. Every company wants their workplace to be a hotbed for success and know that they must view their workspace(s) as a driver of performance rather than just in terms of cost.

Companies today are keenly seeking to do everything they can to ensure employees’ environments are healthy and as a result are seeing improved productivity as a super side effect!  

Recognizing that  workspace is a way to support productivity defines organizational culture. When companies do things to align such a culture with their aims and objectives, it makes a big difference.

At GWA one fascinating session was a panel with 4 of the most influential thought leaders in the healthy working environment movement.  Between Jennifer Easton from the International WELL Building Institute, Lisa Skye-Hain of Primary, Bill Jacobson CEO of Boston’s Workbar group and Amy King of GoodWork US, the data was compelling.

Whether building a space, signing a lease somewhere, or letting staff work at whichever coworking location they want as part of their flexibility benefits package, companies around the world are taking a cue from the science behind wellness and productivity and for good reason.

There is a lot of research which reveals that companies who promote and protect workers’ health are among the most successful and competitive.  Workplaces that actively engage employees in all aspects of health, safety and environmental issues and positively respond to their opinions, views and concerns create a strong foundational base for success.

In particular a growing body of research shows that improving lighting, ventilation, and heat control improves workers’ performance, boosts their productivity, and even helps them sleep better at night. And developers and architects are starting to tout these benefits to potential tenants as a way to attract a higher caliber of employee — and get more work out of them.

The interest in healthy buildings is a natural extension of the green building industry.  In fact, the certification for a healthy building — called WELL — overlaps with a number of requirements for LEED-certified environmentally friendly buildings aimed at reducing a building’s greenhouse gas emissions and water and energy consumption.

Jennifer Easton from the International Building WELL Institute on the panel really opened eyes of attendees on so many factors and will surely be happy to blog in the future here for us about it.  (Stay tuned!)

In Austin, she shared that Professor Allen of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health research proved that working in an office with higher air quality and better ventilation can raise employees’ cognitive function scores; shifting to more blue-enriched light that mimics sunlight can lead to better sleep quality. Adding plants and using certain materials reduces stress and increase focus. She was riveting!

Based on the Harvard research, a $10 to $40 per employee per year investment to double the rate of outdoor air being circulated in a building ups the productivity of each person by several thousand dollars a year — and this doesn’t include the associated benefits of reduced absenteeism and fewer people suffering from “sick building” symptoms such as headaches and fatigue.

“Health, broadly speaking, is not a line item in the budget,” Allen said. But “when you start adding the health benefits, they far outweigh this cost.”

Just as point #1 above, this movement shows that design and layout, materials etc all play a huge role in productivity.  

So whether you run a company, an HR department or you run a coworking space,  the way the workplace is laid out, the materials used and the building’s aeration and lighting really impacts the way people do their jobs.

#3.  The Hospitality Industry where it’s at!

Everyone is blown away by the parallels between hotels and coworking spaces.  In particular, the hottest trend in hospitality is the boutique lifestyle movement, as was noted recently in Inc. magazine where they profiled BLLA — a group founded by Frances Kiradjian in 2009 when “boutique” was a new and barely-known concept.  With over 1,000 members, BLLA is a go-to source to educate and inspire the “world of boutique.

“Boutique now means more than just hotels. It’s an experience — and any industry can join the community. Boutique hospitality is at the forefront of integrating into other sectors like fashion, design, wellness, lifestyle and food & beverage.”

Look at what Industrious, Serendipity Labs, FueledCollective and other are doing to give the boutique feel to the workspace — it is clearly a thing!  Add to the realization that quality food and beverage options and amenities/facilities onsite increase the experience.

No doubt about it: the hospitality industry is moving into coworking. Think about all the real estate investment trusts (REITs) that have space! During GWA we, saw presentations about the impact of amenities and services on the bottom line; it is only a matter of time before hotels start to convert their lobbies or entire floors into coworking.

And as coworking spaces take inspiration from the hospitality industry (Concierge vs. Community Manager, et al) it’s only a matter of time before some of the most iconic hotel brands move into coworking all together and vice versa.

As lifestyle needs and tech advances change, more and more hotels are ditching the traditional business center model as they evolve to accommodate a new wave of mobile workers. Not only do these spaces open up hotels to new audiences and the community, but when charged with a fee they can be revenue generating, capitalising on existing space and activating profitable economies of scale. Revenue also filters out to other areas of the hotel such as restaurants, lobby shops, cafés, and more as visitors look to explore the facilities and remain under one roof.

A great example is the Hobo hotel in Stockholm which markets itself as not just a hotel but as a new design hotel that welcomes professionals as well as visitors. Its name is even based on the travelling lifestyle of 1930’s America, with ‘hobo’ meaning a thoughtfully aware and curious person who sees themselves as a world citizen.

Proudly displayed on the hotel website, Hobo is presented as ‘a meeting point, a workplace, an office or just a nice place to visit and hang out.’ It then says ‘and obviously you can stay here too. Check out our 201 amazing hotel rooms, all loaded up with handy gadgets you can borrow during your stay.’ The hotel also boasts a pop-up exhibition area (called SPACEby) for startups to showcase their products.

So you can see the cross hybrid between hotels and coworking is just beginning.

Top takeaway?

Everyone is looking at how to make their workforce/workplace happier, healthier and hipper… and smart coworking space owners/operators are not only being designed and built with new innovative materials and layouts, but are also welcoming in today’s workforce in ways never before considered.  By the hour, by the day, and by the week to ensure workplace flexibility for everyone. After all, with the massive adaption of Uber and Lyft, Netflix and Yelp, AirBnB and Pandora, being handcuffed to renting or buying traditional office space is so last decade. The idea of paying for only what you need when they need it and having brilliantly and scientifically created coworking space options is how work works now.

Last but not least: everyone is looking for a better work life balance. Smart companies and coworking owners alike are out to increase employee happiness and increase the bottom line  

If you’re looking for more insights from the conference, you can read up on the events at We’ll have more insights for you here on the Upflex blog next month.