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News & opinion

19 MAR 2018

The role of technology in managing co-workplaces

Changes in working environments are well documented – a more mobile workforce, a more connected workforce, and the continued blurring of the boundaries between work and home life. The exponential rise of co-working spaces is testament to the growing appeal of workspaces that are able to flex to accommodate these changing needs.

For the built environment sector, where practices often need to expand or contract rapidly depending on the status of projects, the option to hire or discard extra space on as little as one month’s notice, would seem to have an obvious appeal.

We spoke with Helen Santer, executive director at Build Studios, about the role of technology in co-working spaces.

Challenges of co-working spaces in the built environment sector

Despite the rapid growth of shared workspace, there is as yet no sense that the market is becoming saturated. Current occupancy rates of 98% on fixed work stations after only eight months of trading are testament to this. As workspace gets ever more expensive, particularly in city centre locations, more companies are likely to turn to co-working as a solution to their space requirements.

They can create great spaces for collaboration and knowledge sharing. Indeed, this is a core aim of Build Studios, a co-working space that hosts businesses solely from within the built environment sector – with surveyors sitting alongside architects, engineers, interior designers, developers and planners.

However, co-working spaces are not without their challenges and those designed specifically for built environment professionals are of no exception.

1. Space design

Issues such as where, in a small space, to accommodate private phone calls and people’s need for quiet work, break-out areas and simply somewhere to eat lunch, can present a real challenge to architects and building managers.

2. Confidentiality and intellectual property

An open plan workspace full of companies all pitching for the same projects feels like a potentially toxic recipe. However, ensuring that businesses with complementary, rather than competing, specialisms are able to sit alongside each other, is a way of proactively dealing with this challenge.

3. The ‘hard copy’ nature of the built environment sector

The working practices within different elements of the built environment sector differ and this has an impact on the design and layout necessary for co-working spaces for built environment professionals. This is still a sector that, despite the growth of tech, can be unavoidably ‘hard copy’ at times – 3D models, paper plans and materials samples are firmly rooted in the profession and it is hard to imagine a time when we see a paperless architects practice.

Balancing the needs of some for large storage and layout spaces, with digital specialists wanting space for enormous computer screens can be a challenge for designers wanting to create a homogenous workspace and building managers wanting to create a simple charging structure.

It has been encouraging to witness the conversations between members, often starting informally, that have already started to lead to collaboration on projects.

Helen Santer

How can technology help improve co-working spaces?

Technology is improving building management. For example, it is now possible to digitally map multiple devices and sensors within a building on a single platform. At its most simple, this can involve the positioning of low-cost sensors around the space that can monitor temperature and CO2 levels, but such systems can also integrate with the building management system to monitor how individual systems and devices are performing.

Benefits of real-time data in building management include:

  • improving the quality of experience for tenants
  • reducing operating costs for property owners
  • identifying a niggle in a system before it turns into a disruptive (and expensive) major malfunction.

Data overload?

With so many benefits, why then is technology not yet being fully utilised?

Without clear systems for reporting these issues to the facilities management teams and appropriate resources to remedy the issues when identified, building managers can start to feel under siege with information but without the necessary tools to remedy the problem.

Perhaps more needs to be done to persuade the users at the coal-face of the benefits of this type of tech – early reporting of issues means quicker resolution and fewer grumpy tenants!

The future of shared workspaces

Some may initially join a co-working space unwillingly – preferring the idea of a lockable four walls to call their own – but the financial benefits are compelling. However, for co-working to really become the first choice rather than the back-up plan, more needs to be done to address some of its down-sides; specifically the need for calm and private workspace alongside a collaborative and creative environment.

In the meantime, co-working spaces remain heavily reliant on the good will and mutual respect of tenants and the efforts of highly personable workspace managers, with the ability to anticipate issues before they arise and proactively manage the needs of individual tenants and teams to iron out some of the challenges of multiple companies sharing space.

Or in other words, the ability to talk to each other, as humans and grown-ups. And there’s no amount of tech that can ever be a substitute for that.