This blog was first published in Dutch on Smart WP
Being a space manager comes with many responsibilities and one of them is of course the fit-out of the space itself. The best way to approach fit-out and coworkers’ needs in a coworking space is to listen and watch to see what they do. As Jeannine van der Linden, founder and manager of DeKamer, says: “People will hardly ever tell you what they want, and when they do it is often a thing they do not use. As a coworking space manager, you need to be observant enough to see what is missing, in order to find out what your coworkers need”.
That is why it is important to be conscious of the decisions you make when designing your space and deciding on your fit-outs.
According to David O’Coimin, creative director at Nook workspace pods, there are many things to keep in mind when setting up and designing a space. Chief among them, especially now, is that people want to feel safe – both physically and psychologically – in a space.
David says that “people differ neurologically. Some thrive in noisy environments, some prefer quiet areas and often the task (creative v administrative, solo or collaborative) can dictate the requirement from the space too.”
Quiet areas in a coworking space are a key, often missing ingredient. Many people want to make use of quiet areas, some because they get easily distracted when the environment is noisy and others simply because they prefer it. Humans are social beings, and interactions are nearly unavoidable in coworking spaces and so a quiet zone is ideal for those people who prefer to work without music and other auditory distractions.
When designing or reconfiguring your space, David says, it is important to keep quiet spaces in mind.
Jeannine agrees and says “design with your coworkers in mind. Don’t design it based on what you personally would like. Not all people want the coffee machine in the middle of the office or a copier right beside their desk.”
Place the quiet area away from high traffic zones, like near the bathroom, kitchen, or entrance. It is also important to make sure that all coworkers are aware that this area is a quiet area. Demarcating the area can be as simple as a sign on the wall.
Spaces need to feel safe
According to David, Neuroscientists in a renowned EU hospital report that in the past few years our brains have changed as a result of the isolation COVID caused. The average brain has been seen to demonstrate brain waves which are akin to that of somebody with mild PTSD. “That’s not people presenting with mental health issues or trauma, that’s average brains,” he clarifies.
This means that our sensitivity has on the whole increased. How we absorb information has changed. Spaces now need to be designed in a way that takes this into consideration. The one size fits all approach, which really only works well for extroverts, needs to be a thing of the past.
It is important to be wary of desk placements, for example, and to notice whether there are seating areas where people can sit with their backs to the wall. According to David, many people feel safer if they are able to sit with their backs to a wall. This is because, subconsciously, it protects someone from being approached unknowingly, and it allows them to ‘prospect’ safely over the area. Having that sense of control and ‘security’ allows people to feel more at ease when working.
The same can be said about communication regarding the maintenance of the space. Jeannine says that, for example, her coworking space makes use of a three-sided card that indicates if a desk has been cleaned, needs to be cleaned, or if the user will return.
This makes people feel that they can trust the space, that they know what is happening there. The pandemic is still in our midst, and those who are fearful of surface transmission of the virus can use the space knowing that the desk has been cleaned prior to their arrival. David and Jeannine both agree that a simple sign such as this can do the trick to help people relax and be able to focus on their work.
Make use of simple signs
In both aforementioned cases, signs helped communicate to coworkers. This shows the effectiveness of simple and inexpensive methods to use permission signalling to help coworkers. If people know what’s expected of them, it allows them to settle better, wasting zero valuable mindspace on anxiety in relation to expectations.
David says that signs are important for two reasons:
Signs create psychological safety. Coworkers are able to know what is happening in and around a space and it allows them to express their intentions.
Signs create permission signalling for others. This ensures that others are aware of what coworkers are signalling without them having to say a word. For example, those who make use of the quiet zone want to remain undisturbed.
Even when a coworking space is set out correctly and designed to the best of your abilities, people still need a means of communication to reassure them. Your sign can be as simple as a printout stuck together with tape, or as evolved as a piece of furniture with an innate purpose, such as a Nook pod.
At the end of the day communication is all about subtle signs, and having a clear indication of what should be expected from coworkers can greatly improve your fit-out and design of a space. It will also ensure that coworkers return to your space.