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Global Boom in Co-working Spaces

What will offices look like in the future? What kind of environment will the younger generation want to work in?

These questions are being answered by the incredible rate at which ‘co-working’ spaces are coming up all over the world. Former warehouses, department stores, banks, even factories are being repurposed as collaborative workspaces. The concepts for these shared offices are as diverse as the people using them. And that’s the reason why the influence of co-working on workplace design will be the focal point of Orgatec, the leading trade fair for the modern working world, this year in Germany. To be held during 23–27 October in Cologne, Orgatec will no longer be limited to simple exhibition of desks, pedestals and the like. The exhibits will instead reflect the culture of work, work processes and forward-looking office concepts.

“There is growing demand for creative, inspiring spaces that do not look like a traditional office environment,” states Michael Schmutzer, founder of Design Offices, Germany’s largest provider of co-working spaces. Schmutzer believes that this topic is a key issue. At the last Orgatec he had partnered with interior designers brandherm+krumrey to present a modular concept called ‘Co-working Lobby’. This concept responds to the growing need for new modes of working by providing a quick way to give existing office spaces an update. Well-established companies in particular are choosing to create co-working spaces when re-designing their head offices.

For a long time, co-working was synonymous with networking in inexpensive workspaces. To begin with, it was mainly freelancers and start-ups who showed a preference for shared office spaces. Today, increasing numbers of large corporations are also pursuing the value added by collaboration. “Corporate co-working is the future for many companies. It is an especially good model for those companies that wish to become more innovative,” says Klaus-Peter Stiefel, one of the authors of a study published by Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering last year. An online questionnaire asked companies about the extent to which corporate co-working can help to stimulate innovation at their business. The majority of respondents rated the opportunities associated with co-working as being greater than the risks.
By the end of 2018, 1.7 million people will be working in just under 19,000 co-working spaces around the world, according to findings of a recent survey by the online magazine deskmag. In light of the co-working boom in recent years, many people see this model as the future of the workplace. In Germany and other countries, co-working federations have been established as a way of helping this format – a combination of office sharing, lounge and business club – to spread even more widely. Nevertheless, the business model is not without its problems. Levels of success vary from region to region and even in large cities, those running co-working spaces are cross-financing them with cafes and event spaces. Professional international co-working chains, however, are experiencing a boom. There are also high levels of demand for collaborative modes of work when restructuring well-established companies.

But what are the implications for office design if employees are always re-selecting their working environment to suit their mood and activities? One thing is clear: The design requirements are more demanding than those for normal, standardised offices. “On the one hand, co-working spaces thrive on having a characteristic look and feel. On the other hand, the intensive, ever-changing nature of the work done in these spaces creates unique challenges in terms of furnishings,” says Rudolf Pütz, managing director of specialist office furniture producer Vitra. For this reason he suggests that the key cornerstones for profitable co-working spaces are a high degree of flexibility, high quality and classic, timeless design styles. Instead of the traditional ensemble consisting of a desk, office chair and mobile pedestal, many manufacturers are now offering modular, multifunctional furniture systems that adapt to changing requirements.

The upcoming Orgatec trade fair will shed light on how co-working and other collaborative office concepts are changing the work environment. It will present forward-looking solutions for modern workplaces, as international exhibitors will display new products and present inspiring ideas ranging from furniture, flooring and acoustics to lighting, media technology and IT. Since there is still constant demand for new forms of collaboration, the topic of co-working will also be addressed in the events programme at the show.

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