Wellbeing is a hot topic amongst employers and space planners. Through considerate design and well-planned services it's possible to keep staff happier and ensure that they are less likely to be affected by the modern-day stresses of work. All the hip tech companies are investing in dog-friendly floors, sleep pods and juice bars, but what about coworking spaces? How are these hubs of independent workers creating wellness for their members? How can we provide wellness solutions to our communities?
altspace's first full time office opened in January 2017, following a two month design and build period. The design focused on encouraging interaction amongst our members, utilising natural light and taking advantage of creative furnishings.
After 12 months of running our shared hot-desking office I made the decision to expand our offering to a large 3,000 sq ft space that provided private offices and meeting rooms alongside a coworking area. However, there was one priority which was particularly tough to deliver. How could we keep the atmosphere and vibe of our original space while attempting to integrate small companies up to 6 people? The space needed to be social and inclusive to accommodate a diversity of workers and occupations. Perhaps more importantly, it had to empower remote workers to overcome the occasional sense of isolation that's a natural consequence of solitary connections via only email or Skype.
A recent article by Sage reported that although more than 90 percent of freelancers said they love being their own boss, 39 percent have reported experiencing loneliness, rising to 54 percent amongst 24-35 year olds.
This is why shared offices need to offer as many opportunities as possible for members to connect with one another.So we designed the space to specifically address this connection challenge.
The meeting spaces we’ve built encourage teleconferencing through a large AV setup that can be booked via the user area. That setup allows team members to connect virtually and in person, which helps them overcome the negative side effects of independent working.
Moreover, our kitchen is located in a central position and has a dining area and break out space with softer seating. Members can eat together, chat over a coffee or read during lunch breaks in this versatile floor space.
When designing the altspace’s U-shaped layout we opted to position the shared office space adjacent to the kitchen uniting the private offices and meeting rooms at the edges. This creates the need for users to move around the full office and facilitates casual encounters with others throughout the day.
Another design decision we’ve made to encourage connection was to knock down a wall providing more natural light to the workspace. All of our offices have glass walls to make the most of this abundance of natural light. A further benefit of this is that those working in the private offices feel like a part of the larger floor seeing the ebb and flow across the day. The positioning of bins, coat racks and pieces of art have also been carefully considered to facilitate meeting others.
We made the decision to locate in the heart of the town centre to encourage an improved work-life balance amongst our members. We're close to schools, parks and an amazing food and bar scene. Additionally, our social events such as bike rides, nights at the pub and yoga lessons have offered welcome diversion to the daily grind. Kayleigh, on of our members, is a yoga instructor and events manager. She appreciates mixing up her work day and finding the occasional time out. "We must know when to put down our phones and be in the moment with our children, partners and friends. This is especially important if you are self employed, because the line between life and work can very often become blurred and the temptation to just send one more email prevails."
By encouraging movement during the day we help to keep things fresh for workers which in turn leads to greater focus when required. Kayleigh champions having the ability to work in different areas of the space or take advantage of the town centre. "If I can find a space, I love to break out and do a little yoga practice – some stretches and back bends to wake up my body. It's always great to get outside in the fresh air for a short walk too – a change of scenery and maybe a gossip with a friend on the phone or with a coworker is the key to breaking up the working day and staring at a laptop for hours!"
We’ve hosted a large number of speakers in the office this year for free talks. Other than the fact that we love hosting them, offering local business people the opportunity to learn and be inspired by their peers promotes lateral thinking and greater job satisfaction. There have been talks on social media, legal advice, technology and branding. In fact, we recently brought the Google Digital Garage team out to Altrincham to host an event. These opportunities to learn or hear an inspiring local business story can really lift spirits and offer much needed variety to people's day jobs.
One of our founding members, Jack Henriques, enjoys the opportunity to meet a wide mix of people. His appreciation of coworking will resonate with those who visit welcoming, cosmopolitan offices. "I like how there's a core group of people who are there regularly, but always new people coming in and out too. It's lively enough that it's sociable, but not so lively you can't get any work done."
Future plans for altspace involve more relationships with local businesses to offer hospitality, accommodation and childcare. By helping reduce any pressure points for business people, we believe we can promote positive work practices and help them recognise the wellness benefits of being part of a coworking community. In the end, we believe it’s the very human need to share experiences and stories that unites us all and ensures that we keep work and life interesting.
Founder and all-round do-er at altspace Coworking Office in Altrincham.