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Cows in NY

We recently blogged about one of our most exciting design projects, a co-working space called Huckletree in the trendy Farringdon area of London. In New York it seems that a similar concept of communal work space has been multiplying faster than rabbits in spring. There are now more than 70 co-working establishments spread throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn, ranging from just a handful of desks to multi-floor towers. In visiting some I was struck by the common themes of sustainability, user comfort, and sociability touted by each of the sales reps I met.  Whether it was from ample soft seating areas with current magazines, to fancy coffee machines with free local organic milk, and complimentary snacks, sweets and sometimes even beer on tap, these ideas were straight from the design pages of San Francisco tech-world companies much written about in the press.

I like to question whether we should view this style of centralized, communal office space rental as better for our wellbeing? What is it that the new generation of workers – millenials – are looking for in a place of work? And where and how far will this trend go?

Pleasingly, it is obvious that millenials expect more from their workplace in terms of addressing their wellbeing. A recent survey by Deloitte established that among Millenials (and particularly females) employee wellbeing was more of a priority than their own growth, development or personal financial rewards.

One of the most millennial companies in the world, Facebook, employed Frank Gehry to create their new space in, which houses 2,800 staffers on one enormous open-plan floor. While the design includes every point on the millennial wellbeing checklist, a critique by the Wall Street Journal digs at its long-term sympathy for employees productivity and peace of mind: “The open layout enforces a perpetually visible, public persona where lone wolves tend not to thrive, and that may exhaust even highly sociable staff. At what point does such a work culture become too invasive?”

Back in New York, shared space has extended to the residential market: Common is a new flexible, community-driven housing project providing fully furnished, month-to-month memberships containing both live/work spaces. Aimed at “creatives”, the company invites you to “experience bohemian energy, cultural diversity, and strong community vibe.” I’m in no doubt that this is bohemia created by a corporate body, and am skeptical of its success. Is this what we all aspire to? To live and work in the same space, surrounded by an ebb and flow of others? I think the WSJ might have a point!

Of course realizing the full extent of the common, relaxed working environment is not going to be suitable for all industries, and adding a few ping-pong tables is not truly addressing the fundamentals of designing for wellbeing, yet there are many good takeways that more formal working environments can use to their benefit.  What is most important is for employers and designers to consider the needs and desires of their staff, and that wellbeing and satisfaction at work is not just linked to profitability and financial reward, nor following the latest trends.

If you would like help designing your workplace (co-working or traditional) with wellbeing in mind, get in touch with us.