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Designing Spaces for Nomadic Workers (Like Me)

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Productivity is not one-size-fits-all. The mistaken belief of which has led to two main issues at many coworking spaces: boring spaces or the “frankensteining” of amenities and plans, custom deals, and confusing space policies for members.

It may be convenient and less expensive to have a uniform space with little in the way of variety, but it is incredibly boring and, for some of us, actually diminishes productivity and creativity in a significant way. On the other hand, piecemealing a space together becomes impossible to manage and confusing to prospects. But something needs to be done to accommodate those of us that don’t fit in boxes.

I’ll provide myself as an example.

I go through bouts where I’m “in the zone” on a project, where time flies by and I get lost in whatever I’m working on. This is known as a flow state. Other times I just can’t seem to focus at all. Until recently I hadn’t figured out what could be contributing to that but now I’ve realized that my location and the vibe of where I’m working are very important factors, but in a somewhat strange way.

It’s not as simple as saying, “If I’m at this place I work this way or do this kind of work.” Timing, mood, and productivity type all go into it. With these factors in mind, some days I’ll be more productive in a bustling environment where people are chatting and meeting, other days I need absolute silence and zero visual stimuli. Sometimes I just need to feel inspired.

My favorite coworking spaces provide me the opportunity to move around and change up my environment on a whim. Sometimes (even within the same day) I may want to sit on the couch, laptop rested on my knees, with my feet kicked up on a table or ottoman. Other times I might want more of a traditional desk with easily accessible outlets, an extra monitor, perhaps even a small partition to block out extraneous visual distractions. Still other times I may want to stand at a countertop and stretch my legs as I write or do research. I may even want to change my location altogether by dropping into a coffee shop, working outside, going home, or even visiting another coworking space.

I’m a nomad. And I’m not alone.

The solution, if you want to keep people like me around, is to design for fluid flexibility. A member’s transition between spaces (whether from the couch to a desk or between multiple locations) should not only be allowed, but even facilitated via signage, staff, and systems/policies. There should be nooks and crannies to explore and hide in. There should be designated quiet zones and phone call/collaboration areas. There should be inspiring decor.

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Let’s go over some great examples that you could employ yourself:

Instead of having private phone call booths, have a designated phone call/collaboration area. Yes, sometimes people need private space for sensitive calls, but most of the time members are only concerned about disturbing other members. What’s more, sometimes the phone call booths are all taken but a member still needs to take a call. If there’s a designated area with signage that says, “Phone calls are A-OK in this room,” there’s zero friction. Nobody can complain about the noise because the room is designed to be noisy.

Similarly, having a designated quiet area, where talking and calls are absolutely not permitted removes friction as well. Nobody is thinking, “it’s really quiet in here, but maybe I can get away with a short phone call,” because there’s literally a sign on the wall that says, “This is a quiet zone. That means if you’re reading this sign aloud, you’re doing it wrong. No talking ever!”

Install shutters, blinds, or this fancy option on office windows so office dwellers can opt in or out the visual stimuli of the main space.

Make sure you put some lounges in areas that aren’t a part of your main open space, somewhere in the back, possibly hidden to the naked eye, so that open space members can retreat into relaxed solitude. This also doubles as an impromptu meeting space if nobody else is using it.

And the holy grail, if you have the space and budget to pull it off, might be to install a secret library room with an entirely different vibe than the rest of the space. Something with mood lighting, bookshelves, and a globe bar (well, this is just my version of a happy space, but you can create one of your own with whatever you want). Maybe your version has sand on the floor and ocean noises playing in the background.

In my not-so-humble opinion, the entire point of a coworking space is flexibility, with environment, with people, and with commitment level. Space design is one critical component to this flexibility trinity, and it absolutely needs to be addressed early and with great forethought.


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