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How to make collaborative workspaces work

As more and more vibrant, quirky collaborative working spaces are popping up around the country, Brian Andrews, Managing Director of Basepoint Business Centres, says that people, not props are the key ingredient to creating spaces where people want to work…

Gone are the days when trendy workspaces with technicolour slides and treehouses were just for Silicon Valley’s cutting-edge tech giants. Collaborative, flexible workspaces with funky fittings – often inspired by trendsetting themes – have been popping up across London for years and now they’re spreading beyond the capital to major cities like Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and Glasgow too.

A recent article in Property Week reported that the number of flexible workspaces in the UK grew by 11% in 2015-16, some of which is driven by the explosion in demand for these cutting-edge collaborative workspaces.

The expectations of a new wave of entrepreneurs and flexible workers have shifted beyond recognition since we opened our first offices two decades ago in Hampshire – and it’s clear that we as an industry need to respond to that seismic shift in how people want to spend their working day. Whilst for the foreseeable future there will remain a demand for individual, modern flexible office spaces, understanding the rising collaborative market will be key to the successful operation of business centres in future.

You only need to look at where our future customer base comes from, to find many of the universities and colleges they attend already have collaborative workspaces available. Having been used to the social interaction and ideas sharing these environments promote, not to mention the motivational boost from working alongside your peers, it’s no wonder the concept of a flexible collaborative workspace is rapidly growing in popularity.

Recognising why demand is growing is one thing, but how do you create the right workspace and adapt your sales and operational methods in order to attract this new generation of customers? Well, it’s important to understand that collaborative workspace isn’t just a shared workspace. The environment created needs to encourage collaboration, communication and sharing, and not just be a collection of desks in a large room. Variety in the working environment is important, which can be achieved by creating different ‘textures’ within the space perhaps using modern desking, soft seating, multimedia booths, ideas walls and other more quirky features. The latest technology and high-speed connectivity should also play a significant part.

Most importantly, you need to identify with the target market in order to attract them to your business. Gone are the days when every office worker left the house fully suited and booted; casual is the key to modern working. You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone working in modern, flexible collaborative workspace dressed in full business attire, as many live in an online world where the customer or follower interaction is rarely done face to face. Today’s collaborative workers already know what they want and will have researched what you offer to the nth degree, so there shouldn’t be any hard selling required. What they will expect is to be interacting with like-minded individuals, who understand the flexible working concept and have personalities attuned to their customer base.

The challenge we need to overcome is people’s mindsets. A boss of 50 today hasn’t been brought up in the fast-paced environment of today’s digital society and for them to get to grips with it is very difficult – and I include myself in that! We need to take people on a journey and present people with a variety of workspaces to suit all ages, industries and demographics.

At Basepoint, we’ve always believed in the community. Even though we have doors on our offices, it’s always been about pushing the door open to see if anyone wanted to engage. And that’s still our philosophy today. It’s all about the people. You can change the wallpaper and the layout and spend all the money you like on trendy fittings, but finding the right people will provide the magic ingredient that can really make collaborative working spaces work.