How To Convert Commercial Buildings Into a Co-Working Space Without Becoming One


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 The office building, from space wasting machine to money-making machine.

Back in architecture school, one of my first projects was to analyze "le familistère de Guise" by André Godin, circa 1858-1853. It was a series of buildings with a configuration of spaces inspired by the principles of people working together for mutual benefit.  To me, that inspiration was directly connected to the origins of architecture itself, the initial principle of which was to provide both shelter and a better way of living.

Those principles diverged when money became the motivator for design: to showcase power and wealth. We have that to thank for the beauty and grandeur in architecture which spread from empires to businesses and people as the ideal way of working and living, yet the new spaces were not accessible to everyone and promoted idleness, and an increased cost of operations and maintenance.

Today, our buildings still reflect that influence, but with the rise of information technology, current buildings seem to relate more to Godin's vision. Let's take the modern residential buildings and co-working spaces as examples of spaces where people have the opportunity to share, communicate and collaborate collectively.

Optimization is a popular concept these days, and has become synonymous with simplification and mutual benefit. Although technology is pushing the envelope of pretty much everything else, buildings are falling behind when it comes to adopting future thinking. Commercial buildings are where we spend 1/3 if not 1/2 of our lives, yet they are not designed to suit the personal or professional goals of people.

So how is adopting a new model beneficial for everyone?

The design of commercial buildings has lacked vision. Building owners and building management companies continue to search for ways for their properties to be more attractive to tenants while achieving profitability, but always playing to catch up can be very expensive -  even more so, when rules change at high speed. So let's apply future thinking in order to understand how commercial building and offices should be distributed, keeping in mind that inactive and idle spaces increase the cost of operations, affecting both building owners and tenants.

Let's go back to the drawing board to understand the basics of what matters to people, companies and owners, then proceed to design the future money-making machine, without hurting anyone in the process.

Let's look at supply and demand to understand what matters to everyone:

  • Owners invest in real estate to make money. High occupancy, cost optimizations and diverse monetization are important
  • Office tenants ideally need inspiring spaces to promote business development and to offer a great working environment for employees
  • People seek professional and personal growth in competitive working environments  

Now let's dig more into understanding the main purpose of every space:

  • Private offices: to maintain confidentiality of documents and communications
  • Meeting rooms: a space to discuss, communicate and negotiate company goals, (highly inactive)
  • Office space/desk: a space where people perform their duties 
  • Kitchen/Pantry /break room: a space to rest and disconnect. (highly inactive)
  • Waiting/reception areas: a space to greet and host visitors. (highly inactive)

So what does the future office space look like and where do we begin?

The idea is to take all spaces that are used on a temporary basis (highly inactive) out of the tenant space and convert them into public spaces that promote both personal and professional growth to all building occupants, while becoming new methods of monetization to building owners. Here is how we can do it:

- Conference rooms can be designed out of the offices, outfitted with the latest technology and accessible, on demand, to building occupants and outsiders; room sizes can also be articulated to accommodate any needs.

- Lunch rooms can be provided in the form of social lounges within the building, where employees can choose to bring their lunches, grab coffee or beer, buy snacks, meet and greet or simply do work.

- A main waiting area will reduce the need for such spaces inside the tenant area and have the potential to become spaces of social and cultural interaction.

- The new office space plan will focus on spaces that provide value and equality to employees: roomy, interactive spaces and different settings that will give people options to select where to do work.

Here are the benefits:

Owners/landlords:

  • Additional revenue models and higher occupancy
  • 3rd party partnership monetization potential through events and promotions.
  • Reduce loss factor, stand out and get deals close faster.
  • Attract great companies by providing a more compelling infrastructure
  • Become promoters of personal and professional growth to generate future leads
  • Attract sponsors and media to events

Office tenants / businesses:

  • Reduce cost of rent, construction, professional fees, operations, maintenance, insurance and office infrastructure
  • Provide employees with access to advanced technology at a fraction of the cost
  • Retain skilled employees by providing compelling working environments
  • Have access to best-in-class technology to aid corporate goals
  • Promote creativity and corporate culture by means of spaces that offer value
  • Promote products/services through exposure to an entire building community

Employees:

  • Exposure to events that promote personal and professional growth
  • Have access to forward-thinking technology and inspiring spaces
  • Take advantage of social activity happening within the building
  • Enjoy different working environments
  • Opportunity to interact, socialize, connect and collaborate within a broader ecosystem

Additionally, premium buildings will provide lounges with access to roof tops and outdoor patio areas, gyms, playrooms, meditation and music rooms, experimental interactive studios, training/class rooms etc. For some reason, a break inside the office doesn't feel like a break, so let's design spaces that really make people feel like they are disconnecting from the hour-to-hour activity, while giving them the opportunity to interact in a wider arena.

People like to have access to amenities without having to incur high costs, so the design of the commercial building and office of the future must focus on the things that matter to occupants.  After all, if people have great resources and infrastructure, it becomes an asset to companies, and their chances of employee retention and success potentially increase.

The office of the future should be designed as a manifest that addresses the interest of all occupants; owners motivated by making a great profit, tenants seeking to become more efficient by optimizing their spaces, and occupants enjoying much more hospitable working environments. 


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