Making work, work better

Do swings from the ceiling and Super Mario Kart have a place in today’s offices? We look at how office spaces have changed and why we’re kicking cubicles out the door for collaborative layouts and co-working hubs.

Office spaces were once a boring topic, but now as corporations continue their pursuit in making workspaces work better, office designs are more strategic, creative and inspirational than ever.

Two key approaches shaping workplaces are collaborative office designs for companies of all sizes and coworking spaces for the once isolated freelancers, startups and project-based workers.

The common goal between the two? Improve productivity, through collaboration.

Collaborative workspaces

Collaborative workspaces are based on the idea of creating work environments that encourage idea sharing. Layouts can be a mix of open plan desks, hot desks – unassigned desks where multiple staff will work over the course of a day/week – collaboration areas, casual meeting spaces, more formal meeting or presentation rooms and chill out zones.

Chill out zones could be as simple as comfy lounges in a conversational setting or as creative as bocce courts, arcade games, swings from the ceiling and running tracks around the office. The purpose? Low-pressure activity breaks conducted in short time periods can relax, refresh and rejuvenate employees and increase their productivity.

Colliers International Townsville’s Associate Director of Commercial Property Management, Malene Turner says collaborative workplace design has been popular in our metro markets for some time, but is catching on in Townsville.

“Most companies have already stepped away from the 1990s’ style cubicle farms to the 2000s’ open-plan offices, and over the past decade the office market has really been focused on, and excited by, collaborative workplace design,” says Malene.

“Open plan offices are still the norm in Australia, and in Townsville, but we are seeing more interest in flexible work environments – due to both tenant demand for office space conducive to collaboration and investors wanting their asset to be modern, attractive and competitive.”

Depending on the industry, collaborative workplace design can potentially reduce your office space requirement too as there is less storage and less clutter, more cloud and server-based operations, and hot desking means you need fewer desks than you have employees.

“Townsville will see more office fit-outs designed with collaboration in mind, as companies relocate, upgrade or downgrade,” predicts Malene. “Others though won’t wait and will implement the change as soon as financially viable.

“Collaboration is the future for how we work.”

111 workspace website

Co-working hubs

The idea of collaborative working also extends to freelancers and startups once disadvantaged from achieving the networking, mentoring and muscle-power of bigger companies. Coworking spaces resolve that issue by creating an ecosystem for like-minded sole-traders, small companies and project-based workers.

A 2013 Dexus Property Group report forecasts that by 2020 around half of the western workforce will be self-employed and increasingly working on a project-by-project basis.

It makes sense, when freelancers or startups are fragmented, they can struggle to get the momentum of their team-based peers. By creating a network, or an ecosystem of sorts, of like-minded sole-traders, small companies and project-based workers, these businesses can use each other to grow their businesses.

By working in a common space, coworking members can access opinions and feedback of like-minded startups, access mentors, networking, shared training and development, access high speed internet, impressive meeting rooms and discounted tech services. Some spaces also offer free tea, coffee, snacks and booze, others off brainstorming rooms with whiteboards on every wall, some offer free startup advice whether legal, accounting or design, and even onsite IT support. WeWork, the fastest growing coworking group in the world, even offers health care.

Members can hire team desks, hot desks or permanent desks, at various commitment levels – daily, monthly, casual, permanent monthly, part-time.

Coworking spaces are no new concept, having been around in some form since the mid-90s. “Coworking” in relation to workspace was coined in 1999, and the first global network came out of London in 2005, the first officially named ‘coworking space’ opened months later in San Francisco in 2005, and the concept has steamrolled from there.

A simple Google search shows there are 16 coworking hubs in Brisbane alone.

In Townsville, we have Sturt Business Centre, not a coworking hub, but an office-for-hire set up that offers hot desks, furnished private offices and virtual office services, as well as shared facilities – boardroom access, printing, mail, tea and coffee facilities and phone answering service.

Sturt Business Centre Principal Annette Elliss says the appeal of joining an office environment is affordability and professionalism.

“We give startups and sole-traders a legitimate office setting – that’s not their coffee table or home office,” says Annette. “That takes away the initial outlay and burden of a two or three year lease when they may just be testing the market.”

In its 11 years, Sturt Business Centre has hosted around 70 companies, with the average tenancy around two years, however Annette says one current client has been resident at the centre for 10 years.

“It’s really about create economies of scale; we make it affordable, professional and we also offer a professional network because not everyone enjoys working alone.”

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