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Designing & Building Successful Co-Working Spaces

Like mentioned in my previous blog, co-working spaces are becoming increasingly popular in the United States. Although Europe has been ahead of the game when it comes to fostering a healthy work environment for individuals who don’t work a standard in-office, 9-to-5 type of job, the United States is in no way behind in terms of innovation. New co-working spaces popping up in major cities, like New York, Denver, and San Francisco, are demonstrating how to be more than just “a space to work together”. These spaces are being designed and built in such a way that creativity, collaboration and productivity aren’t just cultivated – they’re actually given the environment and community they need to thrive.

So, what are some elements that you should take into consideration if you’re thinking about designing and building a co-working space?

1. Get Connected. Create a co-working space that allows for people to connect to the internet with as much speed as possible via Wi-Fi and hardwire. For some people, a Wi-Fi-only co-working space isn’t as appealing as it might sound. When designing a co-working space, ensure that gives access to both types of connections.

2. Provide Options. Different types of work require different types of settings. And, work for everyone who uses your space might change from day-to-day. It’s important to offer options for people to choose from as needed – dedicated desks for focused work, library or co-working tables for coffee-shop work, and even small offices for private meetings and phone calls.

3. Offer Storage. The best co-working spaces give people a place to store the items they don’t need while working, like workout gear or after-work clothes. When designing your co-working space, be sure to include a locked storage space for members who would want to take advantage of that courtesy.

4. Consider Dimensions. The dimensions of your co-working space need to be just right in order for people to actually enjoy what they came to do: work. In most instances, you’ll want to opt for higher ceilings (ideally a minimum of 10 to 15 feet) and co-working desks that are at least 3 feet wide by 2 feet deep. If you want to offer dedicated desks for members, these should be at least 2 feet by 5 feet. Larger multi-person work stations are often built to be 6 feet by 6 feet with filing cabinets and storage built-in below.

5. Create a Courtyard. If you want your co-working space to be a place that people really enjoy working at, then you need to create some sort of indoor or outdoor courtyard in your design. This open space, which is ideally centrally located and connected to the main work areas, drastically improves the overall environment. It gives people a sense of community because it’s a great opportunity to mingle – if everyone is stuck at desks, you’re not creating much of a chance for workers to get to know each other. Including a garage door near this area is perfect for bringing in food trucks and creating a cool, relaxed social space during events.

6. Think “Neighborhood”. You want your co-working space to be designed with “neighborhoods” or pockets – not just one big park. The most attractive co-working spaces are the ones that have specific areas for people. Just like certain neighborhoods appeal to certain people at specific times in their lives, your co-working space should have an opportunity for everyone to feel like they belong.

7. Personal Touches. Popular co-working spaces always have a great personality. Whether you choose specific art and lighting or design elements like plants, consider the “vibe” you want workers to experience the moment they walk in. While you don’t want your space to feel overwhelming or chaotic, you absolutely want to avoid anything that feels impersonal or mass-produced.

8. Lots of Light. The more natural light your co-working space has, the more popular it will be (and you can charge more, too). When possible, design your space with as many windows and opportunities for natural light. While it’s tempting to put all your office spaces at the windows, it’s important to leave a lot of the natural light for your co-working spaces too. Glass walls or walls of windows are popular choices for current designs, but be sure you know your audience before you invest in that style. Too much light and not enough privacy can be an issue for some workers, so it is important to control transparency.

9. Be Convenient. Don’t overlook conveniences in your co-working space, such as a place for members to print, receive mail, enjoy coffee, etc. There should also be a plethora of outlets for people using your co-working space, as it’s not strange for people to need or want to plug in several different devices at once. Being convenient in location doesn’t hurt, either.

One of the most important factors of designing and building a great co-working space is knowing who you’re creating your space for. Don’t just choose elements because they seem cool or because you’re under the impression that they’re “what’s in” right now. Your space needs to be appealing visually, yes, but also practical – that’s the only way you’ll keep members in the long-run.

Co-Working: The Future of Small Business Workspace

The concept of co-working spaces originally started on the West Coast in the mid-2000’s, driven by tech-focused start-ups. Breaking through the traditional, cubicle, 9-5 mindset has started to spread geographically and across industries. We now see a wide variety of professionals sitting alongside the traditional coders, web developers, and freelance designers within a co-working space. And co-working isn’t just for individual users, you can also find entire companies within the same walls. This environment and concept is perfect for small start-ups or people who work remote.

When compared to finding a traditional office space, a co-working space has a lot to offer:

  • Low-cost, flexible model – offering a start-up something they couldn’t afford while they are just getting going with short-term commitments and simple leases.
  • Community of like-minded people – broadening your connections within your community and increasing chances for collaboration outside of your current organization.
  • Change of scenery – something new and refreshing from the common office or home office setting to spark creativity.
  • Hive-Mentality – some comforts of home while providing the connectivity and convenience of an office.

When it comes to the design of an effective, efficient, and successful environment, there are several elements to keep in mind that are specific and unique to co-working:

  • Flexibility – Choose furniture that can be pulled together and scooted around easily, increasing the ability for users to create their own private work area or group collaboration spaces. Also think about elements of the space that could benefit from having movable walls – like an area that could be a small conference room by day but then open into one big room by night. A stage in the middle of a large room is a great example of an area that could be used two totally different ways. Also make sure your furniture is sized appropriately – you’d like to have room for a keyboard, monitor, monitor, keyboard so that people can work across from each other.
  • Definition of Space – You will need a variety of work environments in a co-working space to properly accommodate for the variety of users. This could mean suites for larger groups of people within one company, small and large conference rooms, private booths, open spaces with pockets of different furniture, and the list could go on. You will want to provide structure so that people can use the space in ways that are best for them on any given day. A user may need to focus privately by themselves one day and then chat in small groups the next.
  • Atmosphere – You want this type of space to feel homey, cozy, and relaxed. Bring in a mix of furniture you’d find in your living room, local artwork, and finishes you’d use in your own home. Keep in mind that most of your users will be from different types of backgrounds and cultures, so it is important to create a space welcoming to all. Creating a “coffee shop” or “café” space within the building can help to define an area as highly conversational, organically creating a separation from the “quiet zones” and a social hub without having to set strict rules.
  • Technology – This may be the most important, but most often forgotten aspect of co-working! The building needs to be equipped with the highest internet speed possible, tech that allows for video conferencing, and pervasive wi-fi coverage for user mobility. Work cannot go on without technology to support the people within the space.
  • Events – while the day-to-day business of a co-working space is the steady income, having a space that is available for large meetings, community events, and other functions (i.e.: weddings – you’d be surprised, but it happens!) will provide an additional stream of income as well as introduce a whole new group of people to your business. And experiencing the space in person is a much better way to attract new users than any other form of marketing you can do.

If you are thinking of taking the plunge and opening or renovating a co-working space, feel free to reach out to us!

Q&A Session with Eddie Layton

All of us have something special about ourselves, a small claim to fame. For Eddie Layton, Project Architect, he was a University of Virginia Scavhunt Marshmallow Peep Eating Contest Champion. But he hasn’t let the glory from his victory go to his head.

 

 

Tell me about yourself.
I grew up in rural southern Virginia. I received my undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and my masters from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. I married my high school sweetheart, Brittney, while in grad school, and we graduated together in 2009.

We graduated in the middle of the recession, so I took a job with a grocery store in Raleigh, North Carolina for a year and a half. During that time, I learned a lot about management and working as a team for a greater good. It translated well when I got my first job with a small architecture firm. That firm was eventually bought out by Gensler, the largest architecture firm in the world. We literally went from a firm of four to 3,000 overnight—it was definitely an interesting transition.

What brought you to Indiana?
Brittney and I wanted to be closer to family. She had grown up all around Indiana and still has a lot of family in the North Indianapolis and Kokomo areas. Our son, Liam, was nearly three at the time, and we had talked about expanding our family. It made sense to make the move. I worked at Gensler on Friday, made the drive to Indianapolis on Saturday, and started at Schmidt Associates on Monday.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Indy?
I am still finding hidden gems, but I really enjoy the Canal and the Circle. They are such unique, urban aspects to the city. We didn’t have anything like them in Raleigh.

And the family?
Brittney had some health issues while she was pregnant with Liam. As a result, we decided we wanted to expand our family with adoption through fostering. We had just completed the training necessary when we decided to move from North Carolina. We have started the process in Indiana and look forward to the next chapter.

We also have two cats, Woodstock and George. Woodstock came with his name, but Liam named George. Apparently he wasn’t worried about naming a female cat George. But those cats are so patient with Liam. He will literally mop the floor with Woodstock, and he still comes back to Liam for more. We try to discourage mopping of floors with cats, but it’s a hard concept for a four-year-old.

What do you do in your free time?
Currently I am coaching Liam’s soccer team (3-4 year-olds). I never played soccer growing up, but I know the basics of the game. It has been an interesting experience of herding cats and maintaining their attention for 45 minutes to an hour.

What inspires you?
My father-in-law taught me to always leave things in a better state than you found them. It’s a way to approach life, and also a great opportunity to approach clients and projects. The satisfaction of making things better for our clients is hard to match.

Do you keep anything special at your desk?
I have a hand-carved Maya wooden face mask that Brittney brought back for me from her anthropological field research in Guatemala. It’s slightly creepy but very cool!

If you want to know more about Eddie, check out his bio.

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Also learn about Sarah HempsteadTricia SmithCharlie WilsonTom NeffJoe RedarDave JonesPatricia BrantLiam KeeslingSayo AdesiyakanBen BainAsia CoffeeEric BroemelMatt Durbin, and Kevin Shelley

Eat Your Frog First

It is true in many of life’s situations, it is often wise to plan for more than you may need. Take pizza for example. You may plan to have five friends join you for dinner, or you may end up having ten friends show up. It’s best to order enough for ten people and have leftovers than it is to plan for five and not have enough food. You wouldn’t want hungry guests. Plus, who doesn’t like extra pizza?

In the design and construction world though, it’s typically best to not have leftovers when it comes to classrooms, study areas, or office space. You also certainly don’t want to come up short. As your designer and trusted advisor, we are here to help you plan for the exact space you will need in your new construction or renovation projects.

So how does one ensure that their project ends up hitting that happy balance of meeting all the needs without going over the top and ending up with leftovers? It begins with planning, thinking ahead, and anticipating issues. We often notice that our Owners can easily run into the conundrum of waiting too long during the design process to speak up about their space needs or issues that arise. Unfortunately, while we are very experienced in what we do and can anticipate a great number of issues and guide an owner through them, we are not mind readers. Often an owner either doesn’t really know how much space they are going to need, they push it off because they are afraid to overestimate based on preliminary numbers and growth projections, or any other reason that may table the discussion until a later date. If you are adding on to your existing building to accommodate for predicted growth, it is important to let us know those numbers well before design is underway, even if it is only a very rough estimate at the time.

We follow the great Mark Twain saying here around the Schmidt offices to “eat your frog first”. If you have a daunting task to accomplish or a mistake to own up to (the frog), do it right away. Don’t let the frog sit on your plate and just stare at it – get it over with. You may not want to commit to something with incomplete information, but take a best (conservative) guess. Avoiding the frog for too long will only allow issues to grow, making it even more difficult to face once you are forced to.

As an owner, waiting too long to tell the design team about your space needs could impact:

  • Timeline – an already-tight schedule wasn’t created with late design changes in mind. Reworking plans to fit in more space than originally discussed will take some time to get it right.
  • Budget – it is easier to design for more than you need, knowing you may need to back space out of the project, than it is to add things later in the process when the budget is tight.
  • Quality of work – if a job is rushed, the quality is always at risk. Allowing the design team to take the time necessary for your changes will balance out that risk.

To set a realistic timeline, maximize your dollars, and assure high quality of work, you may need to begin working with a designer before your concrete idea exists. Getting us involved during the planning process will help to ensure you are on the right path, maximizing your resources, and finishing with a project you love!

When Architects and Engineers Live Under One Roof

Maybe it is stating the obvious, but A/E firms (Architect/Engineer) function differently than firms comprised of only architects or only engineers. As an A/E firm ourselves, we think that a combined force of architects and engineers will function fundamentally better. And by “better”, we choose efficiency, convenience, and quality as our units of measurement. Two project staff members tell us their opinion on the benefits, to us and clients, of having architects and engineers working under one roof. We chose to talk with them specifically because they have previously worked for a single discipline firm prior to joining Schmidt Associates.

Eddie Layton, AIA, LEEP AP

Project Architect

Charlie Wilson, CPD, LEED AP

Associate, Project Manager, and Design Engineer

 

Familiarity

After you work on a few projects together, talk to them during the lunch hour, or grab a drink after work on Friday, architects and engineers get to know each other on a personal as well as a professional level. You know their communication style, strengths, and personality traits. You know more about their workloads and what other projects they are currently working on. You learn what the architect or engineer needs from you, sometimes before they even ask. Going back to efficiency, getting familiar with your project team adds up to saved time and money. And who doesn’t like saving time and money?

When you aren’t in the same office, it can feel like your team is starting all over again with strangers, with a steep learning curve each time. You may work with the same architecture or engineering team from another company a few times, but you aren’t always guaranteed a consistent group. This makes it hard to deliver a project with the same amount of proficiency as you could with a team you are already accustomed to working with.

Technically speaking

Having architects and engineers working on the same network is a huge time saver. Eddie can sync his architectural model and Charlie can reload the changes instantly in his engineering model. If he were to be working with an outside firm, it could be a week before there was another pre-determined data transfer. This is especially critical in the final phases of a project, where a delay could cause the team to miss a deadline, or produce un-coordinated drawings, causing issues during construction, including cost increases or schedule delays.

It’s not just at the end of a project where time is saved either. Often architects are working on a project long before engineers get heavily involved, and the ability to quickly walk over and ask, “how much space will you need for your equipment?”, or “are we way out of line with our equipment budget estimate for this project?” is invaluable during the early phases of design. In a more “traditional” setting, these conversations might not happen until much later down the road, after an owner has already fallen in love with a potential design, only to learn that it’s not possible because of space or financial constraints.

Communication happens across the room, not virtually

Being able to walk right across the room to talk to the architect or engineer is the biggest benefit of your team working under one roof. If you were to ever pop in our office and see how we work, this would be apparent. We have architects working near architects and engineers working near engineers, but the only real separation from the two worlds is a 30-second walk.

We utilize an imbedded office design so key project teams, both architects and engineers, sit together. You might change desks every few months based on your project workload. This team orientation improves the quality and quantity of team communication. If an issue arises during the design process, we don’t have to wait for a call to be answered or someone to respond to our email. That type of communication can take hours or days to resolve a problem, something impossible when it comes to crunch time. The faster an issue is resolved, upfront and before construction, the better result for our clients.

If your architects and engineers aren’t under one roof, that 30-second walk to have a face-to-face conversation turns into something virtual, something less personal and instantaneous. When working through technical, complex architectural or engineering questions, having someone a few desks away is a big advantage.

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The better we work together, the better result for the client. Working with an A/E firm means that you are putting your trust into a team of people who have the same office culture, increasing consistency. But as always, there are pros and cons to any situation. Your project may better be suited to have architects from X company and engineers from Y company because those two firms are experts in specific areas that can bring a benefit to your unique project.

 

 

 

The Evolution of a Meeting

Since the beginning of social civilization, people have held meetings in some form or another. One could argue the first “meetings” were held around a campfire, discussing a tribes’ plans for the next season and where they would move. Over time, as humans settled and formed cities, these meetings moved into a room. The technological revolution of the past 60 years however, has had a drastic impact on how humans meet and interact inside and outside of these rooms.

the-evolution-of-a-meeting

FROM THE PAST TO THE FUTURE

Technology has been one of the biggest driving forces behind change in our society. It is evident when looking back throughout history and when looking ahead to the future. From the health field to the design world, and into people’s everyday lives, evolving technology has made a huge impact: one way or another. It changes the way we learn, communicate, work, and play. There is less face-to-face interaction and more face-to-screen conversations today. Anyone who walks down a busy street and counts how many people are looking at their smartphones could attest to this.

This face-to-screen aspect has a significant impact on how we design spaces. We’ve noticed a trend across all project types, particularly workplace and education. There is a want/need for specific technology to allow for some form of virtual meetings. Video conferences, instant messaging, screen sharing, and note transfers are just a few non-traditional meeting options technologies now brings to the table. Like anything else, there will always be advantages and disadvantages to these digital meetings:

Pros 

  • Saves time and money on travel. Between traveling costs, mileage, and possibly even hotels, a simple long-distance meeting can rack up big bucks and take hours. Technology allows businesses and schools to put that money toward something else on the list because they saved money on travel.
  • Your geographical range can expand. It is a lot simpler to meet with someone across the world if you just tap in via video conferences. Even if there is a 12-hour time difference. One less reason to hold back on expansions for your business.
  • Everyone can feel connected. Whether it is connecting long-distance employees/clients to a project more directly or allowing a sick student to conference into class instead of missing out on a lesson, using technology has a way of bringing people together to make them feel included.
  • Meetings can happen more frequently. Due to the costs of travelling, meetings would often be more sporadic and for longer periods of time. Now, you can hold a standing weekly hour-long meeting with individuals all around the world rather than traveling to one meeting every six.

Cons

  • Can be hard to read the people on the other end. Not everyone is set up with capabilities to video conference in. This makes it impossible to read body language and make direct eye contact.
  • It is expensive! It isn’t a secret that high-tech comes with a high price tag.
  • There can always be glitches that come along with technology. Jumping on an important conference call 20 minutes late because your conferencing system was having a technical problem can be frustrating.

In the past, there have been many design solutions to attempt to overcome these cons, and bring us back to the human interaction that started with that first meeting around a campfire. Several companies have developed possible solutions that were specifically designed to counter-act the inherent disconnect of looking at someone on a screen rather than physically sitting across the table from them. These “telepresence” rooms often try to recreate an in-person meeting room, through a variety of visual gimmicks such as curved tables or half of a table with a screen at the end, but these often fall flat. Furthermore, with fixed furniture, there is not much of an option to use this room for anything other than virtual meetings.

With the development of larger, thinner, and higher resolution display screens, we are approaching a time that has often been the subject of science fiction movies: wall surfaces become virtual displays, 360-degree virtual reality cameras recreating any location, holograms, etc. It does not seem like such a far-fetched idea now that you could have multiple people meeting in a “virtual” conference room, looking at the person on a screen as if they are sitting next to you. The flexibility of not being tied to a specific piece of furniture or specific set of technology frees the end user to use this room in a multiple of ways.

The biggest hurdle to this is going to be the cost and continuous development always spitting out the next “big thing”. However, designing around an idea rather than a specific product could help alleviate some concerns, so new technology could be swapped into an existing room without a complete redesign. There is no perfect answer at this point to making the virtual meeting as effective as those first “meetings” around a campfire from the human perspective, but change is coming. And with each new development, we step incrementally closer to achieving that goal.