After observing this phenomenon and requesting feedback, he concluded that there wasn’t enough furniture. The open space was too open. When McElvey added more tables and chairs to create smaller groupings, "Literally, overnight change…." Couches were full. Standing tables became “offices” that drew people together. Developers, artists, designers and writers were starting to connect.
WeWork used a number of other design strategies to kindle social exchanges that often led to individuals or groups doing business together. Ashley Couch, Global Director of Interior Design, says that the design team began to pay attention to traffic patterns and spaces that would allow people to circulate. Bistro tables were tucked into landings on the open staircase. And design was also used to “force them into smaller spaces to stage interaction,” which improved the “flow and vibe” of conversation and collaboration.
Devin Vermeulen, Creative Director Physical Product, says, ”In terms of color and décor, we want our spaces to be warm, inviting and cozy like a living room, in order to make people feel at ease and comfortable while they work. Another crucial technique is biophilia, which is the human connection to nature. In addition to adding lots of plants and greenery, we use natural materials like wood, stone, and leather, which have proven to make people more creative, less stressed and more at ease.”
The lesson learned from the WeWork designers may be that design needs to provide cues for conversation and collaboration. The volume and shape of a space, the arrangement of furniture, must set the stage for human moments of connection in which one may feel vulnerable. Collaboration, after all, requires a willingness to speak up and toss out untested ideas. It may entail objecting to another’s ideas. London-based designer Ilse Crawford, principal of Studioilse and head of Man and Well-Being at the Design Academy Eindhoven, has pointed out that designing a collaborative space is not as simple as “having sweet sofas….” Rather, “It’s the working out if you like, the politics, the organization of how you have conversations. It’s having a common room rather than lots of conference rooms, which are ultimately rather confrontational.”
In order to create workspaces in which people feel connected, it’s important to consider—and experiment with—the organization, proximity and density of furniture within a space, as well as materials, finishes, lighting and other components. To bolster a sense of connection and community, a workspace might include:
- Communal tables that invite people to work together and to socialize.
- A variety of chairs, ottomans, stools and tables that can be moved around to accommodate groups of different sizes.
- Color blocking or contrasts of color, texture and matte/sheen finishes that serve to activate the space.
- Mid-to large-scale patterns, which are stimulating, especially when applied to a largescale element.
- Mobile screens positioned to create visual and/or auditory privacy.