Coworking: The Evolution of the Way We Work

The idea of coworking — flexible environments where individuals and companies can share resources, ideas, and knowledge — has been around for a long time. The coworking movement gained popularity after Belgium-based multinational corporation Regus was founded in 1989, when it established massive success around a set of core values that reflected a generic, one-size-fits-all mentality for the workplace. Their beliefs “[enabled] people and businesses to work where they want, when they want, and how they want.”

This ideology has persisted throughout the years, with well-known companies such as WeWork presenting similar solutions for all types of individuals, entrepreneurs, and even multibillion dollar companies. Both Regus and WeWork offer everything from spaces for 1-30 people with shared amenities, to office suites for over 30 people with private amenities, to full floor plans with reconfigurable capabilities. These can be rented through pay-as-you-go or long-term leasing options.

Coworking environments allow for all entities to be more self-directed, collaborative, and versatile in their work: sharing a workspace brings people together of all expertise who otherwise may not interact. This knowledge has transformed the ways our workforce thinks, evolving coworking from a novel concept to a more standardized way of being. Since more and more companies are adopting this method, design teams are discovering new needs from tenants and end-users. Once sought-after generic offerings are now transitioning to more customized and specialized spaces that still offer the same benefits of a coworking environment.

Coworking example at SmartLabs designed by SMMA.

Shifting Ideologies

There are a handful of SMMA’s clientele, including a few Fortune 500 companies, that are discovering the advantages of coworking while making the shift from generic to specialized spaces. For larger companies, working in an office space outside of their headquarters not only saves them money, but also expands their networking opportunities for creating new partnerships, finding new talent, and meeting potential clients of their own.

With larger teams of people using coworking spaces, the need for a stronger sense of identity and culture grows. SMMA client SmartLabs has already implemented a coworking blueprint while still retaining its unique brand and business model. Amrit Chaudhuri, CEO and co-founder of SmartLabs, explained the importance of his company’s branding to while also expressing his continued support of growth and offerings for the biotech and life sciences tenants he serves: “Meeting the challenges of innovation calls for a new kind of lab: one that is more agile and adaptable than ever before […] That’s why we felt it was time our name reflects the spirit of our transformational lab design and our mission to accelerate our clients’ potential.”

SMMA worked closely with Amrit to help him design and create SmartLabs’ three new locations within the heart of Massachusett's biotech communities in Cambridge, Brighton, and Boston’s Seaport District. Amrit and his partners shared a vision to ensure that the SmartLabs model provided research scientists with a pharmaceutical-grade research environment that would allow them to start innovating as soon as day one. Their buildings offer everything from innovation suites, scaling lab suites, coworking office spaces, maker spaces, vivariums, and common spaces.
  • Coworking example at Z-Park in Cambridge, designed by SMMA.
  • Coworking example at Z-Park in Cambridge, designed by SMMA.

Coworking for Business

SMMA also worked closely with Z-Park, a company providing similar cooperative work environments to startups, corporations, and research institutions. Their main East Coast office, also located in Cambridge, MA, provides multiple coworking office suites across three floors. The first floor, which serves as their reception and feature floor, incorporates an event space for common use that can hold up to 300 people and has movable partitions. It also has a VIP space designated for Z-Park’s business executives. The rest of the floors, which are also structured with demountable and movable parts, accommodate private office suites, open desking, enclosed private rooms for common use, and shared amenity spaces.

Coworking example at Z-Park in Cambridge, designed by SMMA.
Unlike their predecessors, both SmartLabs and Z-Park gear themselves towards a specific community and/or population. Their environments allow the individuals and companies leasing the spaces to be surrounded by peers of similar services and interests, providing an overall sense of unity and ownership despite it not being a permanent office location.
The evolution of coworking in the workplace.

Adapting to a Modern Workforce

While still offering the essentials of coworking, designers and owners can accomplish a more specialized experience by catering to specific communities and providing a front door for tenant branding, signage, and privacy. Other coworking companies have already recognized this need and are emerging for every kind of niche audience: for example, one notable coworking company named Girlboss opened in 2014 and designated its coworking model specifically for women.

The evolution of coworking in the workplace.

At the end of the day, coworking is the way all workplaces and audiences work best. It minimizes administrative and operational issues, eases the implementation of IT infrastructure and security, removes construction and permitting issues for tenants, and provides the flexibility for tenants to adjust their needs over time without a long-term commitment. Most importantly, it fosters human interaction, especially for the one-person, independent companies — even if it just means working alone, together.