Why Coworking Promotes Coordinated Free Time — and Why It’s Good For You

Last month, the New York Times published an op-ed titled You Don’t Need More Free Time. The writer polled more than 500,000 respondents about their day-to-day emotions and found, week after week, the same unsurprising pattern: people’s feelings of well-being closely tracked the workweek. They were at their lowest Monday through Thursday, and highest on Saturday and Sunday. Interestingly, this data was true for people regardless of profession or whether they even had a job, suggesting that in order for free time to be valuable, it must coincide with the free time of others.

The author concludes that this points to a key flaw in the work-life argument: “Over the past few years, many workplaces have looked for ways to create more flexibility in individual work schedules… a disadvantage of these efforts is that they may lead us even further from a weekend-like system of coordinated social time.”

But reading this, I can’t help but think of how things are shifting.

In the last several decades, most people were working roughly the same hours — 9 to 5, Monday through Friday — and if you weren’t on schedule with the majority of Americans, you were likely to feel like you were bowling alone. But that is becoming less and less common. Today, it isn’t unusual for someone to work on Saturday morning and leave early on Wednesday. Technology gives us that freedom, and — regardless of whether it’s a good thing — companies are taking advantage of it. As far back as a 2011 study, 85 percent of companies were already allowing remote work — workplaces are adapting to the new workforce.

Choosing a job in which time and location are flexible may occasionally take us out of sync with others, but it also helps us create the schedule we want — maybe one that allows us to coach our kids’ soccer team or to spend an extra day in Florida with our spouses.

And while a flexible job may take us out of sync with some, it can put us in sync with others. The coworking culture is designed to promote social interaction. From our experience, the lab cafe, work bar, and work lounge, plus events and meet-ups, help remote workers make connections with people who have similarly flexible schedules.

If you can choose where and when to work, and you have friends and peers that do the same, then why live for Saturday over every other day?

New Year’s Resolution #2: Be More Mindful at Work

Multi-tasking has become embedded in the way we live and the way we work.

There’s the work we’re doing at our desks; a steady stream of texts, email alerts and reminders from our colleagues; and of course the realization toward the end of the workday that the transition to home life requires our attention.

The continuous task-saturation ultimately make us less efficientless happy, and more stressed. And over time, that stress can become a problem for our productivity and health.

That’s where mindfulness comes in.

Mindfulness is, “the intentional, accepting and nonjudgemental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment.”

In other words, mindfulness teaches us how to go from having one foot in the now and the other in a long list of external,  persistent stresses to focusing all your energy on the task at hand.


Why mindfulness matters at work

You are at your professional best when your work has your full attention.

The workplace is filled with distractions — dissonance between different personalities and working styles, deadlines, expectations, and egos — and they deplete our time and energy, only to leave an air of negativity in their wake.

We lose up to 40% of our productivity to scattered thinking and working.

By shifting our focus to the present moment, mindfulness helps us stay focused, be a better leader, make decisions more clearly, diffuse high-stress situations, and makes aware of what triggers stress so we can develop a healthier response to it.


How to integrate mindfulness into your work

Every day, carve out 10 to 20 minutes to follow these tips adapted from The Buddha Walks into the Office:

  • When frustrated or distracted from your work, remind yourself of the intention behind your work. Ask yourself: why do you do what you do?
  • Don’t obsess over other people’s actions or affairs. When you do, bring your mind back to the present, and ask yourself what about the situation bothers you. What can you be doing to resolve that internal conflict?
  • Let go of needing to get the last word in at meetings.
  • Don’t expect praise for the work you do. Work sincerely, honestly, and free of expectations from others; you will be open to pleasant surprises.
  • Speak to everyone with equal respect. No one is different, regardless of seniority.
  • Be generous: whether lending an ear or offering a fresh set of eyes on a paper, offer to help colleagues and give them your undivided attention when you do.
  • Practice patience, especially with your most difficult colleagues.
  • Master meditative concentration: Cut down on multitasking and bring yourself entirely to whatever is directly in front of you; maintain awareness during conflict, and you will navigate it more effectively.
  • Listen — really listen — to others.
  • Instead of jumping in and trying to fix a problem, allow yourself time to contemplate and see what sits with you. Then act.
  • Don’t take yourself or your job too seriously. Handle pressures with gentleness and humor — especially amid tension and aggression.
  • Remember that all parties share one thing in common: basic goodness.


Try these out and tag #SeekingSerendipity to let us know if you see an improvement in your work life.

New Year, New Worklife

New Year’s Resolution #1: Make Flexible Work A Reality

As we enter a new year, we make promises for a better life — for professional successes, for stronger relationships with loved ones and with ourselves, for more happiness this year than the one before.

I think it’s safe to say that a significant portion of that happiness can be attributed to our work lives. We spend 35% of our lives at work or performing work-related tasks, and with the increased accessibility that technology gives employers, that number will likely increase.

That’s why we at Serendipity Labs are challenging ourselves — and you — to make a set of New Year’s resolutions for your work life. Over the course of the month, we’ll discuss new ways we can strive for and attain a better relationship with work. And we’d like you to join us.

The first goal: Make flexible work a reality.

Like you, we have to juggle our work commitments with personal ones. Parents have to ensure that their kids arrive at school and back home safely and that they spend quality time together in between; families take on the responsibility to care for elders or relatives with health challenges.

This has presented us with a lot of choices: to be a reliable parent or employee, to have a satisfying career or relationship. In 2016, we’ll face similar choices, but this time we seek to make them a little easier.

Earlier this year, the Scottish Government was among the first to adopt a program that promotes discussions about flexible workplace policies, marking a huge stride in the changing work-life structure. The plan should make it easier for employees to address the often taboo topic of how to make their professional lives fit their personal lives.

You might now be thinking to yourself that this would never happen in your office. After all, this is America, not Scotland.

But as a coworking space that’s supported almost entirely by the joint commitment that employers and employees have to each other, we recognize that employees are powerful. Employers benefit from having happy, motivated employees. When a company takes measures to ensure that its employees are happy, it has a higher retention rate; it gains a reputation for taking care of the people who work there, and therefore becomes more attractive to outsiders.

That said, in 2016 we’d like to take a cue from Scotland by getting vocal about the following workplace perceptions:

1. That the more hours one works or spends in the office is indicative of how serious the employee is

2. That flexible work is conversely related to professional advancement

Here’s where the challenge sets in:

Those who are benefitting from flexible working arrangements: share your experience. Get active on social media and to talk about how your quality of work and life have been affected by the change.

Those who desire more flexibility: we challenge you to investigate your options, talk to your HR department, and offer your experiences to your social network.

When you discover something new, have successes or setbacks, share your experience with us using the hashtag #SeekingSerendipity on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We’re eager to hear how it goes.

Happy working!


The Residential Coworking Experience

Residential Coworking has Arrived

Cranes are back in the skylines and new residential towers are being built to attract millennial buyers.   These buyers’ value 6×16 vibrancy, organic/sleek designs, and a sense of community, social responsibility, sustainability and work life balance.    To compete, developers are creating so-called live-work-play experiences with amenities and services like fitness centers, dedicated zip car services and now work lounges.  As a result of these common amenities, owners actually require less and less living space and developers achieve a higher returns on the real estate.

Workers, who are increasingly independent, are driving live-work-play amenity demand.  The IDRC projects that up to 60% off US knowledge workers will be independent by 2020.  Workplace mobility and ubiquitous technical connectivity mean that work is increasingly ‘activity based’, rather than location-based.    Work has become a set of activities that are integrated into life, rather than a confined to a specific space and time.   The 9-5 block of time at the headquarters office is a 20th century relic.    By integrating work, live, play into residential living, occupants have more flexibility and control over how, when, where and if they work.

So why not just work from an 650sf apartment? Workers say they would rather not work from home, citing lack of peer equity, social exclusion, distraction, interruption and lack of a setting conducive to work.   Enter Serendipity Labs, with vibrant work lounges, meeting rooms, private workspaces, and convivial coworking settings, technology and concierge services all delivered as a world-class hospitality brand.

It’s indisputable now that work and the concept of workplace have changed forever.   Knowledge workers and work processes have been liberated from the ancient constraints of time and place.   They are reshaping the real estate world from the outside in.  The best developers and property owners are heeding the call for designs that serve the new class of untethered worker.

The 37 story Centro Miami residential tower being built by Newgard Group in downtown Miami is nearing completion. Newgard has partnered with Serendipity Labs to integrate a full coworking offering on two floors, with street level access and a private elevator to add value to the residential experience. The amenity set also includes a rooftop pool, car-share lane, hip restaurant, social lounge and of course fitness area with views.

Eye on Corporate Coworking

Corporate workplace executives now have an eye on coworking as a platform for corporate innovation .   They often start by asking: “What exactly is coworking?” To answer broadly, the term “coworking” refers to any facility that commercially delivers workplace membership as a service.   How to use coworking as a platform for corporate innovation depends on the category of coworking offering.

There are three categories of coworking:

  1. Private Coworking: This means a private members-only workplace facility. Access is only given to a specific group, like company employees in a company, tenants of an office building,  owners in a condominium tower, or registered guests in a hotel.
  1. Public Coworking: This means a workplace offering access to the public. Access is subject only to house rules and payment of a fee, like a day pass or monthly membership.
  1. Permeable Coworking: This is a Private Coworking facility that allows some outsiders in, subject to specific rules. For example, Zappos Headquarters in Las Vegas is experimenting with bringing the public deeper and deeper into their headquarters to work for enhanced vibrancy, energy and opportunities for serendipitous interactions.

Permeable coworking can be pretty scary to most large companies because there’s a perception of risk to security and intellectual property. Part of successfully using coworking for corporate innovation is knowing how and when to use the platform. If used correctly, allowing corporate employees to become coworking members can support various flavors and intensities of innovation; ideation, strategic planning, and special projects or just engagement with a community of innovators through special event programming, workshops and seminars.

Most large companies still perceive coworking spaces as being primarily for startups.  While this is certainly one kind of coworking experience, more corporate-friendly coworking settings like Serendipity Labs are available, where corporate compliance and security are highly valued and corporate employees are welcome.

Executive suites, like Regus, are generally not considered coworking, since they offer mostly individual office rentals and little or no event programming or community building .    This isolation and lack of peer interaction is not “working alone together in a community,” as most coworking communities like to say, but more akin to working alone… alone. This isolation is not a recipe for innovation in anyone’s book. Conversely, in a coworking setting innovation sparks because community, discussion, and brainstorming opportunities are readily available.

To envision a world of corporate coworking success, imagine that key contributors don’t get pulled out of the meetings; imagine the end of windowless hotel meeting rooms; imagine no more skirted hotel banquet tables and sweaty water pitchers. Instead, imagine a technology rich, idea rich, environment.  Coworking is an on demand- innovation platform.

With coworking facilities now opening in most markets, its a ready alternative for supporting corporate innovation.  To get started, it’s as easy as Googling “coworking” and taking a tour or attending an event to find the right ones for your company’s innovation program. Select some internal groups to test this out the next time someone is looking at a training center or hotel meeting space to innovate and, instead, give a coworking space a try.


Trends in Hospitality: Revving Up Workplace Services

Photo: http://www.lot-ek.com/SPACIOUS-co-working-hotel | LOT-EK Image

The need to satisfy the demands of smaller business groups has prompted leading hotel brands to capitalize on the coworking trend by creating more purpose-built workplace and meeting spaces.

A recent study from New York University’s Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management states that business travelers are looking for something more than the ability to work from their rooms, and that they are also lukewarm to the idea of working from a small, low-impact business center (which is usually full anyway). Several leading hotel brands are taking this idea one step further, by creating more purpose-built workplace and meeting space offerings. Enter coworking. Offering coworking also solves another challenge for hotels: delivering exceptional small meetings. Large business hotels are great at ballroom-sized events, however, they have a tough time delivering much more than sweaty water pitchers and skirted tables to groups of under 25 attendees.   A move toward satisfying the needs of smaller business groups has prompted hospitality brands to offer co-working style amenities, such as media-enabled studios and work-lounges.  More are sure to follow as business travelers increasingly choose to stay at hotels based on the need to maintain momentum while on the road.

Call it “The Next Generation of Office Space,” or “Office 2.0.”  It is the evolving concept of the contemporary office – where some people arrive, work, and leave on a schedule – while others work remotely, and it is changing the traditional work/life paradigm. Put simply, the office is no longer a stagnant destination, but a mobile information environment that travels with the worker and enables full productivity integrated with all aspects of one’s lifestyle.
“Office 2.0” will have an impact that will extend beyond mere work, and weave itself into the fabric of everyday life.

Which hotel has the best workspace?

Coworking as a fully integrated service within hotels is still on its way to market…Asking about favorite hotel workspaces is like asking whether I prefer using a Blackberry or a Treo.  So far, most hotels are still offering the “flip-phones” of workspace, limited features and awkward designs.    But workplaces delivered as a true hospitality service, designed with the sensitivity and style of an iPhone are certainly coming soon. Coworking amenities are the future of the hospitality industry as customer expectations increase.

Google’s Galapagos

Google’s Galapagos:

Why Insular Headquarters Projects will Spur Echo-Chamber Innovation

Any school kid knows that Apple and Google are the cool kids of tech companies.  School kids also know about the Galapagos Islands and that isolation from the world drove its spectacular variations in evolution. Unfortunately for pink iguanas and for companies, evolution in isolation can become an existential threat outside of their natural habitat, no matter how brilliant.

Ironically, Google just shared plans for a reimagined headquarters campus (rendering above), sealed in a climate controlled bubble, with movable buildings, self-driving cars, and indoor waterfalls that would make Willy Wonka blush.   While there is little doubt that Google can realize this vision, one has to question whether building such an isolated corporate island can be good for innovation in the long run.  With Googlers repeating the same ideas to each other, and without the serendipitous cross-pollination by people and their ideas from the outside world, Google could be building the world’s largest and most spectacular corporate echo-chamber.

Dubbed Apple 2.0, Apple’s own corporate island is now under construction (rendering below), with its symbolic circular design, it is bent on supporting secrecy and security.  Its inward-facing structure, although elegant, could just as easily represent a navel to gaze upon with infinite, self-indulging curiosity.
Apple HQ

Meanwhile, 120 million mobile US workers are choosing where and when they work more than 20% of the time, and collaborating and connecting how they choose. They are voting against centralized suburban headquarters with their feet, no matter how much foosball and free food are offered.  Technology like that developed by Google and Apple have liberated workers and given them the ability to work with great productivity without making wasteful commutes to centralized workfarms.   They are choosing a continuum of workplaces, matching their workplace choice with what needs to get done at any particular time.    The companies with the most advanced workplace strategies are seeking ways to accommodate and enable their workforce, not ensnare them.  This means supporting mobility across a variety of settings by offering good workplace choices including redesigned and retooled headquarters drop-in spaces, and third party coworking providers that meet corporate compliance standards.

Yes, corporate workplaces do need to be designed to attract top talent and create environments that bring people together in ways that spur unexpected interactions, even if it’s as Steve Jobs required with centralized restrooms to increase the chances that people from different departments would bump into each-other more frequently.   But by building isolated fantasy islands, companies risk muting the innovative voices and the rich diversity of the world around them… the real world they aspire to continue serving, especially the school kids that will eventually enter the workforce.

Bits vs. Bricks and Branding: Coworking gets a $5B Valuation

Bits vs. Bricks & Branding:
The Math behind a $5 Billon Coworking Company Valuation

Much has been made lately of the value of investing in “bits vs. atoms”, that is to say investing in the digital bits and bytes of technology companies vs. the bricks and brands of traditional manufacturing and consumer businesses. The highest startup valuations have been reserved for companies that disrupt and reinvent industries through scalable and mobile computing power and propagation through social, digital networks.

Witness Uber and AirBnB. Now comes the jaw-dropping $5B valuation for WeWork, a 4 year old short term office rental company that has opened two dozen shared workplace facilities in down-market, urban office buildings. So far, the company has almost exclusively located to serve technology startups and the freelance workers of the creative class.

So how can an astute set of institutional investors value these bricks like they are bits? Looking at the conventional valuation metrics, it’s hard to see at first. With already $150 million in run-rate revenues, the roughly 33x valuation multiple suggests that investors must be taking into consideration a much bigger opportunity still. To put this in perspective, publicly traded Regus, a traditional small office rental business, with 2,000 locations worldwide, $2.5B in Revenue and $150m of earnings is valued at just $1.9billion. While Regus addresses the trillion dollar market for corporate real estate users, WeWork has already placed a bet of over $1B in real estate lease commitments on serving the more fragile, early stage tech-centric micro markets.

Bricks and Branding: WeWork, unlike traditional small office rental companies, has been focused on serving up a carefully designed, emotionally charged brand experience that reflects the specific set of cultural values of millennial-led startups. The company offers workplace memberships with private glass enclosed workspaces that are complimented by communal areas designed with soft seating, exposed brick walls, rough hewn wood accents and a bar. An exhaustive schedule of member socials, seminars, skill-sharing events and outings drive connection and participation among the members of this unique workplace community. For startups, the community found within a given location is valuable for attracting young talented creatives who want to live work and play in the same neighborhood. However, the value of access to a network of locations can be harder to realize, since most members are part of small local teams with very little use of far flung locations.

Addressable Market Math: A large valuation requires a huge addressable market and economically scalable growth prospects. Recent market research on workplace and mobility from Forrester to the US Department of Labor confirms what most can now plainly see. The US knowledge worker has become increasingly free from conventional employer relationships and therefore free from conventional employer-provided workplaces. 30% of US workers (50m) now work independently, a number projected to reach 60% of the workforce by 2020. Add the increasing liberation of corporate workers who’s employers are looking to “variable-ize” and reduce conventional office space commitments and you have a nation of workers in need of a better way to work. This has created a class of tens of millions of “grownups” that are increasingly mobile, transient workplace consumers, who have until recently chosen among solitary work at home, crowded cafes or renting a room in a 20th century style executive suite. And the best news for coworking providers is that according to the Global Workplace Association, the current stock of US shared workplace operators (a $4Billion industry in the US) can only accommodate about 200,000 members. More capacity is needed.

Product Extensions Needed: According to Emergent Research and a 2014 MBO Partners study, however, only 20% of independent workers are millennials. The growing cohort of these 10 million independent millennials can be well served by down-market coworking brands like WeWork and other creative class coworking brands like Neuehouse, with its beguiling, high-end, boutique collective and Grind Spaces with its open-plan desk sharing offering, along with dozens of others that have also entered the market offering millennials their own unique workplace experience. With its recent $355m raise, WeWork could open 300 additional, 30,000sf locations (9m sf of leases), to take it to $1B in revenue. That alone, although impressive (and expensive to achieve), would still not fully justify the $5B valuation, especially in light of risks associated with its target demographic and related coworking competition in its segment.

Valuation Math: Some rough valuation and return estimates can be made as follows: Assuming an eventual valuation of 2x revenues, current investors in WeWork should be aiming for revenues of $10B to get to a $20B valuation and an approximate 3x-4x on their recent investment. This would require opening 3,000 more 30,000sf locations. Despite the growth in demand from independent millennial workers, there are simply not enough tech-centric creative class enclaves to serve. Therefore, achieving a target return commensurate with this growth stage will require significant investment beyond the current product set and brand offerings. One such product extension, as has been noted in media reports, is their ongoing investment in “WeLive” micro apartments serving the urbanized, millennial customer base.

Another option is to enter the corporate workplace services category with a coworking brand that targets the much larger market of 40m independent and corporate mobile workers ages 30-55. This category of corporate coworking customer has a more obvious use for a network of branded locations that can replace or extend a corporate real estate footprint and attract top talent with ubiquitous locations and corporate service level standards. This positioning between traditional short term office rentals like Regus and the down-market millennial coworking is a deep and wide opportunity for new market entrants. For example Serendipity Labs has opened in New York and Chicago and has more than 50 franchised coworking locations under development across the US in urban, suburban and secondary markets in office buildings, residential towers, hotels and retail centers. Backed by an investment from Steelcase, Serendipity Labs has successfully positioned its brand experience and inspirational design to attract members from a full cross-section of industries, company sizes and age cohorts, providing a network that can offer larger companies outsourced workplace solutions. Made possible by a unique, proprietary, centralized technology platform, Serendipity Labs is also able to pursue cost-effective franchising opportunities that leverage the capital, local market knowledge and operating expertise of sophisticated institutional franchisees as the company builds out a world-class national network

The Next $5B Coworking Company: With institutional investment continuing to flow and the industry leaders like WeWork, Serendipity Labs and Regus continuing to set new standards for quality and innovation, the bar for all coworking providers has been raised. Coworking has become a multi-billion dollar hospitality industry with several lifestyle brands emerging. Leadership and scalable growth in the industry now requires coworking brands to deploy integrated technology platforms that can ensure great customer experiences, security, safety, and access to intuitive tools like mobile booking apps. The coworking industry is now on a path towards brand segmentation and is being found in all real estate asset classes, not just office buildings. Some brands will focus on the needs of corporate workers for high performance workspace, security and service. Others will continue to serve the down market, creative class and technology sector.

The addressable market is huge and growing, and there are untapped customer segments to serve. Institutional investors are now betting on the meta trends that are shaping the way we all conduct our lives. With brand and product extensions, WeWork can grow into its $5B valuation, but look out for the next $5B coworking company, it may be right around the corner, bits or not.

History of the Office: Coworking our way Back to the Future

Writer and satirist, Lucy Kellaway takes a look into what the office was and how history has shaped modern office design. But have these changes improved the way we work?  The open plans of the 60’s “B.C.” (before cubicles or before coworking) look alot like corporate coworking, but how things have changed.

In this piece, Kellaway interviews several architects and design experts about the history of office space. In the early 1900’s, businesses designed their offices without walls. But this wasn’t to create conversation and collaboration the way it does today. These open floor plans were all about control as they allowed managers to see all of their employees at once.

Then in the 1960s two things happened that shifted office design. The Germans brought the executives and managers out into the open to work with everyone else. Additionally, workers were able to chat with any other employee, regardless of rank. What a novel idea!

In the ‘60s Herman Miller also emerged and became one of the most influential mid-century modern designers. Miller and his team conducted hours of research to build the perfect desk. The Action Office was a result of the research and included many interchangeable parts that allowed workers to customize their space. The divider was part of this collection and it changed the way American’s work for several decades as it evolved into the dreaded c-word: cubicles.

Now it’s back to an open floor plan with rows of desks, some shared and some not. The private offices have glass walls, so while it creates an open, more friendly appeal, many times doesn’t lend itself to a lot of privacy. Many times, if people want a private conversation, they go to the stairway or deli. Many designers and coworking facilities are realizing this, so they are outfitting offices with cafés, outdoor workspaces and other areas where employees can “escape” to a place where they can huddle and enjoy a private conversation, without leaving the campus.

For more information, you can listen to the full interview here.


Top 3 Tips for an Effective Home Office

Small Spaces, Small Surfaces

Most people are strapped for it; anyone who has lived in a city apartment craves it; and it is something most of us take for granted in the workplace.

What is it? Why, space of course.

Here on the Inspired Worklife we often feature companies who have made their offices more inspiring and motivating by adding everything from brainstorming rooms to phone booths. All of these companies have had an abundance of office space to work with. But what about those who are stretched to their limit with real estate?

Here are some things to think about:

1. Don’t let layout be limiting. The designer for this New York City apartment built a table that rolls across the room. On one side, it serves as an extension on the concrete desk. When rolled to the other side, it can be used as a table for meetings or dining.

2. Think about your desk as a sum of its parts. How can you reuse what you already have to serve more than one purpose? These small desk organizers work to flank a wooden surface to create a low, seated desk that still provides storage.

3. Invest in a few key items, and make them serve more than one purpose. This wall unit has one panel that folds down to serve as a table for eating or for work. The table’s base is a small storage piece on wheels that, when the panel is up, can be stored in another corner of the room. Can’t find a piece like this? A similar fold-out can be added onto a pre-existing shelving or wall unit for less money.