Networking & Play: Designing Interaction in Coworking Spaces
How does physical space impact the people in a coworking space? What is the experience that coworking spaces try to create? Coworking space proprietors use the space as a strategic marketing tool, as a community-based experience. Great, this is exactly what the isolated individual who works all day from home, feels they are missing. The chic design, the fun motives, the social events and weekly programming, and basic perks like coffee, beer, and fruit water, all make these work spaces an attractive option. Devin Vermeulen, Creative Director of Physical Product at WeWork, explained to me that at WeWork everything they do “roots back to encouraging interaction and collaboration and community.” However, the word community has become overused. Communities are all around us. Local communities, social communities, online communities, professional communities. Community is a central tenet of the branding, marketing, and design schemes of coworking spaces. Community is offered to the users as a service, a solution to their needs, like a printer, desk, or Wifi.
American psychologists David McMillan & David Chavis define a sense of community as “a feeling of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another, and to the group. A shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together.” The space does affect human behavior and facilitate interaction between the people who use it, but is the interaction created a “community”? Raphael Gielgen, head of research at Vitra, is quoted in Metropolis magazine, saying that “In the past few years, people have grown up as individuals, and they are looking for their communities. If you look at coworking spaces or if you look at how people organize freelance groups, they’re looking for community.”
Most of the time, it is possible to replace “community” with other words, for example—the design industry, local industry, foodies’ scene, global market. Then why, if so, do we use the word community? “Why do we use the word innovation?” asks New York-based journalist and futurist, Greg Lindsay. “Community, like innovation, is similar in the sense of there is really almost just positive association with these words. It is sort of an empty word when you use it that way. No one can criticize community. What, you don’t want community?” So how would Lindsay define it? “I like to describe it as a shared workspace with peers and colleagues, which has many great advantages in it, but you wouldn’t necessarily call it community”, said Lindsay.
McMillan, David W. and David M. Chavis,. “Sense of Community: A Definition and Theory,” Journal of Community Psychology Volume 14, January 1986.
Makovsky, Paul and Rajagopal, Avinash. “Vitra’s Raphael Gielgen Predicts Our Workplace Future.” Metropolis. Published June 8, 2017. Accessed February, 30, 2018.