obo Article - Blending The Lines

By John Walters, Director, obo

In today’s world the lines really have been well and truly blurred between work and home. Tech and hardware in the devices most of us are virtually glued to have created this new way of working and living which has meant that leaving the office at the end of the day no longer necessarily means being off the clock.

For the younger generation of professionals this way of doing things isn’t new. In fact, it’s the way they feel most comfortable, productive, creative & engaged in what it is they’re doing. That’s how they roll so, the environments in which they work need to support this ‘blended’ culture of transient and activity-based working.

At a seminar and panel discussion hosted by ARTIQ at WeWork Devonshire Square, the question was posed ‘What is blended space and what can it do for the workplace?’.

Presided over by Dr Craig Knight, panellists including David Kaiser (Senior Director, WeWork), Nicola Wood (Community Insight & Engagement Manager, Grosvenor Estates), Nicky Wightman (Director, Global Occupier Trends, Savills) & Patrick McCrae (CEO, ARTIQ) discussed the topic through a series of questions.

What is blended space?

The panel consensus was that blended spaces are physical and interactive. Some developers and

landlords are now understanding the challenge (some still need to) as is evident in the inclusions of gyms, bike parking, nurseries, libraries, coffee shops, food emporiums, social space and retail in developments such as King’s Cross. Blended spaces should be empowering, enriching, add something to our lives and bring real benefit to us through our natural leaning towards being social. The headphones on, face in a screen, locked away scenario is uncomfortable to most us. Therefore we should be creating spaces and settings that encourage rather than hinder interaction.

What is driving the need for blended spaces?

There are many requirements driving the move towards blended spaces. The sharing economy, filled with freelance and short-term contract resource, demands shared, multi-purpose space. An example given being Rich Mix in Shoreditch, a cinema, gallery, events space, café and bar.

Are blended spaces the future of work?

The panel agreed that work places and spaces should be educational and allow for self-development for every generation of professionals, they should offer scalability and flexibility, create urbanisation, and they should be shared and enjoyed by all users. (In my opinion workplace design is a journey rather than a destination. It is an ever-changing, organic, life-long even, process.)

How will businesses & communities be affected by a move to blended spaces?

Through consultation with local communities, in order to understand their needs, blended spaces allow us to go beyond traditional lines, to explore & engage with local areas. They take advantage of surroundings and what’s on offer locally such as shops, parks, gyms, cafes, bars etc. Their buildings and developments are not just about work as they are accessible to all. They can even encourage social diversity and interaction. Some have gone so far as to ban devices and consciously not provide Wi-Fi (the horror!) to accelerate social interaction.

Where are the boundaries?

David Kaiser of WeWork doesn’t see any boundaries to blended spaces. WeWork have developed the WeLive concept, epitomised in their New York site. Through WeLive they create extremely community focused shared spaces, work space, living space, leisure and even incorporate MadeByWe, a showcase of services and goods made by WeWork & WeLive members.

So, what are the implications?

It’s worth noting that blended spaces may be bringing us full circle back to small communities built out of industry at the turn of the 19th century. The village of Port Sunlight on the Wirral, Merseyside, was built in 1888 to house Lever’s ‘Sunlight Soap’ factory workers and incorporated not only beautiful architecture, but also a world-class art gallery, stunning parkland & a thriving community. The panel highlighted the importance of retaining green spaces also, which, as we all know, are disappearing rapidly. Blended spaces can incorporate green spaces and help protect and promote their use.

How do we afford blended spaces?

Simple answer – share!

There were many takeaways and actions from the discussion. Notably that we should share more, collaborate more, ask more questions of each other, of our businesses & look at the spaces in which we work, rest and play. When spaces meet the needs of many, creating spaces that offer many scenarios, settings & user experiences will create more vibrancy, greater interpersonal engagement & interaction. Of course, these blended spaces should also offer quiet places in which to concentrate, to rest, reflect, recharge and recuperate.

Blended spaces should be a destination to be enjoyed - we should want to go there as we do the library, gallery, theatre, café, bar, gym etc. So why not incorporate these spaces into our working spaces. We could stop calling them work spaces. They’re spaces for whatever it is you’re doing, that champion their surroundings and bring the outside community in.

Blur the lines, blend spaces and create diverse community and people focused environments - it’s the future.

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