I am a frequent patron of co-working locations, but I was unaware of the significance behind the design of each “space” until I interviewed Michelle Morgan, Founder of NEX Atlanta, an architect and owner of a co-working business, on what makes a space inspire us or hold us back.
Michelle has designed everything from skyscrapers to boutiques, but her desire to understand how a space makes us feel sent her back to graduate school for a Spatial Morphology degree (who knew there was such a thing?).
Michelle explained, “It’s essential that every office, especially a co-working space, have 4 types of space that cater to an individual’s needs. And individuals go back and forth between these spaces, depending on their work at the time and their personality.”
Michelle said, “There was this myth that we would all be working from home–telecommuting by ourselves in our home offices–but we are social creatures. We all do better in community, with some structure. We may say we don’t want the physical structure of an office, but what we really mean is we want to burn down the mental structure of an office. We still love having a coffee pot to go to, a desk, a computer, and with it, the sense of purpose and belonging that going to that particular place brings. We equate space with community.”
Michelle shared that each work environment should have 4 different types of space:
Type 1: A place where you can see everybody and everybody can see you (common space). Picture an open room with tables, chairs, or desks everywhere. This is optimal for visual stimulation as you can give it as well as receive it.
This is my favorite space for writing because my work is about observing behavior and explaining it to a larger audience. In a coffee shop or big open plaza, the breadth of my audience is always represented and stays on my mind.
Type 2: An area where you can see no one and no one can see you. Perfect for those who want solitude and no visual stimulation – a conference room with no glass, an office with a closed door or even your home office when no one else is home.
This is my wife’s ideal environment. As a mathematician at heart with an introverted personality, she needs solitude and complete silence to concentrate on the details and complexities of her work which includes finding real estate that matches to her customer’s needs and keeping the finances up to date for my many ventures.
Type 3: An area where you can see other people, but they can’t see you. This is great for extroverts who need to concentrate. There is the stimulation of others without direct access. It’s also good for introverts who get lonely; they feel protected but still visually connected.
Picture a loft spot allowing you to look down but you’re not in anyone’s line of sight. Or maybe your space is in a room that has one-way glass allowing you to see out but others can’t see in.
A friend of mine works in a space much like this at a local co-working space. He likes the feeling of being “alone-together”. He is more productive around people than at home, but he doesn’t want to be in the middle of the activity because he will be tempted to start a conversation.
Type 4: An area where everyone can see you, but you can’t see them.
Imagine being in a room with a large group but your back is to them. They can see you – but you aren’t looking at them. Or sitting in the window of a coffee shop looking out on the street. Passers-by can see you through the glass, but they don’t interact with you because the glass creates a barrier.
The classic version of this is a cubicle where the desk faces the center. The thinking was “visually isolated = better concentration”. The problem – it only works for certain types.
Individuals who are shy or introverted, but want to be near people, look for this type of space to improve their motivation and it’s great for those who have a difficult time concentrating with others directly in their view.
Michelle shared that many of us don’t realize how monotony, interaction and personal surroundings all come into play to either stimulate or limit us. This is why you feel unproductive in your office or your cube – it only provides you the motivation you need to do some of your work.
Are you in a rut? Consider changing the location where you work or changing the view. Changing locations is my number one trick for improving my personal productivity.
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The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.