[Translate to English:] Minou Weijs. Foto | Bart van Overbeeke

Home Stretch | Networking in good company

Attending meetings sat on a swing or brainstorming in the ball pit, even a plant next to the coffee dispenser can make a difference. In an era of flexible working and entrepreneurship more and more people are working individually. If we are to (continue to) share knowledge, social and informal spaces are vitally important, recognizes Built Environment researcher Minou Weijs.

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photo Bart van Overbeeke

Demand for flexible workspaces is still rising. People now work at various locations - at home, in public ‘hotspots’ or while travelling. In addition, increasing numbers of independent  business owners, freelancers and employees no longer wish to work from 9 to 5 on a regular basis, instead they are seeking office space in buildings designed to house a number of businesses, where office space, facilities and services are shared by various companies.

All this adds to the fact, says Minou Weijs, that the office environment is changing, becoming a place where people come together and collaborate. A place that plays an important role in the sharing of knowledge and the generation of new ideas, and thus concepts for office-building sharing are intent on encouraging these activities.

Knowledge sharing

But is this knowledge sharing actually taking place in these buildings and to what extent is the physical work environment encouraging it? This week Weijs gained her doctorate at the Department of the Built Environment for her work on the question of how knowledge sharing within and between companies in multitenant office buildings can be fostered.

After all, we are working less and less in the ‘traditional’ way: during regular working hours at a regular place of work. Weijs examined the range of office space available in multitenant office buildings and saw that it reflected the new style of working. “Four types can be distinguished: regular multitenant office buildings that usually have longer tenancies and offer hardly any services; incubators that support startups and are intended to foster economic growth in the region; service offices offering many extra services such as ICT, catering and a gym, short and flexible tenancy agreements, and often based on a pay-as-you-use principle; and finally, co-working offices that truly aim to create a community. In recent years the availability of the last two office types has increased greatly, and we are seeing more and more combinations of these two types emerge. These are precisely the concepts that pay a lot of attention to collaboration and cooperation.”

This is relevant because, after all, with all the independent working that is being done, how you can continue to share your knowledge? “Each concept has its own unique features. We were very keen to know which features influence the sharing of knowledge. More than fifty multitenant office buildings, divided into four office types, took part in my research. It is difficult to measure precisely the sharing of knowledge between different organizations. But we gained a reliable impression by having users state three times a day for a certain period whether in the past hour they had had a meeting and/or had shared knowledge and if so, what, where and with whom.”

What Weijs's research reveals - although it may seem obvious - is that a coffee corner with a homely ambiance, a jolly company restaurant or a cool lounge brings people together and allows them to relax. That's a good combination if you plan to put your heads together and come up with creative new ideas, emphasizes Weijs. “Developers often think an open plan office is all it takes to bring people together. Certainly, it is a good first step, but it is precisely the extras that foster the real brainstorming and attract tenants. So it certainly pays to invest in providing social events and good office design.”

Waiting lists

When Weijs started her research, many office premises were vacant and owners were keen to know what they needed to do with their buildings to get them leased. “The regular office is disappearing, no doubt about it. The market is picking up again and people are choosing flexible forms of work. Already many offices with a unique concept have waiting lists of new tenants.”

According to Weijs, that unique concept does not have to include slides and hammocks. “The main thing is to involve the tenants when you develop a concept - what's more, if they are part of a community they are less likely to leave - and to keep sight of the target group. For the SX-building on Strijp-S, which houses sports-related companies, a common room with a half-pipe and a basketball court works well, for the suits at Amsterdam's South Axis that's going to be somewhat inappropriate.”

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