This Flexible Workspace Firm Has Teamed Up With MIT To Create The Office People Really Want
Many companies and office owners claim to know what workers want from their office space. But one London flexible workspace firm is undertaking some proper academic research to uncover the answer and give itself a competitive edge in the co-working world.
Fora has teamed up with professors in ethnology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to undertake a three-year research programme into the optimal design and composition of office spaces.
Using its portfolio of offices as a laboratory, Fora is using a combination of quantitative analysis tools such as sensors to monitor which parts of its buildings are used most frequently, and qualitative surveys to better determine what customers like and dislike.
The programme has only been running three months, but already has yielded some results and provided solutions to issues that office users face, particularly in co-working spaces.
Fora has introduced speakers that hang from the ceiling and emit white noise at specific frequencies, essentially acting as noise bafflers. These raise the background sound levels to cover over unwanted distractions and conversations that typically travel through an open office environment, which anyone who has ever worked in a co-working space knows is a significant problem.
The programme also suggested that Fora move its head office staff to new buildings as they open, to provide an instant sense of community in buildings when occupancy is at its lowest.
“We could have gone to a professor and paid them to say something good about Fora, but we believe we want to change the way people work and create the best possible innovative and collective workspace,” Fora co-founder Enrico Sanna said. “We have an independent research department working with us, and they won’t cut corners.”
MIT’s involvement in the project is perhaps unsurprising. The business is backed by U.K. real estate private equity firm Brockton Capital, and Sanna met Brockton co-founders David Marks and Jason Blank when the three were at the famous Boston university.
Fora currently has two operational buildings in Clerkenwell, eight more in the pipeline, all totaling 500K SF, and immediate ambitions to grow to 14 or 15 buildings in the near future. All of the buildings in its portfolio are owned by Brockton.
All flexible workspace firms stress their focus on design and service, but with Fora it shines through more than most. Sanna previously worked in Deutsche Bank’s hospitality business and his co-founder, Katrina Larkin, was one of the founders of the Big Chill music festival.
The company’s staff are sent to hospitality school in Lausanne, Switzerland, the town famous for training the maitre d's of the world’s top hotels.
Its app gives customers travel information about their journey to work and information about nearby businesses and services, as well as connecting them to other Fora customers.
The lobby in its Central Street building features a restaurant run by award-winning chef Stevie Parle.
“We didn’t want it to be an office café — it had to be somewhere you could bring a client for a meal and win business,” Sanna said.
The new restaurant comes as part of the company's strategy to offer a more ‘grown up’ version of co-working. “Our space is about business, not partying,” Sanna said.
As few and far between as links between music festivals and commercial office real estate might seem, Larkin said the Big Chill had influenced the way Fora operates.
“We expanded from a one-day music festival into something that curated events all year around, brought interesting people together and gave them ideas and enriched their lives,” she said.