The laboratory for new ideas

By Carole Buissere

5 October 2015

We spend most of our time in offices. Shouldn’t they be places that inform, entertain and inspire us? The people behind the innovative Impact Hub network think so – and they’re changing the workspace game.

Making spaces that impact the world

Since the first Impact Hub opened in London in 2005, their network of shared workspaces and incubators has grown exponentially – creating a supportive global community of social entrepreneurs.

HUB

Their mission: to help people change the world by combining business and sustainability. Nele Kapretz, CEO of Impact Hub Berlin, firmly believes "we can solve societal problems through entrepreneurial means."

It's an idea that's growing in influence. People want to consume ethically, and investors increasingly want the money they put into businesses to have a social return as well as a financial yield. You can see this model working for brands like Toms, who spend a portion of the profit from every pair of shoes they sell on helping disadvantaged communities around the globe.

Shared workplace solutions Every hub has found its own solutions to the problems posed by creating a shared workspace.

That said, the corporate world still view social entrepreneurs as "freaks and weirdoes," according to Impact Hub director Richard Evans. So how do the hubs themselves foster this growing band of ethical capitalists?

The answer is disarmingly simple: by bringing people together. From member's forums to regular events like the communal Sexy Salad lunch, each hub finds its own ways to forge a community. Chance meetings and new connections between members spark the fresh thinking this sector needs to survive. The word 'serendipity' comes up a lot in conversation with members – it's something they obviously value about working at the hubs.

Open, collaborative working spaces Even the walls in Madrid's hub have been altered to create an open, collaborative working space.
Skype chairs

Dive deeper into Impact Hub's innovative culture

But Impact Hub's commitment to building a community goes deeper than simple networking events. It's woven into the fabric of the buildings themselves. Tables are cleverly designed to get people talking. Modular furniture can be taken down and shaped into new forms, making the hub layout fluid, not fixed. Playful breakout spaces encourage conversation over a coffee.

The innovative approach to space is the less fussy cousin of Silicon Valley's forward-thinking tech giants. Stripping out some of the forced wackiness makes the hubs more inviting and human – it would be hard not to collaborate in an environment so carefully designed encourage it.

"Would you rather be in a normal office – or here?" Richard Evans Director, Impact Hub
Richard Evans - Director, Impact Hub

Looking out over Impact Hub King's Cross, Richard smiles. The space is full of clusters of people chatting, poking at laptop screens and poring over business plans. A buzz of animated conversation fills the air. "Would you rather be in an office or be here?" he says. It's an easy question to answer.

The Impact Hub With some fresh thinking, offices can accommodate areas for all types of work.

Want to bring a bit of the Impact Hub magic to your office? Here's how:

Crowd-source ideas

Over to Nele: "I'd advise people to get their colleagues together and brainstorm what they really want. People need so many different spaces to work in – find out how to cater for this in their work environment. You can get the benefits, and it doesn't have to be more expensive than a traditional office."

Test and learn

Impact Hubs find the best solutions to their users' needs by prototyping their spaces. Try it in your office. Once you've identified the issues people have with your space, test a series of low-cost ways to improve things. Cycle through options quickly to find out what works, then refine it and finally implement it fully.

The Impact Hub (2) It's not just about funky interior design- everything in the hubs is chosen for what it brings to how the office functions.
Jose Moncada

Discover the power of embracing change

Be inventive

Even if you can't swap cubicles for funky co-working tables, there are more unusual ways to inspire your team. For example, a study carried out by Japanese fragrance giant Takasago found people made 54% fewer typing errors when they could smell lemon in the office. Now that's fresh thinking.

How would you change your office for the better? Let us know in the comments.

Find out more about the Impact Hub network: impacthub.net