31 October 2023

Comfort and Concentration at Work Can Now Be Measured Using AI: How This Changes Coworking Spaces

The coworking trend is not just a global phenomenon but has seen a significant surge in Australia. According to the “Flex Futures Report 2023” prepared by Flexible Workspace Australia (FWA), there are currently 784 flexible spaces scattered throughout Australia. This includes 382 in capital cities, 172 in suburban areas, and a notable 230 in regional locations.

Coworking spaces have transitioned from being merely tied to the real estate sector to playing a pivotal role in the hospitality industry. The focus has shifted to occupier well-being, collaboration, and productivity. Coworking spaces have become ecosystems that foster professional and personal growth, emphasising hospitality, community, and a sense of belonging. The added value of business support services, events, streamlined tech processes, and opportunities for informal collaboration has been a game-changer, especially for suburban and regional economies.

In this evolving scenario, a groundbreaking study by RMIT University, in collaboration with the global design and engineering firm Arup, offers a beacon of hope. By harnessing the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI), the researchers have developed a sensor-based system that can measure, and more importantly, improve comfort and concentration levels in these dynamic workspaces. This article delves deep into the findings of this research, shedding light on how AI can revolutionise the way we perceive and design coworking spaces.

Challenges in the Modern Office 

However, as with any innovation, flexible workspaces come with their set of challenges. Employees often grapple with noise disturbances, a lack of personal space, and other distractions that can impede their concentration. As businesses, especially coworking spaces, strive to provide optimal environments for their diverse clientele, understanding and addressing these challenges becomes paramount.

Adapting to Open Spaces 

While open-plan offices and coworking spaces are designed to foster collaboration and flexibility, they also introduce a set of challenges. The absence of traditional barriers, like walls and doors, means that noise travels freely. Conversations, phone calls, and even the sound of typing can become sources of distraction, making it difficult for individuals to focus on their tasks.

Lack of Personal Space

In a coworking environment, the concept of a ‘personal space’ often gets blurred. With hot desking, employees might not have a fixed spot, leading to a lack of a sense of ownership. This can sometimes result in feelings of transience or impermanence, which might not be conducive for everyone, especially those who value routine and a sense of stability.

Privacy Concerns

Open spaces can also pose challenges to privacy. Confidential discussions, sensitive phone calls, or even the need for a quiet moment of reflection become difficult in a space where everyone is in plain view. This lack of privacy can sometimes hinder open communication, as employees might hold back from discussing certain topics in fear of being overheard.

Overstimulation and Distractions 

The visual openness, combined with the auditory challenges, can lead to overstimulation. Seeing colleagues move about, the constant buzz of activity, and the visual richness of the environment can be distracting for some, especially those who are more sensitive to their surroundings.

Balancing Collaboration and Focus 

While coworking spaces are designed to enhance collaboration, there’s a fine balance to strike. Too much emphasis on collaborative activities can sometimes come at the cost of deep, focused work. Finding a quiet corner for concentration or a space for team brainstorming without disturbing others becomes a daily puzzle.

Environmental Factors 

Factors like lighting, temperature, and air quality play a significant role in employee comfort. In a shared space, catering to everyone’s specific preferences becomes a challenge. For instance, what’s a comfortable temperature for one might be chilly for another.

By understanding these challenges, coworking spaces can better cater to the diverse needs of their occupants, ensuring a harmonious and productive environment for all.

The RMIT and Arup Collaboration

Harnessing AI to Decode Human Behaviour

RMIT University has long been at the forefront of technological advancements, and their recent endeavour is no exception. With a team of experts adept at leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI) to decipher patterns in human behaviour, RMIT has embarked on a mission to understand the nuances of comfort and concentration in flexible workspaces. Their expertise lies not just in the technical aspects of AI but in its application to real-world challenges, making their research both groundbreaking and highly relevant.

A Global Partnership with Aru

To bring this vision to life, RMIT joined forces with Arup, a renowned global design and engineering firm. Arup’s vast experience in creating sustainable and innovative infrastructures combined with RMIT’s technological prowess made this collaboration a perfect match. Together, they aimed to bridge the gap between AI’s theoretical potential and its practical application in enhancing office environments.

Real-world Testing for Authentic Insights

The collaboration went beyond mere theoretical discussions. The AI-driven system, a brainchild of this partnership, was put to the test in real-world scenarios. Over a span of four weeks, 31 staff members from two of Arup’s activity-based working offices became part of this experiment. Through sensors and AI algorithms, data was meticulously collected on various parameters like noise levels, indoor temperature, air quality, and more. This hands-on approach ensured that the insights derived were not just scientifically accurate but also deeply rooted in the everyday experiences of office-goers.

A Holistic Approach to Understanding Work Environments

To truly grasp the intricacies of comfort and concentration in flexible workspaces, it’s essential to consider a myriad of factors. RMIT, in collaboration with psychologists, identified several key variables that play a pivotal role in shaping an individual’s work experience. These variables go beyond the obvious and delve deep into the subtle nuances that can make or break one’s concentration.

Key Variables Identified

Noise Levels

The ambient sound in the workspace, including conversations, machinery, and external noises, which can be a significant source of distraction.

Indoor Temperature

The ambient temperature, which can influence comfort, mood, and productivity.

Air Quality

The presence of pollutants or contaminants in the air, which can affect health and concentration.


The moisture level in the air, which can influence comfort, especially in regions with extreme climates.

Air Pressure

Changes in air pressure can sometimes lead to discomfort or health issues.

Electromagnetic Fields

Sources of electromagnetic radiation, such as electronic devices, which some believe might influence well-being.

Suggested reading: How to Stay Focused at Work When You’re Coworking

Measuring with Precision

State-of-the-Art Sensors

With the key variables identified, the challenge was to capture accurate data on these parameters. The team at RMIT, in collaboration with Arup, employed state-of-the-art sensors, each specifically designed to measure a particular environmental factor. These sensors were strategically placed throughout the workspace to ensure comprehensive data collection.

Noise Level Monitoring

To gauge noise levels, sound meters were used. These devices can detect varying sound frequencies, from the low hum of an air conditioner to the high-pitched ring of a phone. By understanding the sources and levels of noise, solutions can be devised to minimise disruptions, be it through soundproofing or spatial arrangements.

Temperature and Humidity Control 

Thermometers and hygrometers were employed to monitor indoor temperatures and humidity levels, respectively. By continuously tracking these parameters, the team could understand the fluctuations throughout the day and how they correlated with comfort levels.

Air Quality Assessment

To ensure a healthy workspace, air quality sensors were used. These devices can detect a range of pollutants, from common ones like carbon dioxide to more harmful ones like volatile organic compounds (VOCs). By understanding the air quality, measures can be taken to improve ventilation or introduce air purifiers.

Monitoring Air Pressure and Electromagnetic Fields

Barometers were used to measure air pressure, providing insights into how changes in pressure might affect comfort. Additionally, electromagnetic field (EMF) meters were employed to detect sources of electromagnetic radiation, such as electronic devices, and their potential influence on the workspace.

Data Integration and Analysis

All the data collected from these sensors was integrated into a centralised system. Advanced algorithms then analysed this data, looking for patterns and correlations. This meticulous approach ensured not just the collection of raw data but also its interpretation in a way that could inform better workspace design and management.

Key Findings from the Study

Endorsement for Activity-Based Working

The research underscored a general preference for activity-based working setups. These flexible environments, which allow employees to choose where and how they work based on the task at hand, were found to be conducive to both individual and collaborative tasks. The adaptability of such setups was seen as a significant advantage, catering to diverse work requirements.

The Power of Personal Preferences

One of the standout findings was the importance of personal preferences in determining comfort and concentration. Employees had their favourite spots, whether it was close to windows for natural light, near kitchens for easy access to refreshments, or in proximity to managers for better communication. These preferences played a pivotal role in shaping an individual’s work experience and overall satisfaction.

Temperature’s Tangible Impact

Office temperature was identified as a crucial factor influencing comfort and concentration. A workspace that’s too cold or too hot can significantly hamper productivity. The study highlighted the need for optimal temperature settings, taking into account the general preferences of the majority while providing options for individual adjustments.

Sleep Quality and Morning Productivity

An interesting correlation emerged between the quality of sleep and morning concentration levels. Employees who reported better sleep quality were found to be more focused and productive during the morning hours. This finding underscores the importance of holistic well-being and its impact on work performance.

Meetings and Concentration Levels

The research delved into the effects of both formal and informal meetings on concentration. While meetings are essential for collaboration and decision-making, they can sometimes disrupt the flow of work. The study suggested that the frequency, duration, and timing of meetings need to be optimised to ensure they enhance, rather than hinder, overall productivity.

The CO2 Challenge

High levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the workspace were identified as a barrier to optimal concentration. Prolonged exposure to elevated CO2 levels can lead to feelings of stuffiness and fatigue. The study emphasised the importance of high-quality heating, cooling, and ventilation systems. Additionally, the introduction of indoor plants was recommended, not just for aesthetic purposes but also for their ability to improve air quality.

These findings from the RMIT and Arup collaboration provide invaluable insights for coworking spaces and other work environments. By understanding and addressing these key factors, businesses can create spaces that foster comfort, concentration, and overall productivity.

Suggested reading: 20 Effective Ways to Achieve Work-Life Balance in a Coworking Environment

Implications for Modern Coworking Spaces

Leveraging AI Insights for Enhanced Workspaces

The findings from the RMIT and Arup research offer a treasure trove of insights for coworking spaces. By understanding the key variables that influence comfort and concentration, these spaces can make informed decisions about their design, layout, and amenities. AI-driven systems, like the one developed in this study, can continuously monitor and provide feedback, allowing for real-time adjustments and improvements.

Personalised Workspace Experiences

The importance of personal preferences, as highlighted in the study, suggests that coworking spaces should offer a degree of customisation. Whether it’s adjustable lighting, modular furniture, or the option to choose between open desks and private cubicles, catering to individual preferences can significantly enhance the user experience.

Optimising Environmental Conditions

The significant role of office temperature and air quality in comfort and concentration cannot be overstated. Coworking spaces must invest in high-quality heating, cooling, and ventilation systems. Additionally, the introduction of indoor plants and green spaces can not only improve air quality but also add to the aesthetic appeal, creating a more inviting and refreshing environment.

Rethinking Meeting Cultures

The research’s findings on the impact of meetings on concentration levels present an opportunity for coworking spaces to innovate. Designated meeting zones, soundproof pods, and flexible booking systems can ensure that meetings are productive without disrupting the larger workspace. Additionally, fostering a culture of efficient meetings, perhaps through workshops or guidelines, can further enhance productivity.

Adapting to Post-Pandemic Work Trends

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the way we work, with many businesses adopting hybrid models. Coworking spaces can use the insights from this research to adapt to these new trends. By ensuring optimal comfort and concentration, they can position themselves as the ideal solution for businesses and individuals looking for flexible work arrangements.

Pioneering the Future of Coworking at Mobo Co

Embracing the Latest Research Insights

In the ever-evolving landscape of coworking, we are at the forefront, continuously redefining the coworking experience in South Brisbane. Inspired by groundbreaking research like the RMIT and Arup study, we’re committed to creating a coworking space that seamlessly blends comfort with concentration.

Tailored Amenities for Our Diverse Community

We understand the significance of personal preferences. That’s why we offer a range of amenities designed to cater to the unique needs of our members. From adjustable lighting to modular furniture, every detail in our space is curated with you in mind. Our state-of-the-art heating, cooling, and ventilation systems ensure that you always work in optimal conditions. And for those moments when you need a breather, our indoor plants and green spaces provide a refreshing oasis.

Meeting Rooms Designed for Collaboration

Meetings are a crucial part of business, and we’ve taken every measure to ensure they’re productive. Our soundproof meeting rooms ensure that your discussions remain private, without disturbing others. Equipped with the latest technology, these rooms are perfect for everything from brainstorming sessions to client presentations. And with our flexible booking system, reserving a space has never been easier.

More Than Just a Workspace

At Mobo Co, we believe in building a community. Beyond our tangible amenities, we offer a range of services, including virtual offices for those seeking a prestigious address without the need for physical space. Our emphasis on hospitality, community, and belonging ensures that every member feels right at home.

At Mobo Co, we’re not just offering a workspace; we’re crafting an experience. Whether you’re a startup, an entrepreneur, a small business, or a large corporation, we’re here to support your journey to success.

Keep reading: 12 Undeniable Benefits of Natural Light in a Shared Workspace