Experiencing a New Place as an Atmosphere:
A Focus on Tours of Collaborative Spaces
François-Xavier de Vaujany
Université Paris-Dauphine, PSL
DRM (UMR CNRS 7088)
Université Paris-Dauphine, PSL
DRM (UMR CNRS 7088)
Université Paris-Dauphine, PSL
DRM (UMR CNRS 7088)
Université Paris-Dauphine, PSL
DRM (UMR CNRS 7088)
Corresponding author :
François-Xavier de Vaujany – firstname.lastname@example.org
Université Paris-Dauphine, PSL, DRM, M&O research team - Place du Maréchal de Lattre de
Tassigny, 75016 Paris, France
Experiencing a New Place as an Atmosphere:
A Focus on Tours of Collaborative Spaces
In this article, we ethnographically explore how tour guides convey different embodied
experiences of space and place during tours of collaborative spaces. These tours draw on
participants’ embodied experience and emotions in order to reveal the invisible dimensions of
everyday activities of collaborative spaces, in particular their different organizational
atmospheres. By systematically coding 110 tours of such spaces, we identify four emotional
registers – “initiation,” “commodification,” “selection,” and “gamification,” which are used
by tour guides to produce a particular atmosphere. We feel that the concept of “atmosphere”
is a powerful means of exploring the unbounded and fluid spatiality, the quasi-materiality, and
the temporality of the work practices that individuals are likely to experience if they become
members of these collaborative spaces. We conclude our analyses by considering the
implications of this study for the management of collaborative spaces and new work practices
Keywords: space; place; embodiment; experience; atmosphere; visibility; emotional registers;
phenomenology; tours; collaborative spaces; coworking spaces; makerspaces; hackerspaces
Since the 1990s, an increasing number of studies in the field of Management and
Organization Studies (MOS) have dealt with the issue of spatiality and materiality in
organizations and organizing (Orlikowski, 2007; Leonardi, Nardi, & Kallinikos, 2012; de
Vaujany and Mitev, 2013; Carlile, Nicolini, Langley, & Tsoukas, 2013). Interestingly, these
“spatial” and “material” turns have been appearing in societal contexts where the space and
materiality of organizations and organizing are becoming increasingly problematic. In such
contexts, organizations are growing more fluid in nature (Bauman, 2000), as well as more
virtual, digital, distributed (Fulk & DeSanctis, 1995), and service-oriented in their conceptions
and use of space (Van Marrewijk & Broos, 2012). More specifically, the space and materiality
of organizations need to be understood as an “embodied” experience, or in other words, as no
longer being systematically connected to a precise “here and now” of work and organization
(Halford, 2005; Nicolini, 2007). Otherwise put, work in these contexts can be completed
anywhere and at any time, be that at home, in spaces other than work or home (“third-
places”), or on the go (Costas, 2013 ; Kingma, 2016). It follows that the space and materiality
of work and organizations need more than ever to be understood as experiences that constitute
and re-constitute collective spaces, and which might not be obvious for those involved in or
for those managing them (Halford, 2005; Bohas et al, 2018).
Nonetheless, very little research has focused on the initial embodied experience of space and
place —i.e. one’s first visit to a space or one’s first day at work there—, or on the
relationships between such experiences and the emergence of a sense of work and organizing
“inside” of a place (Küpers, 2015; Ropo & Salovaara, 2018). First impressions are known to
strongly influence our cognitive experience of things (Damasio, 2012). However, initial space
experience is somewhat paradoxical in today’s context: How can one feel work “here”—i.e.
in a specific space—when work is more than ever expected to be taking place everywhere all
the time? Here, we are interested in exploring how an “initial” experience of a space might
contribute to the joint experience of the work and life practices that it hosts.
The first impression of a particular place can shape one’s sense of how work and organization
might be conducted “inside” of it (Küpers, 2002). Moreover specifically, such an experience
can produce a particular atmosphere, i.e. “a tonality of our manner to inhabit the world”
(Vibert, 2018: 66; Merleau-Ponty, 19451). This notion of atmosphere has been particularly
important for the work of Merleau-Ponty, who has stressed the importance of “the emotional
‘atmosphere’ of our relation to our world” (Crossley, 1995).2
Relatedly, in this article we focus on a fascinating and relevant organizational and managerial
context: the tours organized by “collaborative spaces” (in particular coworking spaces and
makerspaces). According to Garrett, Spreitzer and Bacevice (2017), prospective customers of
coworking spaces learn about community norms and practices by first taking guided tours
with insiders: “We observed that these tours were some of the most lively and interactive
times in the space, as members turned the ‘community’ on full strength to make it plainly
evident” (p. 10). For those who “join” (i.e. become members of) such a space after these
tours, this introductory experience constitutes a first impression of how the organization is
structured and how one might feel within it (Spinuzzi, 2015; Jakonen et al, 2017). This is
particularly true in contexts such as coworking spaces and makerspaces where peoples’
presence is often ephemeral, i.e. they might stay for mere hours, or a couple of months,
depending on the activities that a particular space caters for as well as that space’s pricing
For the present research, we define “collaborative spaces” as spaces and places whose
facilities, aesthetics codes, temporalities, enacted values, atmospheres, and spatial
configurations are aimed at fostering horizontal collaborations. Those collaborative spaces
welcome different types of customers or members such as entrepreneurs, employees, students,
teleworkers, slashers, and even researchers. While coworking spaces seem to be more
business-oriented and entrepreneurial (Gandini, 2015; Spinuzzi, 2012), makerspaces and
fablabs tend more to be the ‘place-to-innovate’ and to ‘do-it-yourself’ (Bohas et al, 2018).
We have purposefully not included “workplace” in this definition (i.e. “collaborative
workplace”) because of the increasing integration of both work/home practices and emotions
(Bauman, 2013; Bohas et al, 2018). Collaborative spaces, therefore, can be said to emphasize
1 In his book Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty (1945: part I, chapter 5) draws on the notion of
atmosphere in order to analyze sexuality, stating that “sexuality is neither transcended in human life, nor featured
in its center by unconscious representations. It is constantly present as an atmosphere” (p 196).
2 The notions of “atmosphere” and “ambiance” have been used in research in management and organization
studies, in particular those about organizational aesthetics (Martin, 2002; Strati, 1999, 2009). Here, we want to
draw on Merleau-Ponty’s experiential view.
the tight interpersonal relationships that are typically associated with working remotely, on
the go, or at home. Such practices all contribute to the increasingly porous nature of
traditional work/home boundaries related to space and time, as well as to the emergence of
hybrid organizational atmospheres that fuse work, private, and even political spheres (Borch,
Ultimately, each tour of a collaborative space is akin to a “practice” or a “logic of practice”
(Sandberg & Tsoukas, 2011) in the sense that it alludes to a pattern of meaningful behaviors
and movements that tour guides can draw upon in order to produce meaning and emotions for
visitors. Coworking spaces, makerspaces, hackerspaces, and fab labs rely more or less on such
practices day-in and day-out. With that in mind, here we will draw on the phenomenology of
Merleau-Ponty (Merleau-Ponty, 1945, 1964); —specifically his theorization of “embodiment”
and “emotions”—in order to better understand the managerial stakes of these tours.
In this regard, the contributions of this article are twofold. Firstly, we understand tours to be
key managerial practices that are focused on the first experience of a place as well as on
making the activities therein visible. Emotions are thus at the heart of this embodied first
experience of a place, which we describe as an atmosphere that is constituted through the
narrative and flow of these walking tours. For us, “place” appears in this research as
unbounded spatially and temporally, i.e. as a liquid and provisional experience of the space
and time of work and life activities, which we call an “atmosphere.”
The second contribution of this article is based on our analysis of our data set, which allows
us to identify four emotional registers that describe and enable organizational atmospheres to
be “felt” during tours: gamification, commodification, selection, initiation. We discuss the
ephemerality of such embodied experience. Beyond this research, our own experience of
collaborative spaces shows that they are mainly and paradoxically “atmospheres,” nets of
quasi-things and quasi-materials. What is felt continuously once one is “in” is an atmosphere
more so than a well-defined community or a clear-cut place.
In the first part of this article, we detail the literature that describes space as an experience. As
the bulk of the research that has conceptualized space as an “aesthetic experience” (Strati,
1999; Martin, 2002; Beyes, 2016; Van Marrewijk and Yanow, 2010; Van Marrewijk, 2011),
in what follows we propose an emotional and embodied description of the experience of
space, place, and organizational atmosphere (Merleau-Ponty, 1945; Küpers, 2002; Vibert,
2018). Specifically, we consider Merleau-Ponty’s (1945, 1961) take on corporeity, emotions,
and emotional flows to be at the heart of the constitutions of space, place, and atmosphere that
we observed during the tours.
Relatedly, in the second part of the article, we detail our research method, which is based on
tours of 110 collaborative spaces throughout the world (13 countries). We describe these tours
at length, and in doing so, stress that the tours were in fact experiences. Lastly, we detail our
results, i.e. the four emotional registers that guides played on during the tours. This practice of
offering tours is aimed at staging a first experience of a place, which participants can then
follow (or not) in order to develop a first impression. Tours are made meaningful through
emotional registers, which are in themselves made up of not only coherent emotional
narratives, but also gestures, artefacts, quasi-things and places, all of which are wrapped up in
the narrative being presented by the tour. With this in mind, the notion of “atmosphere” is a
powerful concept with which to explore the spatiality, materiality and temporality of the work
practices that are likely to be experienced once one is “in”—or becomes a member of—a
space. That said, while an atmosphere can be felt as being “here and now,” it is paradoxically
not anchored in a precise and bounded space or time. It can also be related to a quasi-material
in the sense that lights, smells, fleeting gestures, and textures are often at the heart of it
(Griffero, 2017). Unboundedness and quasi-materiality are therefore precisely what epitomize
collaborative spaces such as coworking spaces and makerspaces.
I. Theoretical framing: an embodied perspective on space and organizational
Space, place, and atmospheres in organizations
In many ways, how a space is organized highlights the role that experience might play within
it. From this perspective, space can be interpreted through architecture, symbolism,
discourses, and aesthetics (Taylor & Spicer, 2007; Clegg & Kornberger, 2006; Beyes, 2016).
If interpreting it through aesthetics, it is edifying to recall the distinction that has been made
“between an ‘apolitical’ – instrumental or interpretative – use of aesthetics in organization
theory and its symmetrical counterpart, the critical unmasking of aesthetics and art as yet
another means for managerial control” (Beyes, 2016: 123-124). Otherwise put, from such an
“aesthetic” perspective, one might say that our subjective experience of the word is influenced
by how materiality and space are both shaped via a dynamic combining instrumentality,
aesthetics and symbolism (Vilnai-Yavetz, Rafaeli, & Yaacov, 2005).
This dynamic has been captured by a key aesthetic concept: atmosphere (Merleau-Ponty,
1945; Martin, 2002; Strati, 2005; Vibert, 2018). According to Strati (2009, p. 239):
“Organizations have their own specific materiality made of the corporeality of persons and
artefacts, but which also comprises something impalpable and invisible that can be
emblematically denoted as ‘the atmosphere of the organization’—as suggested by
commonplace expressions such as ‘there’s something in the air’, ‘a heavy atmosphere’,
‘there’s an ill wind blowing’, ‘see which way the wind blows’ or ‘let in some fresh
air’”(Strati, 2009, p. 239). The notion of atmosphere is a way to shed light on the unbounded
temporal and spatial nature of experiencing the tours.
According to Böhme (1993: 119), “Atmospheres are always spatially without borders,
disseminated and yet without place that is, not localizable. They are affective powers of
feeling, spatial bearers of moods.” (see also Langewitz, 2007). In this way, the notion of
atmosphere is related to all organizational phenomena: “Organization invariably is an
atmospheric phenomenon. It takes shape as a swirl of affect, constructed from constellations
of objects, stories, technologies, texts, human bodies and their affective capacities” (Beyes
As Pallasmaa (2014) has pointed out, atmosphere is deeply linked to the “existent properties”
of a space as well as its “human perception”: “Atmosphere is similarly an exchange between
material or existent properties of the place and the immaterial realm of human perception and
imagination” (Pallasmaa, 2014: 232). When we remember that space is a kind of experience,
our perception of it becomes key: “A space or a place is a kind of a diffusely felt multi-
sensory image, an experiential ‘creature’, a singular experience (…)” (Pallasmaa, 2014: 235;
see also Michels, 2015 and Jacks, 2018). Objects, gestures, and space are constitutive of an
atmosphere, as are quasi-things and quasi-materiality, such as smells, colours, textures and
ephemeral artefacts contained in the embodied memory and activities that make up the
“inside” of a place (Griffero, 2017). Thus, bodies, objects, and places are all expected to
create an “atmosphere,” which is often described in the literature as a relational and
processual concept (Michels, 2015).
Interestingly, scholars have recently pointed out the range of the notion of atmosphere,
suggesting that it might enrich studies of urbanism, space and architecture (Borch, 2009;
Michels, 2015; Jacks, 2018). MOS researchers have similarly been invited “to examine how
affective atmospheres are created and how the affective states are transmitted in the
organization” (Borch 2009: 2243). According to Küpers (2002: 32), “the atmosphere within
organising is primarily not what people think about it, but what they live through with their
‘operative intentionality’ (Merleau-Ponty, 1963, p. xviii).” In this respect, the notion of
atmosphere is related to one’s feeling or experience of a “milieu”: “It constitutes a modus
operandi and way of seeing or apprehending” (Beyes, 2016: 116). When thought about in this
way, the location and temporality of practices are rarely well-defined, as in them, both of
these categories are more related to a particular set of emotions that are likely to (re)create an
“atmosphere” (Küpers, 2002). Indeed, during such practices the “sharing of emotional
experiences [leads to] mutual affection, connectedness and cohesion that break down
anonymity” (Küpers, 2002: 25).
Relatedly, marketing theory has already considered how stores’ atmospheres can affect
customer behaviour (Mishra, Sinha & Koul, 2014). Organization studies have gone further in
exploring the emergence and political dynamics of atmospheres in organizations and
organizing (Martin, 2002; Strati, 1999, 2009; Borch 2009). Nevertheless, no research about
atmosphere in organizations has attempted to fully understand the relationship between one’s
first ritualized experience of a place/space and the constitution of work activities. For
example, is the entry process a first step towards the experience of a genuine, true
atmosphere? In this context, does one have a ‘true’, explicit experience of atmosphere that is
later unconsciously internalized? Is such an experience superficial, i.e. in no way similar to
the ‘true’ everyday work atmosphere of the place? Is atmosphere a useful category to use as a
means of better understanding such a first encounter, or is it irrelevant in describing one’s
deeper experience of a place? Does one’s experience of an atmosphere overlap at all with
one’s sense of place? As we suggested in our introduction, these issues are all the more
3 See in particular Michels (2015) for a summary of the theories and debates related to “atmosphere” based on
phenomenology and new German phenomenology.
important given that the increasing openness and mobility of work make the “first time in” a
place a recurrent experience. With that in mind, we now turn to the possible links between
space, place, and atmosphere, as we feel that our phenomenological perspective will
illuminate the answers to these questions related to one’s experience of space.
Phenomenologically exploring space, place and atmosphere
Phenomenology and phenomenological perspectives— in particular the work of the French
philosopher Merleau-Ponty (Dale, 2005; Yakhlef, 2010; Yakhlef and Essén, 2013; Küpers,
2015 ; de Vaujany et al, 2018)—have been attracting a growing audience in MOS (Ciborra,
1999; Dale, 2005; Introna, 2013; Gärtner, 2013; Bazin, 2013; Ziakas & Boukas, 2014; Dale
& Latham, 2015). In this literature, space is understood as being produced through everyday
experience: “from a phenomenological perspective, spaces and places are not (only) socially
and culturally constructed, but also and primarily experienced and consumed through
embodied beings at the point of visitation as well as before and afterwards” (Küpers, 2015). In
this respect, spaces are not only produced or conceived of, “they are also made (un)-
productive in social movements and practices” (Küpers, 2015).
This “production of space” through experience is necessarily related to one’s body, and as
such, it is edifying to consider the notion of “embodiment” more generally. This notion is
largely derived from phenomenological literatures, and focuses in particular on the role of
bodily experience. As such, to consider embodiment is to consider the role of the body in
organizing practices; indeed, “embodiment is sensible and sentient” (Dale & Latham, 2015).
In other words, embodiment prefigures our experience of the world. This phenomenological
perspective suggests that practices are largely based on sensation and reflection: “our
phenomenologically experienced embodiment (the entanglement of body and mind, biology
and culture) is much more multi-faceted than we often allow for in conventional discussions
of organizational life” (Dale and Burrell, 2014, p.165).
It is our view that an embodied perspective on spatial organising presents several interesting
avenues and possibilities for MOS. Already, many interdisciplinary studies have stressed the
importance of understanding the extent to which physical dimensions are intertwined with
intellectual ones (Malafouris, 2004; Ingold, 2007; Vygotsky, 1978; De Certeau, 1980). In an
effort both to group several relevant concepts and to adopt a precise intellectual foundation
for our research, we rely here on one key author who will enable us to explain the embodied
connectivity at stake in the tours in question: Merleau-Ponty (1945, 1962, 1964, 2003).
Merleau-Ponty is widely known as the philosopher of embodiment. As suggested above,
embodiment describes one’s ability to feel and to “act upon”; embodiment is at the heart of
our experience of the world. Rather than simply being “thinkers,” we are continuous “doers,”
experimenting both mentally and physically with what “we,” “it,” and “they” can do.
Embodiment is also the process of how our senses produce these transformations, thus
making them visible for ourselves and for those sharing our world (Merleau-Ponty (1945)
talked about “intercorporeality”). According to Merleau-Ponty, “perception is an opening-out
to and engagement with otherness, a dialectical relationship of the body and its environment,
which simultaneously constitutes both subject and object” (Simonsen, 2007). These embodied
practices concern pre-reflexive (i.e. they are in the flow of perceptions both before, below,
and beyond language and thought), as well as reflexive activities (Ibid). In keeping with
Husserl’s original example of two hands touching one another, Merleau-Ponty (1945) stressed
that both hands are touched and touching, felt and feeling. Similarly, we are all involved in
countless “reversible” relationships with the world – our world is always in the middle like a
“flesh” or “texture” of experience.
For Merleau-Ponty (1964), the relationship between the visible and the invisible is also key in
how we experience this world. In living in the world with others, individuals ignore numerous
ways of seeing things, and instead focus their attention on one particular set of perceptions.
Otherwise put, it is necessary for us to create specific “visibilities” that will favour other
“invisibilities,” and conversely “invisibilities” that will improve our ability to perceive
particular “visibilities.” In this way, gestures, objects, and signs effectively point out, show,
materialize, hide and link spaces and places. As this phenomenon is also inextricably related
to time, it is necessary for us to establish a time (or an instantaneity) that will enable us to
avoid getting lost in endless anticipation of or projections into the future. Accordingly, “there
is an experience of the visible thing as pre-existing [one’s] vision, but it is not a merger, a
coincidence: because [one’s] eyes can see, [one’s] hands which touch can also be seen and
touched […], the world and [the individual] are inside each other, and from the perciperer to
the percipi, there is no anteriority, there is simultaneity and even delay” (Merleau-Ponty,
1964, p. 162). From this perspective, we thus spend the bulk of our present time in the past,
recognizing and reactivating shapes and forms ‘before’ we are able to truly perceive them.
Merleau-Ponty’s holistic approach, which incorporates embodiment, the categories of space
and time, can thus be seen as a precious lens for jointly exploring tours and their organization
of space, in particular in contexts where co-presence and intercorporeality are key (e.g.
collaborative spaces). Thanks to the fact that two of this article’s authors have served as tour
guides (a particularity that we describe further in the auto-ethnographic sections of this
article), we had access to emotional discussions between actors on both sides of the tour (i.e.
both tour guides and visitors). As such, by relying on the ethnography (four of us participated
in tours) and auto-ethnography of tour guides’ embodied experience, we were able to
understand the space and atmospheres produced or reproduced during the tours of
II. Material and methods
1. Research object: guided tours of collaborative spaces
We identified the following criteria for selecting which tours to include in our sample and for
distinguishing these tours from simple “visits” or “walks”:
i) The tour needed to be guided. Visiting a space alone was thus not eligible for
being a part of our sample, except when doing so was a specific strategy chosen
and recommended by a tour guide;
ii) The guide needed to be a member of the space, e.g. an intern, a person in charge of
communications or PR, the manager or owner of the space, or a member of the
security staff whose duty it was to welcome guests;
iii) A tour did not necessarily need to be scripted in order to be included in our
sample. In fact, we noticed that most tours were poorly organized by the guides
(which was evident in their discourse, the key ideas that they chose to emphasize,
iv) Visits could be internal or external (i.e. related to corporate collaborative
communities (or not));
v) The tour could require a registration process (online) or a procedure that could be
activated in situ (visitors being invited in and offered a tour on the spot).
We ultimately distinguished between informal tours, formal tours, collective tours, individual
tours, tours based (or not) on an interview, tours conducted by an insider or an outsider (see
Figure 1 below), tours for special events (such as openings), recurring tours, and tours
conducted collectively by at least two of the co-authors. In sum, 52 tours lasted less than 35
minutes (the median tour length), while 58 lasted more than 35 minutes (among which 15
tours lasted more than 60 minutes).
While the majority of the spaces we visited were independently operated, we also explored
corporate, internal, hybrid and shared (between several companies) collaborative spaces.
Accordingly, we defined each of these places as one of the following: “collaborative spaces,”
“collaborative places,” “innovation spaces,” and sometimes simply as “labs,” the last named
being integrated into a company’s more innovative projects and activities. We have ultimately
chosen to use the terms employed by the guides themselves to label the places we visited.
2. Collecting data: ethnographies and auto-ethnographies
Our research relies mainly on ethnographic (Ybema, Yanow, Wels, & Kamsteeg, 2009) and
auto-ethnographic (Doloriert & Sambrook, 2012; Boyle & Parry, 2007) accounts of tours of
“collaborative spaces” (which we defined in the introduction above). Ethnography can be
defined as “the art and science of describing a group or culture” (Fetterman, 1989), and
organizational ethnography as “the ethnographic study, and its dissemination, of organizations
and their organizing processes” (Ybema, Yanow, Wels, & Kamsteeg, 2009: 4). Similarly,
Ybema et al. (2009) have stressed that “everyday organizational life” “can be better grasped
not through questionnaires […], but by going out into the organizational ‘field’” (Ybema,
Yanow, Wels, & Kamsteeg, 2009:1). In doing so, they highlight the importance of the hidden
dimensions of organization, “including [its]emotional and political aspects” (Ybema, Yanow,
Wels, & Kamsteeg, 2009:7).
Our organizational ethnography of tours of collaborative spaces is particularly relevant for
two reasons. Firstly, these tours have been described in the literature as “the more lively and
interactive times in [an organization’s] space” (Garett et al, 2017: 10). Accordingly, our
ethnography of these tours consisted of broader, “long-term” ethnographies (of the spaces
themselves) that we completed in several collaborative spaces, mainly in Paris. These “long-
term residences” helped us to “internalize the basic beliefs, fears, hopes, and expectations of
the people under study” (Fetterman, 1989: 45). Moreover, this broader experience also led us
to gain a better understanding of the tour as the materialized and condensed expression of
community, largely thanks to a “cyclical process”. Fetterman’s (1989: 47) view of
ethnography is that “it begins with a panoramic view of the community, closes into a
microscopic focus on details, and then pans out to the larger picture again”. Tours are thus
particularly interesting in that they are likely to make an organization’s atmosphere visible.
Auto-ethnographic narratives such as ours are reflexive insofar as they enable researchers to
reflect not only on the practice of guiding tours, but also on being a researcher that is studying
the practice of guiding and taking the tour(s). This approach thus allows for multiple levels of
embodied understanding, and provided us with original inputs for our research and results,
largely because all of the co-authors were involved in the physical, embodied experience of
participating in a set of tours of collaborative spaces. For this ethnographic study, our team’s
four researchers had varied profiles: three women and one man, one researcher external to the
sites visited, and two researchers who at the time were serving as facilitators (holding action-
research positions) in several of the collaborative spaces that we visited. The last of the four
researchers was employed by a large company, and in turn was able to carry out several visits
to related corporate collaborative spaces. Collectively, our team represented a diversity of
positions, ranging from researchers that were part of the object being studied, to researchers
not formally connected to the space(s) visited. These differences in position greatly influenced
the emotions that the visits provoked. This gave us the opportunity to complete our research
through the telling of two auto-ethnographic tales consisting of multiple levels of complexity
(Doloriert & Sambrook, 2012). First, as guides themselves, two of the researchers had inside
insights which enabled us to uncover the key emotional registers that we discuss below.
Second, these same researchers sometimes had a different point of view on the same tour than
did the other co-authors, which allowed for discussions and debates about our different
perceptions of the tours. Third, the two auto-ethnographic researchers also observed tours in
their own spaces with another guide, which allowed for peer-to-peer discussions (see Boyle
and Parry, 2007). We documented these auto-ethnographies using the same coding elements
that we did for the other tour experiences (i.e. the emotions that they provoked).
In total, we included 110 tours in our sample, which took place in 13 different countries
between October 2014 and October 2016.
Type of collaborative spaces:
Number of tours:
Independent coworking spaces
France, Thailand, Singapore, Spain,
Germany, Portugal, Israel, Taiwan,
Australia, India, UK, Greece
Independent hybrid spaces
France, Singapore, Israel
Independent fab labs
France, Spain, Germany, Portugal,
France, Spain, Taiwan, Germany,
Corporate coworking spaces
Corporate fab labs
Independent hacker spaces
France, USA, Taiwan,
Corporate hybrid spaces
Independent artistic makerspaces
Table 1: Types of collaborative spaces visited
On average, each tour lasted 40.05 minutes. 63% of the tours were guided according to a
routinized practice. These tours gave us a better feel for each space’s atmosphere, enabled us
to use its facilities, and to meet some of its members. We visited a number of spaces several
times; some of them were visited by several of the co-authors at once, at times months after
an initial visit. This made it possible for the co-authors to share their emotions and to compare
how their emotions had evolved over time.
Finally, we sort the tour guides’ profiles into two categories: insiders and outsiders (Figure 1
below). The tours themselves were led by various institutional actors, and who gave each tour
depended on a number of different factors, including whether the tour was seen as an
impromptu opportunity (i.e. the tour was unscheduled), part of a business model (interns were
typically recruited for such tasks), or used as a means of managing a community (various
members were asked to give tours when needed). Among the 110 tours, 107 could be seen as
having had a defined strategy.
Figure 1: Tour guides’ profiles
Thus, we defined insiders as employees, interns, managers of the space/place, co-owners/co-
founders/founders, or community members, and outsiders as academics or the (outside) co-
authors alone. Four of the tours were individual visits (including one co-author alone). Six of
the tours were led by more than just one person, and at times included both insiders and/or
3. Treatments of the tours:
In line with our emotion and experience-oriented perspective, we drew on Merleau-Ponty’s
(1964) chiasm of visibility-invisibility (as two sides of the same coin rather than opposing
categories involved in perception). We subsequently stress the emotional and perceptual
continuity between visibilities and invisibilities as these were enacted by each guide through
her/his comments, gestures, rhythms and trajectories. As such, the former is the necessary
extension or counterpart of the latter (see Figure 2 below). These “visibilities” and
“invisibilities” were accordingly at the heart of our analyses of place and our understanding of
how “atmosphere” was materialized during tours.
Figure 2: Visibility-invisibility loops
We have also drawn on Merleau-Ponty’s notion of continuity versus discontinuity. We were
particularly interested in the rhythm and pace of each tour, the breaks (where, when, how, and
their status in the context of storytelling), and any explicit detours taken within the space. In
line with Merleau-Ponty, we saw discontinuities as moments that made continuities visible
within collective activities, and in turn came to understand continuities as requiring numerous
discontinuities in order to be maintained and sustained. After several discussions and rounds
of coding, we also added four additional categories in our coding table: “key artefacts
shown,” “trajectory through the space,” “thematic dimensions emphasized during the tour,”
and “temporal structures of the activity.” Moreover, the continuities and discontinuities of the
walks and the narratives around them appeared as key components in how the tours
constituted or re-constituted particular atmospheres.
The emotions of the researchers-ethnographers themselves were also at the heart of our
research. We kept daily logbooks with detailed descriptions of the tours, their characteristics,
and so on, as well as accounts of our own feelings and perceptions during the tours. What did
we feel, touch and smell during the tours? Did we have the same experiences as the other
participants? In order to keep in line with Merleau-Ponty’s holistic approach to time, we also
recorded/wrote our personal past experiences as they related to our lived experiences during
the tours. This was in turn a way of exploring how our past was part of our present experience
of each tour.
We formalized these observations in a report, after having used a table of 25 columns, where
we transposed by collective consensus the circumlocutions of our notebooks to make emerge
the underlying emotion. Then, we coded them using Nvivo software (Figure 3). We first
collectively elaborated a set of tags (28) that described our emotions about the space during
each respective tour (sharing, sense of mutual help, gift, well-being, kindness, conviviality,
history, desire, imitation, unease, seduction, closure, sense of mutual interests, caring,
pleasure, fun, etc.). Beyond basic emotions (anger, happiness, fear, etc.), our first line of tags
thus included emotional perceptions, i.e. what we strongly felt (or emotionally experienced)
during the tours.
Figure 3: Example of a comparison of our coded emotions between two spaces (source:
Nvivo, authors’ own)
Our tags included both descriptions of the emotions (“basic” emotions) as well as of the
deeper (but also emotional) impressions that we felt, which were often linked directly to our
basic emotions. Following several group discussions, we clustered these tags into four
categories (“ritual,” “sales pitch,” “gamification,” and “learning expedition”). This led us to
define a set of emotional registers that we view as being the foundation of our results. These
emotional registers are made up of coherent emotional narratives (i.e. stories with emotional
tones), gestures, artefacts, and space itself. Otherwise put, these emotional registers are in a
way “samples” of the atmosphere we are likely to feel once “in,” i.e. once we become
members of the space in question.
Lastly, in an effort to explore further the tours and their different atmospheres, we compared
both the atmospheres produced by the various tours and their related emotional registers with
the atmospheres that we had experienced as members or managers of the collaborative spaces.
This extension of the horizon of our ethnography was useful as it allowed us to better explore
the atmosphere of place and to link it with its initial experience.
III. Results and discussion: From the three steps of the tour to the four emotional
registers of the production of spatial atmospheres
Here, we provide an ethnographical account of our experiences of the 110 collaborative
spaces. In doing so, we use Merleau-Ponty’s categories (in particular, visibility versus
invisibility) in order to shed light on the four emotional registers that we view as being
involved in the production of spatial atmospheres that “start” with tours. In doing so, we also
chart how this emotional view enables a better understanding of how tours of collaborative
spaces are designed.
The experience of the tour: emotions, embodiment and atmosphere
The phenomenological categories identified above were part of the materiality, spatiality, and
temporality of the tours. However, one of the most important dimensions of our research
relates to how embodied experience is constitutive of a sense of place and atmosphere. As
such, here we describe the tours’ general narratives as well as their spatial, material, and
Entering a place
In most cases, tours required either online or offline registration. A number of the
collaborative spaces that we surveyed had routinely scheduled tours, while others had online
portals for tour registration (and thus scheduling). At this stage, it was obvious that facilitators
had already commodified the tours. Beyond requiring that participants register, several spaces
charged a fee for tours, while others simply encouraged donations. At times, we had the
opportunity to preview the tours online: there, we found pictures of the spaces and of its
related events, as well as 3D-virtual visits and other resources. The difficulty involved in
accessing some of these places increased their perceived selectivity before a tour had even
begun. That said, the accessibility of each tour was also impacted by the position of the
researcher in question (inside or outside the organization, introduced or not by someone).
We can note here an initial element that was common to all of the places that we explored:
their visibility within the broader spaces in which they were located. For independent spaces,
visibility was at times aimed at attracting prospective customers and/or at communicating
with the surrounding neighbourhood (see Figure 4 below), while for corporate spaces,
visibility was at times aimed at the organization’s employees or at external clients. For
example, the Paris-based innovation lab of a major auditing firm used their space as both a
showroom and a makerspace – this space was meant for “making” and for “showing” services
to customers unaccustomed to buying their (the auditing firm’s) digital products. Moreover,
some of the corporate spaces that we visited were located near reception desks or elevators. In
coworking spaces, it was clear that location choice was a key element in the space’s visibility
Figure 4: Collaborative space, “Le Credo” – France (source: authors’ own) (Note: We have
changed the names of all of the collaborative spaces discussed here in order to ensure their
One of our first shared impressions was how we were welcomed into each space. Strangely,
some collaborative spaces did not have welcome desks or clear entry points. This generated a
sense that we were in a “non-place” (Augé, 1992), that we had not arrived “somewhere” until
a guide ultimately welcomed us. Put in phenomenological terms, each arrival was an
encounter more so than a precise point in space. As such, a guide’s simple “welcome” became
a central feeling within our experiences of the tours.
Materializing a promise: the role of the tour guide
We discovered that tours (given by space managers, community managers, facilitators, interns
or other members of the space) are ways of showing, performing, and materializing the
services on offer in a collaborative space, and that tour guides play a critical role in this
The tours that we took lasted between 10 minutes to over an hour and a half. While most of
them represented the first time we were “in” the space, one third of them constituted a re-
exploration.4 Sometimes, these visits consisted entirely of a tour, while at other times, an
interview was involved. Tours largely consisted of a tour guide(s) presenting the space’s key
artefacts and facilities (3D printers, shared desks, open spaces, ping-pong tables, artwork,
etc.); these artefacts and facilities revealed each place’s services, the skills that it promised to
foster, and features related to its atmosphere. Together, these elements seemed to be promises
that the space was making to potential members taking the tours. During these tours, each
individual that we talked to had their own method of storytelling and of (at times) conveying
important information about the commercial offer (or promise) at hand. We also had (chance)
encounters with members of the community and short discussions with them and other tour
participants about the space.
Different tours had different ways of embodying the promises being made by the space: some
tours only allowed conversation with the coworker leading it, while others insisted on
stopping throughout the space as a means of facilitating conversations with other coworkers.
However, the majority of the spaces that we visited (in particular coworking spaces) were
silent. Visitors often felt embarrassed about conversing with coworkers, as they were largely
worried that they would be disturbing them. As such, it seemed that coworkers at times had
been pointlessly primed for the tours, as visitors typically did not use these opportunities to
deepen their experience of the space.
4 These cases were particularly interesting for comparing the different atmospheres that we felt during the tours
and as members of the place.
Tours clearly represented an opportunity for the guide to give visitors a feel for the space’s
atmosphere. Tours thus allowed visitors to see and touch the facilities, to smell (sometimes
literally) the place, to have chance encounters and discussions with interesting
members/coworkers in order to get a feel for the space’s (potential for) experience and to hear
stories about the space (e.g. during events). The “invisibilities” that the guides’ storytelling
alluded to represented a powerful mode of materialization: participants were invited to
imagine an event, a project, or even members (we often visited spaces that were nearly
empty). What remained to be seen, to be felt – i.e. what would be seen and felt if one were to
join the place – was very important for the guides we met. In other words, convincing visitors
of the materiality of these invisibilities was at the heart of the expected experience of the
During our tours, we were surprised by the central role that aesthetics often played in
collaborative spaces. More specifically, we observed that spaces highlighted specific aesthetic
artefacts of their collaborative environments: lockers, photographs of the members, members’
business cards, mascots, maps showing the locations of ongoing projects, typewriters used as
decorations, sewing-machine tables converted into working tables. These various elements
gave a strong aesthetic “sense of” the place. For the independent spaces that we observed,
aesthetics played a pivotal role in attracting customers; these spaces seemed to recognize that
customers are often in search of a very particular aesthetic. In corporate spaces, aesthetic
design was often met with ambivalence: there, we noted that the desire to differentiate the
company from others, translated (somewhat paradoxically) to an attempt to conform to the
company’s more general aesthetic. For example, in a building dedicated to design and
architecture, the aesthetics of a lab evoked the industrial past of a former car production plant
that the site had formally housed.
Quasi-objects such as light, smell, colours, textures, were also central in the tours, and these
elements were often designed in contrast to the “grey,” “closed,” “serious,” “impersonal” tone
of a more traditional work (or life) environment. A sensorial feature that was particularly
stressed was the spatial settings and tools found in many of the collaborative spaces (3D
printers, digital milling machines, members’ creations), allowing visitors to “touch,”
“manipulate,” and to create an environment conducive to creation itself. This point was
emphasized by most of the guides in our sample: innovation was materialized in each space.
During several of the visits, another interesting material element was also mentioned – the
movable geographical location of the space. Once, for example, this was evoked by a plaque
bearing an inscription of the space’s opening date. In many cases, places (mostly fab labs in
our experience) seemed to exist beyond themselves. These spaces would often change
location, inserting themselves into larger spaces.
Surprisingly, tours were also opportunities for guides to make good on a space’s promises
about broader invisible areas and territories. The surrounding bistros, public gardens, metro
stations, streets, and ecosystems were often mentioned during the tours, and at times, guides
connected them to a personal story, pointed them out through a window, identified them on a
map, or referenced them during encounters and conversations with other space members.
Indeed, these “externalities” were presented as promises that visitors could access if they
Figure 5: The community charter of “Love & Win” in Sydney (source: authors’ own)
We observed that tours often feel like a first step into a community, particularly in the context
of coworking spaces. A second step often followed: potential customers were at times offered
a free half-day trial, or given the opportunity to become a member of the “community” on the
spot. This notion of “community” was central to every space’s promise: not only would you
be joining a space – you would be becoming a part of a “community,” a “family” where
people help one another and have fun while doing so. Beyond this, customers were promised
a “network,” a place where they could connect with other people. The events organized in and
by the various places also played a central role in communicating and enforcing these
promises – events (and their management) were at the heart of building a sense of community;
in this way, “community” revealed the atmosphere that each of the tours attempted to create.
This said, however, from a phenomenological point of view, the very first step of a tour could
be the space’s name. Some such names are highly evocative, such as “The Lighthouse,”
which might evoke other places such as the Eiffel Tower (due to the light at its top) or the
Atlantic coast (which for French people is a synonym for holidays and vacation more
generally) (see Vignette 1 below). From this point of view, a name provides a certain level of
visibility, and thus can shed light on the invisibilities of a visitor’s mental associations. These
invisibilities may become perceptible through language or names, or through anecdotes and
projections. For example, in one corporate fab lab, the tour guide mentioned forthcoming
plans for the space, including the addition of furniture, machinery, tools and so on, that would
all be created by fabbers. Such plans represent an invisible category that can be elicited
through the tour.
Vignette 1: A visitor sniffing around
When I used to have an hour or less to kill before an appointment, I would check Google
Maps to see which collaborative spaces were closest to me. Similarly, before travelling to
Thailand, I made a list of collaborative spaces using Google Maps, but I ultimately didn’t visit
any of them because I later realized how difficult it would be to get to the nearest one. I chose
the one accessible by boat.
For the same reason, I googled Belgian coworking spaces while attending a conference. I
ultimately chose one—not based on proximity or convenience—because its online pictures
resonated with my contextualized feelings: the space (close to a river) was called the “Phare”
(lighthouse), and had a beautiful painting of a boat on its external wall. At that time, I had
been dreaming of moving to the coast, and these photos thus resonated with my preexisting
feelings and desires – indeed, it is often these seemingly irrational decisions that inform the
decision-making process of potential customers.
Global and local tours
We were surprised by the various global tendencies that we identified in the aesthetics, spatial
arrangements, furniture, facilities and gestures that we experienced during the tours. Of the
110 spaces visited, one of the most amazing elements related to this was a general impression
of isomorphism (in particular for coworking spaces; see Vignette 2 below). These spaces were
truly “same-same,” as the saying goes in Thailand. They had the same furniture (phone
booths, ping-pong tables, chalkboards, Ikea seats…). They also took the same pride in having
Steelcase furniture or cheap or free furniture, the same space design (welcome desks, general
L- or U-shaped layouts, open spaces surrounded by small, private offices), and the same
emphasis on a “community” (see the charter in Figure 5 above). Together, these similarities
contributed to a familiar atmosphere: indeed, it felt simple, if not natural, to project the work
habits and routines we had developed in other collaborative spaces into the one that we were
touring. Paradoxically, the more we moved from one space to another, the more we felt at
home everywhere, or perhaps more appropriately, anywhere.
Vignette 2: Globalization and the feeling of loss
This makes me realize, again, how global our world has become. People share the same
information, the same training (e.g. standardized MBA programs), the same providers and
partly the same problems (housing costs in big cities, economic competition, the need for
more sustainable development, etc.). The same buzzwords are used in Paris and in London.
However, despite a real advantage of appearing global and familiar, these spaces also embody
a feeling of loss: a loss of identity, a loss of the pleasure of travelling around the world in
search of new cultures/routines/habits, a loss of disorientation. As has been pointed out in a
recent article about the homogeneity caused by AirBnB or Instagram5, such an homogeneity
of furniture, communication, etc. leads to the homogeneity of wishes and wills, and thus
becomes a dangerous way of enclosing people in a single way of thinking.
Indeed, these tours of collaborative spaces highlighted how open and global our world is
becoming. Beyond these general trends, we also noticed that these spaces shared niche
markets, which at times focused on one particular gender (such as “Ventura” in Sydney and
its focus on women), entrepreneurs in digital areas and communication (geared towards
collaborative work, such as in Singapore), academic labs (LabUM in Singapore), or fintech
(“Love & Win” and “Wild Talk” in Sydney). The presence of international networks (e.g.
“Huben,” “Botega,” “FullDay,” etc.) and the emergence of global social movements (notably
hacker and maker movements) reinforced this impression of globalism.
Nap rooms epitomize this move towards globalization (see Figure 6). Many spaces we visited
offered bubbles to help one do a break and to take a nap. These places were more or less
visible, and once in, offered more or less possibilities to be invisible for neighbours and
Figure 6: Nap rooms abound – invisible at “Huben” (Singapore), visible and tested at “Uni-
Lab Paris” (France), and visible at “The Flat Rennes” (France) (source: authors’ own)
Four emotional registers in collaborative spaces: Initiation, Commodification, Selection,
The logics of visibilities and invisibilities that we have highlighted thus far can accordingly be
seen as contributing to the construction of atmosphere, a process which itself was common to
all of the external collaborative spaces that we visited. More generally, we identified four
emotional registers that emerged from our coding of emotions, each linked to specific
visibilities and invisibilities: initiation, commodification, selection, and gamification (see
The “initiation” register is epitomized by our experience of visiting corporate collaborative
spaces and a handful of independent spaces. Each tour was clearly a ritual made up of explicit
and particular rules, values and practices of the “community” being channelled. The next
implicit step was simply to take a seat and become part of that space’s atmosphere and
community. Surprisingly, the communities themselves were largely invisible (most of the
time we visited empty spaces), made visible through artefacts and the guides’ storytelling,
which together conveyed the spaces’ collective dynamics.
In contrast, the “selection” register was based on less inclusive emotions and experiences.
Clearly, some places were not intended to include everyone: this is mainly due to their
respective areas of specialization (e.g. spaces devoted exclusively to Internet of Things or to
design) or to the projects that the space promised to foster. Such selectivity could also be
noted in the organization of space itself: areas where one “should not go,” areas whose teams
“do not like to be bothered,” etc. This emotion was paradoxically increased when teams were
not present during the tours: moving into empty offices in a space described as “very
innovative” gave us the strange impression of visiting a museum-like organizational space.
“Gamification” was another emotional register that tour guides tended to draw on. “Having
fun” appeared as a very open, sane and creative practice. The production of a friendly
atmosphere was often constructed when tour guides referenced a more “adult” or constrained
world while simultaneously pointing out the “gamified” materialization of that world in a set
of “fun” mobile artefacts, such as beanbag seats and football tables. It is in this sense that
these spaces represent new, somewhat paradoxically “relaxing” work environments for
employees, attracting them and encouraging them to spend more and more time in the space.
During our visits, we observed that the spaces reserved for innovation and creativity were also
used as places for gathering, exchanging, or even escaping. Unsurprisingly, similar “nice” and
“convivial” details were highlighted during the tours: guides pointed out and/or made sure to
guide tours close to cushions, hammocks, relaxation areas and mindfulness rooms.
Lastly, “commodification” was a prevalent register, and was often associated with
“selection.” This dimension was present when guides framed the visits for external clients and
for future collaborators by using the “showroom effect.” For customers that had already paid
to be part of a community or particular atmosphere, seeing a company hosts a particular kind
of event in the space can represent the promise that that member is part of an innovative
organization. We observed that this use of space occurred chiefly within companies’ head
offices or strategic centres: surface area therefore served to showcase the space’s possibilities
while also functioning as internal advertising for the group.
EMOTIONS (we felt
the guide wanted to
The tour is a first step
towards the “community.”
It makes explicit particular
rules, values and practices.
The next implicit step:
taking a seat and becoming
part of the space.
The tour is: a RITUAL
Sharing, sense of mutual
help, gift, well-being,
The “event” room, large open space,
people chatting in the kitchen
(opportunity to partake in the
Implicit invisibility: the community
Key gestures: showing the event
room, stopping in it, stopping in
front of the wall of member pictures,
shaking hands of members during
the tour, etc.
The tour is a means of
showing, materializing, and
experiencing key services
offered by the place, its
employees, and its
The tour is: a SALES-
closure, sense of mutual
pleasure or familiarity
Facilities, up-to-date furniture,
aesthetics, description of good
Implicit invisibility: the value of
Key gestures: mentioning fees,
distributing leaflets, showing and
walking through up-to-date
The tour is part of a process
that can lead to a “club,” an
elite group, and a set of
“happy few.” The guide
(quickly) makes one feel
what would remain to be
done for those in the group
who might wish to be a part
It is: an INQUIRY, the first
part of an EXAMINATION
Ambition, joining the
competition, sense of
People are taken “close to”, to the
entry of, but not inside (yet).
Visibility from afar. Invisibility of
what could be experienced once
Implicit invisibility: excellence,
Key gestures: showing different
areas to different member profiles,
visualizing the selection process,
pointing out areas from afar that
cannot be accessed (until one’s
The tour is a first
opportunity to learn
something, to have fun
The tour is: a LEARNING
Pleasure, fun, learning,
Rhythm of a game, sense of a party,
childhood, people can touch,
experience, and take pieces of
materials cut by machines.
Implicit invisibility: new skills, new
Key gestures: chaotic gestures and
trajectory, invitation to play and test
Table 2: Four emotional registers and four universes of visibilities-invisibilities in the context
of tours of collaborative spaces
These four emotional registers can be combined in various ways. For example, after a tour of
“Botega” (an independent urban coworking space) in Berlin, we felt both initiation and
selection emanating from our guide’s practices. In contrast, during our visit to “Roadmap
Digital,” a fab lab in Paris, we experienced both gamification and initiation.
In addition, all emotional registers corresponded to different temporal orientations. A long-
term process for initiation (beyond formal membership, becoming part of a community can be
a long process), a sense of immediacy for commodification (you pay and in turn feel that you
are immediately granted “access” to something), a feeling of uncertainty and possibly of
discontinuous time (trying and re-trying) regarding selection, and the bounded time of the
expedition and games for gamification.
All of these emotional registers are resources that a guide can draw on in order to produce an
organizational atmosphere; in doing so, these guides can make this atmosphere visible
through their emphasis on specific trajectories, gestures, artefacts and narratives (see Figure 7
below). As Strati (2009: 239) has stressed, “atmosphere” is initially largely an invisibility.
The process of giving and taking a tour generates the visibilities and invisibilities necessary
for visitors to be able to “touch” the organizational atmosphere at hand. It also maintains a
subtle balance between which needs, and need not, be shown or made explicit. The narratives
produced by tour guides’ speech, gestures, and trajectory can also be part of temporal work
(Kaplan and Orlikowski, 2013). A powerful linage of past emotions can be activated by
describing possible futures to prospective members. Emotions associated with childhood can
come out of gamification and initiation, whereas commodification and selection can draw on
more adult imaginaries and temporal structures.
Figure 7: The emergence of atmosphere during the walking in and narrating of collaborative
spaces (source: authors’ own – Monthy Python’s silly walk (CC))
Guides’ abilities to lead tours and produce narratives can serve to extend, stretch, and ground
various emotional registers in a particular place. In our observations, the discontinuities and
rhythms of the tours played a key role in this process. For example, the pace of the (guided)
tour and the number and contexts of the breaks also functioned as a way for guides to suggest
other organizational continuities: the importance of silence, the existence of closed and
transitional spaces, and the importance (or lack thereof) of specific spaces could be
emphasized by the speed at which one walked through the space and any associated
commentary (or lack thereof).
Interestingly, the process of entering and exploring a place was at the heart of the spaces’
various atmospheres. In this way, tours symbolize, epitomize, and embody their respective
place and that place’s sense (or non-sense) of togetherness (i.e. its atmosphere), for better or
for worse (at times, collaborative spaces disappointed with their failure to make good on their
promises). Thus, collaborative spaces can to a certain extent be reduced to their atmospheres,
the kind that one is likely to “touch” during a tour. Moreover, for “insiders,” it is a common
experience to see visitors exploring and getting a “taste of” or “feel for” their space, as such
visits and free trials are often regularly on offer. Over the course of this study, we experienced
this “everydayness” of the tours, and identified how it was made spatially, temporally and
materially visible through the tour.
Our participation in the tours and our ethnographies of collaborative spaces made us
understand that place is not necessarily bounded, and further, that space is not simply a vessel
to be “filled by something.” The narratives of the tours made it clear that the collaborative
spaces were also territories (which included nearby shops, bistros, and other surrounding
social hubs), places made up of past histories (during which the building had undergone
several transformations) and biographical relationships (many individuals’ histories were
connected to those of the collaborative spaces). We identified numerous people, practices and
projects to be more-or-less spatially and temporally involved in the experience of each place.
All of these elements can be described as part of a more “temporal work” (Kaplan and
Orlikowski, 2013) based not only on text and discourse, but on past and anticipated emotions
Contributions, limitations and avenues for further research
This research contributes to studies and theorizing of space (Clegg & Kornberger, 2006;
Taylor & Spicer, 2007; Orlikowski, 2007) in organizations and organizing as it highlights the
role that embodied experience plays in the production of space and place in organizing. The
dimensions of visibility-invisibility and continuity-discontinuity that we have borrowed from
Merleau-Ponty (1962) further illuminate the spatial and temporal activities of organizing.
More precisely, our research relies on the concepts of “atmosphere” and “emotional registers”
as means of exploring the spatial and temporal unboundedness of new work settings such as
collaborative spaces. Ultimately, we hold that one can better comprehend the nature of such
places by considering their atmospheres. Phenomenologically, our experience of long stays in
collaborative spaces is close to that of our participation to tours. Working in a coworking
space or a makerspace does not mean belonging to a clear-cut community and sensing more
and more faithfully what is the true, stable place. Staying and visiting both result in the
experience of an atmosphere. New ways of working (e.g. telework, digital nomadism,
coworking or DIY) can be seen as ‘things’, but they can also be described as quasi-things and
practices which are part of an atmosphere.
Empirically, our research has enabled us to identify precise emotional registers and
atmospheres related to collaborative spaces. In order to “make invisibilities visible,” the
guides that we observed jointly created space while simultaneously focusing on the present
and on the on-going experiences of tour participants. Each of the registers relates to specific
temporal orientations the guides could play with and combine in their narratives: a long-term
process for “initiation” (as once “in,” becoming part of a community can be a long process); a
sense of immediacy for “commodification” (you pay and feel that you immediately have
“access” to something); a feeling of uncertainty and (possibly) discontinuous time (trying and
re-trying) for “selection”; and the bounded time of exploration and games for “gamification.”
Together, this temporal work (Kaplan and Olikowski, 2013) was particularly precious in
lending legitimacy to the various collaborative spaces that we studied by sticking to the
temporal orientations of the visitors.
From a managerial perspective, our study makes two key contributions to the existing
literature. The first is our identification of the four emotional registers, which are related to
the design and management of tours of collaborative spaces. Each of these requires an ever-
increasing degree of bricolage, as well as tour guides that can effectively mix and match the
various emotional registers during their tours. Moreover, the forms of identification that we
saw as being accessible to guides represent a valuable managerial tool. Being a woman (or
not), or introducing oneself as a researcher (or not), both have impacts on an interlocutor’s
Our research suffers from three limitations. First, this study includes a very limited number of
collaborative spaces located in rural areas, and the business models of such spaces are on the
whole different from those found in urban areas (which made up the majority of our sample).
Second, as we did not follow-up with other tour participants, we were unable to chart how the
emotions elicited by the tour shaped their perception of the various spatial atmospheres, or
their decisions about membership subsequent to the tours. Finally, we did not systematically
link our physical experiences of the spaces to our online experiences of them, as only a
fraction of collaborative spaces offered virtual visits and podcasts.
In addition to considering the aforementioned limitations, future research could also
investigate the relationship between the four emotional registers and the business models of
collaborative spaces. Interestingly, business models were often part of the “invisibilities” that
these spaces were creating and maintaining. Indeed, almost nothing was said during the tours
about the place as an entity; instead, what was made emotionally visible was a community
(which might or might not be an extension of a particular business model) rather than the
larger meta-organization itself (Ahrne and Brunson, 2008).
Future research could also focus on how embodied phenomenological processes and practices
impact customer relationships in other contexts, such as after the signature of a membership
contract. Such studies would be the next logical step towards a greater understanding of
phenomenology within the everyday life of collaborative spaces.
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Table of figures and tables
Table 1: Types of collaborative spaces visited
Figure 1: Tour guides’ profiles
Figure 2: Visibility-invisibility loops
Figure 3: Example of a comparison of our coded emotions between two spaces
Figure 4: Collaborative space, “Le Credo” – France
Vignette 1: Sometimes tours provoke emotions – just not the ones you might expect!
Figure 5: The community charter of “Love & Win” in Sydney
Vignette 2: Not all family members are welcome…
Vignette 3 : A visitor sniffing around
Vignette 4: Globalization and the feel of loss
Figure 6: Nap rooms abound – invisible at “Huben” (Singapore), visible and tested at
“Uni-Lab Paris” (France), and visible at “The Flat Rennes” (France)
Table 2: Four emotional registers and four universes of visibilities-invisibilities in the
context of tours of collaborative spaces
Figure 7: The visual activation of atmosphere during the walking in and narrating of