SelfInformed

September 2013


Coworking — The Office of the Future (NOW)

Wednesday, September 04, 2013
By Sallie S. Hyman

Currently, over 14.5 million people in the U.S. are self-employed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that by 2020, about 65 million Americans—almost 40 percent of the workforce—will be employed as freelancers, independent contractors, or entrepreneurs. Many will be running businesses from their homes.

But what happens when you need to meet with an important client? Do you end up at the local coffee shop? How about when it would be good to bounce an idea off of another person to get a fresh opinion? Is working alone starting to test your sanity? The answer to these problems can be found in coworking.

WHAT IS COWORKING?
Coworking can be defined simply as working in shared office space that fits your business needs. The idea of coworking began as early as the 1950s when “business incubators’ were created that let multiple small and medium sized businesses work within the same space.

The present-day model of coworking began around 2005 in Silicon Valley. Brad Neuberg, a software programmer is credited with coining the term “coworking.” After leaving his job to become a freelancer, Neuberg tired of the isolation and created a work space named Spiral Muse and posted for like-minded workers to join him in his “coworking space.”

The definition has become more complex over time. Nina Pohler, who wrote her thesis on coworking at the Vienna University for Business Administration and Economics, recently tried to define coworking and came up with 
the definition: 
“Every workspace with flexible structures that is designed for and by people with atypical, new types of work that is not exclusively for people from one certain company.” 

WHO IS COWORKING?
More than 100,000 people are now coworking. 

Although coworking may have its origins in the realm of the techy startup, entrepreneur world, coworking can work for every type of business. Freelancers, startups, traveling corporate employees, and anyone needing the amenities of an office are turning to coworking spaces for the solution. 

Entrepreneurs are the first group that comes to mind. These workers are often using home offices and working in isolation. Coworking spaces give them the professional work environment free from kids, pets, and household chores that can stifle productivity and creativity.

It also provides a place to meet with clients, as most coworking spaces have conference rooms. Being around other entrepreneurs will help to stimulate creativity and provide camaraderie. Julie Yoder, Founder and Instructor at The English Teacher Collective, based in Washington, DC, was feeling isolated and knew it was time to move her business out of the house and into a more professional setting. After acquiring an associate, she moved into a more accessible office space.

Startups are also using coworking spaces. These groups can find enough work space without having to take on expensive office rentals. It is also a great place to find and recruit new talent and network.

Believe it or not, big businesses are also using coworking spaces. These spaces allow corporations to test new markets with relatively little risk. Human resource departments are also examining the way people work in these spaces in order to improve employee satisfaction in traditional offices. Corporations also offer coworking options for employees who travel and for those who may prefer some flexibility in their work schedule and environment. 

THE BENEFITS OF COWORKING
According to Deskmag’s (an online magazine devoted to coworking) annual Global Coworking Survey, the benefits of coworking are impressive. Seventy-one percent of participants reported a boost in creativity since joining a coworking space, while 62 percent said their standard of work had improved.
Deskmag also found that 90 percent of coworkers got a boost to their self-confidence, likely due to the supportive, collaborative communities sparked by coworking. Other benefits reported by those surveyed included:
  • 93 percent said their social circle had increased significantly.
  • 86 percent said their business network had grown.
  • 88 percent said their isolation had decreased.
Survey results showed that respondents had made an average of 3.6 new meaningful acquaintances over two months time. In addition, over one third of coworkers surveyed confirmed that their income increased since joining a coworking facility. Yoder agrees with these benefits and feels more motivated and productive when working at her coworking office.

One of the most important elements of coworking is the community it builds. Coworking spaces may cater to one type of industry (architects, computer programmers, designers) or may be a mix of every imaginable type, but they all build a sense of community of independent thinkers. Having people with different skill sets, ideas, and innovation stirs creativity within all of the members.

The networking possibilities are endless. It was this community idea that brought Susana Rinderle of Susana Rinderle Consulting in Albequerque, New Mexico to the coworking scene. A self-professed introvert, Rinderele is happy to work at home. She finds the coworking space too noisy to work in, but was drawn to the networking she found in the space she uses.

Instead of working there, she attends the educational and networking events. There is a great sense of community and collaboration. “I had the desire to be around bright, sunny, positive people,” says Rinderle. One unique feature is the “pay it forward wall” where members can barter services. Coworking communities are not only a place to incubate ideas, but can also serve as a place to meet investors or to find the latest greatest startup in which to invest as well.

Coworking also allows flexibility of work schedules that is important for many workers. A recent survey conducted by MindMetre found that 64 percent of U.S. employees are happier with their jobs today than they were two years ago because of the increased flexibility and shift towards a clearer work/life balance. Research also shows that flexible workers experience lower levels of work-related stress and higher levels of work satisfaction. All these benefits are found in coworking.

Many coworking spaces also offer social networking events and free classes as well, further broadening their value. Yoder has given business talks at her office and says, “Giving back makes it feel like a community.”

COWORKING SPACES
As of 2012, there were over 1,200 coworking spaces worldwide with more opening each day. The basic breakdown of any coworking space is that it provides a work area (either a desk, a cubicle, or a closed office space), electricity for electronic devices, WiFi service, basic business equipment (printer, fax, copier), often a conference room, and almost universally, coffee.

Spaces may try to differentiate themselves by adding additional amenities. Some have lounges with pool tables, televisions, and video games. Others have gym equipment or band instruments for people to jam with. One coworking space aimed for women only has a spa-like décor and offers weekly massages. Each space has its own vibe and those who have done research on them say that you need to try out a few spaces in your local area to find the one that suits you best.

Companies such as Sharedesk.net and Deskhero.com can help to connect you to a coworking space. Yoder suggests if possible that you try out the space for a day to see if it is a good match for your needs. She tried out several spaces before finding the one that fit. After a day in the space she said, “Intuitively I knew it would work. This is a space for work, but also for a little play.”

These spaces are a great place to work for many people because most can be accessed 24 hours per day. This means that you can work around the times that you are most productive, not just on a 9-5 schedule. Mark Dixon, CEO of Regus, the world’s largest provider of flexible work spaces, says, “The future of work should not be dictated by space or place, but by the individual and the tasks that he or she has to deliver. Many employees are now measured by output and productivity, and not just 40 hours spent sitting at a desk.” Dixon believes that there is a different expectation of when and where work should happen and that these coworking spaces fill those expectations. 

Most coworking spaces have a daily, weekly, or monthly fee. At first this may seem like a burdensome expense, since your home office is “free.” But is it really? A home office requires additional electricity, water, heat/air conditioning, and office equipment. If you work from a coffee shop, there is the “coffee and sandwich” rent, the obligatory purchases required to keep café owners happy while you work there. Deskmag calculated the cost of buying several cups of coffee every day, and found that membership in a coworking space is usually a less expensive option.

For individuals who need a more professional environment in which to meet clients, to get into the “work” mode, or to network with like-minded entrepreneurs, coworking may be the right choice. Coworking offers the benefits of a traditional office, as well as a creative, innovative atmosphere in which new business ideas can thrive. With so many different spaces available, there is sure to be one that fits your needs.




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