Put away your pajamas, telecommuters: Coworking makes it possible to “work from home” without being a hermit.
By Jaclyn Crawford
The Internet has created a change of pace in people’s lives—in the way they work, live and play. It has also created a movement happening worldwide, a movement of people who are finding a new way to work together. The coworking movement is drastically reshaping the way we think about the traditional workday.
In 2013, 3.3 million people telecommuted to work, according to the Global Workplace Analytics, and that number is expected to grow to 3.9 million by 2016. For many, telecommuting means more than sitting in a coffee shop for hours. Rather, it may mean finding a “third space,” according to Ben Skoda, Founder of Workshop, a coworking space in Chicago.
“It used to be one extreme or the other: I either worked from a cubicle or worked in my pajamas,” Skoda said. “Now there are these new places, some people refer to them as a third space—not my office, not my home, but a place where like-minded people are working and you have amenities you need to get your work done.”
These spaces, now found in and around many major cities in the U.S., are known as coworking spaces. They house many office amenities, such as printers, kitchens, office supply closets and conference rooms; but, instead of the person next to you working for the same company, often he or she may be working on a vastly different project for a whole different organization. Sam Rosen, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Desktime, says it is about creating a community who works together.
“Every Starbucks is sort of like a coworking space in the sense that a lot of people are working there, but there is no dialogue. You don’t talk to the people next to you and ask them what they are doing or what they are working on,” Rosen said. “Coworking is being surrounded by like-minded people who also wanted to leave wherever they were working and find a group to work with.”
For executive leaders, this is a drastic shift in the traditional idea of how people have been working. That said, coworking also may provide an alternative, more cost-effective option for telecommuters and other employees to get their work done. Rosen says the real estate business is changing, and so is the new age of workers.
“Fundamentally, we believe commercial real estate is an antiquated model,” he added. “One reason is because the real estate business is based on five-year, long-term leases. But for the new worker, there is a humongous shift in not knowing if they will be committed in five years. So there is all this empty space going unused.”
Rosen mentioned the idea of “office hoteling” as another alternative workplace strategy, via which workers can book a desk for a day when they are needed in the office. “It makes them more efficient, and it brings down real estate costs. A big company will save tens of hundreds of millions of dollars,” Rosen said.
For managers, the challenge of having telecommuters is frequently the idea of lost collaboration. Coworking allows employees to work in an environment suitable for focused work as well as brainstorming with others.
“You’re never better working alone,” Skoda said. “Obviously, there are times when [workers] need to focus, but there are people out there that are going to give you new ideas. If you can create opportunities and places for the people who work with you to be around new inspiration, you should, however that works out.”
Rosen discovered co-working after living and telecommuting in New York for a short time. Tired of the slow Internet service and environment of local coffee shops, he ventured to a create a coworking space, later inspiring him to begin Desktime, the first coworking space directory
“It changed my world pretty significantly. Not only did I have a great place to work with a fast Internet connection, but I actually plugged into community,” Rosen said.
As much as the word “community” is mention in coworking culture, Jack Liu, Founder and CEO of InterActs, has been working at Enerspace PaloAlto for more than a year and says it also can be a drawback for people.
“Being a part of a coworking community is unique in that the people around you aren’t necessarily your bosses or colleagues looking over you, but yet you still feel good that everyone is starting small and working toward their own goals,” Liu said. “One of the drawbacks is the high amount of membership turnover, as it commonly is a transition period for anyone in a coworking space. Maybe over time that will change, but that is how it is today.”
Environment and atmosphere are key elements in the coworking culture. For telecommuters, according to Skoda, a positive working environment is something one may not think is needed until it is not there anymore.
“A lot of times, we strip down our work to the bare essentials: As a writer, I need a laptop and Microsoft Word. But then you realize you can really create an atmosphere that is inspirational,” Skoda said. “Architects have been doing this for decades. People study and research this. So you have what you need to get work done, but the environment, on multiple levels, is helping you do more of what you need to do.”
Workshop, located in the West Town neighborhood of Chicago, has been designed to help stimulate creativity and inspiration. The space has many large windows, letting natural light into the exposed brick room, with a skyline view of the city. Creating comfort as well as valuing community can be seen through the furnishings, such as long, wooden communal tables and couches for people to choose from on which they can get their work done alongside others. Though all spaces are different, many are designed with such features to reinforce the values of working together.
“Ultimately,” Skoda said, “coworking spaces are trying to create an atmosphere and environment that is conducive to a lot of different types of work.”
Jaclyn currently resides in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. In her free time, she likes to travel with her husband, play badminton, and find new coffee shops around the city.
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