Coworking – Independence, Collaboration, Community…

7 04 2011

Photo by Luc Legay, Paris, France

In my last post about the recent Intersections 2011 conference I mentioned some of the emerging global issues in society and business that are creating a new tipping point in our world. In response, our society and our world of work is changing. As our workforce matures and Baby-Boomers and Generation X are replaced by Generation Y (the ‘Millennial Generation’) it is becoming apparent that the straight-line thinking style of the industrial era is losing relevance. We are moving into the age of networks, enabled by rapid growth in global communication technology, mobile computing, etc, and fostered by the team-based and collaborative attitudes of this generation. This trend will accelerate as Generation Z (the ‘Net Generation’) who have grown up as ‘Digital Natives’ and who value their independence fiercely, begin to move into employment.

Within this generational shift we have moved from the concept of ‘a job for life’ through ‘a career for life’ and into ‘portfolio careers’. The economic crisis has resulted in massive unemployment, particularly within our younger generations, and recent public sector job cuts will soon add to our jobless figures. Whilst the economy remains stagnant a key societal response seems to be a renewed focus on entrepreneurialism where individuals are creating jobs rather than finding jobs, and governments are supporting this with programmes that encourage new businesses – like Startup Britain.

Over the last few years this shift in our type of employment has been accompanied by a shift in where we work too. Home working has risen steadily, and there has been a dramatic rise in coffee shop culture and the availability of free public WiFi networks. As a result we now see many more independent people working away on laptop computers wherever we go. The public sector is now starting to encourage this way of working too, as a way of reducing office space and cutting costs. Adopters of this lifestyle are quick to point out the benefits that this new-found flexibility in working offers them, such as less travel. However, after a short honeymoon period, they often begin to realise there are down-sides too, such as loneliness and lack of support, and this is driving a new and rapidly growing trend of Coworking as a modern style of working based upon flexibility, low space costs, and shared values including independence, collaboration and community.

Deskmag – a blog about coworking – recently completed a global coworking survey examining this trend. Over 660 participants from coworking locations across 24 countries responded to a questionnaire about why they like coworking, where they cowork, what they like and dislike, etc. The full results of this survey are documented in a series of blog posts starting with this one: Deskmag – The Coworking Magazine – Why Coworkers like their Coworking Spaces

It seems that the number of Coworking locations has roughly doubled year on year – and by end of 2011 there are expected to be more than 1000 coworking locations across the world, so it seems to be a successful concept. I began working out of a coworking facility in Birmingham about 12 months ago. Moseley Exchange used to be a BT telephone exchange – but now its been converted into a modern open plan office where members can meet, work, learn and exchange ideas. Its a place where collaboration and innovation go hand in hand and where 50+ interesting people and businesses work from. The culture is one of being independently minded, but collaborative at heart. The centre is managed as a social enterprise designed to create jobs and wealth and help to regenerate the local economy – and in this respect it seems to be a big success story.

Moseley Exchange - A successful example of Coworking in Birmingham, UK.

There is a wide mixture of business types based here including Architects, Designers, Film/TV and Radio Producers, Marketing Consultants, Programmers, Trainers, Arts Companies, etc. The benefits are many and there is a lot of interaction going on, working together with clients, assisting each other with specialist advice, passing opportunities and leads to others, networking, and socialising. Its like being in a larger corporate office but without the constraints. There is now an ‘International Coworking Visa’ scheme that allows members in Birmingham free use of similar offices in London, Berlin, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Mumbai and in nearly 200 other global locations. There are growing links across this wider network, and over 100 people recently attended a coworking ‘unconference’ at SXSW in Austin, Texas, where discussions included how to develop the global network further for the benefit of all participants. Big corporations are starting to realise that coworking offers opportunities for them too, including greater creativity and innovation within their employees. So expect to see more coworking locations popping up near you, and I suggest you might like to try them out sometime. Every coworking location I know of is more than happy for guests to drop in.

Contact me if you would like to know more about coworking and how you can find one close to you or even set one up yourself!

James Rock – MD and Chief Business Designer, CULTIVAR Consulting


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