Coworking Part 1: Turning the Workplace Upside Down

For the last many centuries, workers have gathered together in the same workplace because they were paid and employed by the same employer, and because that’s where the work was.  It didn’t really matter if you had anything personally in common with your co-workers, and you certainly didn’t have to be inspired or motivated by them.  But you did have to show up at the bricks and mortar workspace to do the work and get your paycheque.@85KingEast insTED Talk on Jan 28 2014 with founder Roger Brennikmeyer and speaker Nick van Weerdenburg from Ranglio.io

Technology and the explosion of the entrepreneurial economy have changed all that.  Work for many is where our computer can hook up to a signal and get access to documents in the cloud.  That means work can be anywhere for many pockets of our post-industrial workforce.

This is the first part of a 4 part series looking at the coworking world:  (1) what it is; (2) what are the data & privacy risks; (3) what are the human risks; and (4) how to manage your employees who may be working out of a coworking space. 

Co-Working 101

Even if you can think of some colleagues you’d rather not see five days a week, most humans are inherently social creatures, and for many, working alone can be an isolating and demotivating experience.

Enter the co-working world.  Entrepreneurs, programmers, start-ups, founders, writers, artists and small businesses all see the value of human interaction, and have increasingly sought out shared space in which to work.  Unlike the industrial past, coworkers from a multi-disciplinary, unrelated employer/company join together to work together on their independent work tasks.

The commonality is no longer the same employer at the same bricks & mortar location.  Rather, the commonality revolves around factors like personal interests, industry, demographics or simply neighbourhood.   Frankly, these all seem like much more natural social glues, which in turn would presumably lead to inspired, collaborative, friendly – and productive - work environments.

Other benefits of coworking spaces include networking and professional development opportunities. DeskMag: Coworking Spaces is a good example of an online publication full of resources, tips and connecting events in Europe.  

Toronto Heats Up

While co-working spaces have been around for awhile, they primarily thrived in entrepreneurial hubs like San Francisco (e.g. Citizen Space [http://citizenspace.us]).  They’ve been in Europe since at least 1995 – click here for an interesting timeline and collection of coworking space locations.

Toronto’s co-working community has started to hit a critical mass over the last couple of years.  For examples, here’s a Top 10 list on BlogTO from April 2013, nicely annotated by readers with additional coworking spaces.

Many spaces bring together members of the co-working world through events and speakers, like the“insTED Talks” at 85 King East, run by my talented friend Roger Brenninkmeyer from Branding for Good.   Networking with fellow like-minded peeps remains a key attraction to shared space. 

The Future Workplace?

Is this the new trend of all future workplaces?  Unlikely – there is still a great value to people working collaboratively in the same space on the same project.  As a co-working user scales up, most will likely want to move to their own bricks and mortar location.  But as we increasingly have the ability to work remotely, and employers increasingly see the value of pulling in diversity from beyond the local town, coworking will continue to expand beyond the solo entrepreneur.

For small employers, entrepreneurs, start-ups, artists and lone wolf  business owners, it doesn’t make financial sense to rent out a huge space and pay 100% for all costs.  Conversely, for many, it doesn’t make human sense to work in total isolation from each other, even if we crave independence in our actual work projects or businesses.

As the knowledge and online work worlds continues to become such an integral part of our modern economy, coworking spaces are a natural development balancing the various facets of the human experience in the workplace.

Stay tuned for the next post in the series on the employment law implications of coworking spaces related to data and privacy security, as well as strategies on how to lower the risks and how to manage employees in the coworking space.

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