The rise of the cloud workplace: co-working facilities


Tele-commuting has shifted from something that prognosticators talk about to an everyday work practice for many. More and more companies are happy for their staff to spend some or all of their time working from home, facilitated by a profusion of cloud software as well as familiarity with collaboration tools such as instant messaging, screen sharing, and video chat.

At IBM, for example, 46,000 out of its 115,000 workers in the US were reported to be working at “alternative workplaces” including home. Many companies large and small are following this lead. Moreover, in the free agent economy a rising proportion people global headquarters IS their home office.

There are of course pointed upsides to working from home, not least forgoing frustrating commutes, as well as greater personal flexibility. But some people find it hard to get themselves motivated, and many miss the daily banter and social interactions of the office. This is not a trivial issue – the vagaries of working from home will be a shaping force on society and how companies operate.

One of the approaches more and more freelancers and home workers are taking is to regularly meet locally to work together, creating a pleasant, sociable, collaborative work environment.

A nice article in Strategy + Business titled The Promise of the Cloud Workplace explores this new landscape.

Co-working provides a single solution to multiple organizational problems: the space demands of flexible, multi-geographical workforces; the costs of permanent offices; the potential inconvenience of working at home (especially for employees with children); the inexperience that many employees have with alliances and joint ventures (which are natural outgrowths of shared space); the carbon footprint inherent in a commuting population; and the sheer waste of time, resources, human capability, and energy spent moving people back and forth across a metropolitan area, only to have them on the phone or reading e-mail most of the day.

The article points to a range of examples of co-working facilties, such as Roam Atlanta, the Hat Factory in San Francisco, and Steelcase’s Workspring in Chicago. It also mentions the Jelly movement, which provides a forum for people to organize their own work meetups in over 100 cities around the world. Web incubator Pollenizer, just around the corner from me, regularly hosts Jelly gatherings.

These initiatives are just the beginning of what will be a powerful force – new ways to enable people to socialize and share expertise, heartaches and successes, free of the constraints of office, commuting, and sometimes employers. This trend has a long way to go yet.