Saturday, January 14, 2012

When both the coffee and the fancy lobby become an afterthought

Last year I spoke at a GigaOM conference.  I was a panelist on one of my favorite topics, engaging independent contractors using legally compliant models.  But, while at the conference, another panel about co-working caught my ear.

One of the speakers was Don Ball, co-founder of a successful co-working space in Minnesota.  Co-working spaces are shared workspaces where freelancers or even small startups can get a wifi connection, a few desks (typically in a open, collaborative floor plan) and minor administrative services in a reasonable, flexible fee arrangement.  It is often thought of as the evolution of the typical corner coffee shop, with a bit more interaction among the customers.  In other words, a co-working space is the place to go when your day is less about the coffee and more about productivity.

Ball and others in this particular panel were making the point that larger companies will increasingly take advantage of the co-working trend.  Even Fortune 500 companies can find ways to utilize co-working concepts.  After all, the core idea is that a technology-enabled contributor does not need to physically be in any one specific location to be productive.  So, by essentially setting their employees free to “roam,” the large corporation can save millions by reducing its significant real estate footprint while potentially reaping other benefits, such as happier employees and a more geographically distributed sales force.

Already, it’s predicted that more than 50% of the private workforce will be independent by the year 2020.  These will be people utilizing new places to work.  Imagine adding to that mix larger corporations that want to reap similar benefits.

It is entirely possible that we are witnessing the beginning of the end of the fancy corporate office space.

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