Juicy Conference on Coworking
I am just leaving Austin where I spent the last two days at GCUC the Global Coworking Unconference (pronounced “juicy”). The first day consisted of a series of panels populated by 45 people from all over the world with representation ranging from researcher to corporate leader to freelancer to real estate. The audience consisted of bearded hippies, suits and ties, tech geeks, real estate professionals, coworking space owners, with a huge range of ages 16 to 67, all gathered to discuss the coworking phenomenon, and it is a phenomenon!
The first coworking space launched in San Francisco in 2005. It was basically 3 guys who decided they were sick of working home alone and decided to rent a place together that was big enough that they could have a common work room that would be their office. That fairly quickly transitioned into renting a different space and inviting some freelance friends to join them and thus was the first coworking space born. Since then the number of coworking spaces has basically doubled every year and recently Tony Hsieh of Zappos invested in buildings and land all over downtown Las Vegas vowing to make it the coworking capitol of the world. AT&T is getting rid of its headquarter buildings in secondary markets and instead renting desks at coworking spaces. Accenture New York chose to provide its employees with liquidspace.com budgets rather than expanding into another floor at New York rent rates. One thing that the statistics and stories showed over and over is that coworking is growing fast and has a huge market to grow into.
For me, the most interesting part of this phenomena is that coworking spaces complete the loop for the trend that we have seen of employees becoming workspace consumers. As the power to choose where to work has moved from employer to employee, coworking spaces have risen up to respond to that consumer demand. Because they are generally start ups themselves with most between one and three years old, coworking spaces are nimble and can pivot quickly to respond to what those workspace consumers want. They have become hotbeds of workspace experimentation as they create and recreate the spaces that will attract workers who have a completely different way of working than those patterns that spawned cubicle land. Those of us involved in running companies, managing corporate realestate, or in the workspace design industry would do well to keep a watchful eye on what does and doesn’t work for coworking. That is the frontier for experimentation with the future of work.