The impact of flexible “cloud” workplaces
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.
For example, at the Hat Factory, a co-working space in San Francisco, two of the tenants are programmers working for Intalio, a business process management software company based 50 miles (80 kilometers) away in Palo Alto. These programmers commute to the Palo Alto office only a couple of days per week. They say their supervisor approves of the arrangement because they accomplish more work on their Hat Factory days than on days when they spend two and a half hours in the car.
Co-working spaces attract young, resourceful employees. The spaces fill up rapidly with people in their 20s and 30s, often those employed in technological fields (Web development, graphic design, social media, videography, blogging) or as writers, attorneys, or management consultants. Rather than cubicles or closed-off rooms, the work spaces tend to favor open desk arrangements that encourage cross-communication and collaboration. In some spaces, workers nest in preferred corners; in others, they switch locations, views, and office mates regularly.
A couple of co-working spaces were set up as experiments in reshaping corporate climates. For example, the Steelcase furniture company opened Workspring in Chicago, which it describes as “a network of extraordinary spaces, designed to inspire and support creative collaboration, productive retreat, and transformative exchange.” The company applies the insights gleaned from space renters to its own next-generation furniture designs. “The trend [in facilities] is for corporations to reduce their fixed real estate costs,” says Steelcase Senior Vice President Mark Greiner, the general manager of Workspring, explaining the reasoning behind this venture. “I was seeing a shift toward elements that weren’t necessarily playing toward our strengths.”