Coworking: A window into the future of work

CoCo's Don Ball, LiquidSpace's Mark Gilbreath, Emergent Research's Steve King, Herman Miller's Jennifer Megnolfi, and Larry Hawes from Dow Brook Advisory at GigaOM's Net:Work 2011First there was bring your own device, now there’s find your own office — and both trends could be equally revolutionary for the enterprise. That’s the gist of a coworking panel at GigaOM’s Net:Work conference that had operators, designers and consultants of coworking facilities talking about the increasing impact coworking is having on large corporations.

Don Ball, co-founder of the CoCo coworking and collaborative space said that many of the early corporate users of his facilities were “going rogue,” with supervisors not actually knowing that employees were working in a shared office space.

But these days, more and more corporations are leveraging coworking spaces, with motivations ranging all the way from real estate downsizing to perks to increased productivity. “When I worked in an office, I spent an awful lot of time to fool around,” said Emergent Research Partner Steve King. Offices tend to be social spaces with lots of parties and other non-work activities, something that doesn’t happen as much in coworking facilities.

At coworking spaces, people tend to be more focused, agreed Herman Miller Advanced R&D Projects Lead Consultant Jennifer Magnolfi. “These spaces simply feel more appropriate for the way we work today,” she said, simply because they reflect the tools we use to work today. She added than many coworking spaces follow different design paradigms than your plain old office, inviting people to learn as well as work.

So how big is the impact this new wave of corporate coworking is having? King said that nine percent of the people who attend coworking spaces in the U.S. now come from corporations that employ more than 100 people. That may not sound much, but LiquidSpace Founder and CEO Mark Gilbreath reminded the Net:Work audience that coworking is already influencing how big corporations design their offices. It might be that the coworking space of the future doesn’t even look like today’s coworking facility, where people rent desk space by time slot. “Hotels have spent 3 billion dollars to redesign their lobbies to feel like coworking spaces,” he said.

Regardless of what coworking spaces will eventually look like, all of the participants agreed that the trend will play a huge role for big companies in the years to come. “Coworking is a window into the future of work,” said King.

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Photo by Pinar Ozger.