Gone are the days of working in a traditional office setting, where cubicles separate colleagues and the only social interactions occur around the water cooler. The rise in coworking spaces around the world have left more people yearning for work environments that are collaborative, inspiring, and stimulating. And, nothing sounds more uninspiring than working in a 6×6 foot box and convening around a water dispenser, as if it were an oracle that could explain the meaning of life, or, at the very least, prophesize the outcome of The Bachelor.
Coworking has witnessed a significant resurgence over the past few years with the increase of the contingent workers – professionals who work independently as freelancers, contractors, or solopreneurs. The current state of the economy has shaped the workforce, as well as where and how we work.
While people can no longer rely on their college degrees to manifest themselves into jobs, individuals have become more flexible and creative with their professions. They are starting businesses, creating jobs for themselves, and hustling for the next big opportunity. In fact, The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that by 2020, about 65 million Americans will be freelancers, temps, independent contractors and solopreneurs, making up about 40% of the workforce. Concurrently, workspaces are sprouting around the country in order to accommodate the growing number of nomadic workers.
“As the American workforce trends toward independent contracting, freelance, and temping, co-working spaces and the collaborative, connective environments they create become more and more important – from both a social and professional standpoint,” said Beau Button, Founder of WebDevrs and the Dojo in New Orleans. “No longer the exception, co-working spaces will be the rule.”
The Dojo is a digitally focused workspace in New Orleans anchored by mobile and web app development firm WebDevrs. Their mission is to create a place where developers, designers, programmers, and the creative alike can come together to harness their creative energy.
“Co-working spaces are melting pots of creativity,” added Button. “They generate a level of synergy that results from the proximity and collaboration of like-minded people. New relationships are developed. Ideas are challenged. Problems are solved.”
Today, coworking comes with benefits beyond just WiFi and unlimited coffee. Professional, personal, and social gains come as added bonuses that are more advantageous than working in a coffee shop or home office/living room/dining room. These environments are not only stimulating, inspiring, and fun, but also lead to new business development and collaborations, as well as increased levels of productivity and income as a result of being part of an expanding business network.
Proximity seems to be a factor in stimulating collaborations and innovation in the work environment. According to a study that was recently conducted by a team at Harvard University, it has been concluded that geographic proximity is valuable in collaboration, despite living in an era dominated by the Internet, wireless communication, and e-mail. Findings in 35,000 academic papers showed that physical proximity mattered after concluding that correlations between the most cited papers and the close distances between authors led to more impactful publications. Although the study focused on innovation in science, the data proved that face-to-face communication was more impactful, leading to less agenda-driven and more fluid conversations, brainstorming, problem solving, and serendipitous accidents.
“Despite working in similar fields, people are not competitive in coworking environments,” explained Andrea Chen, executive director of Propeller Incubator. “Everyone finds their own niche and often encourage peer-to-peer learning and collaboration.”
Chen’s incubator is the only socially minded incubator in New Orleans, and one of the few that exists nationwide. After opening the 10,000 square foot space in January, Propeller is almost at capacity with tenants that range from social entrepreneurs, professional service providers, and fellows from their accelerator program.
Chen also added that the collaborative environment has already fostered business partnerships and business development, as desk neighbors often become each others’ clients or business partners. In an example, two of the Propeller tenants, RapJab and FitLot, developed an app together called NOLAparks.com for the Super Bowl’s CodeMakrs Super Challenge, and won the competition’s innovation award. The app is currently being used internally by the City of New Orleans.
“People no longer want walls around them,” said Chen. “They want to make connections and feel connected in a day and age that is so tech minded and often disconnected.”
Isolation and feeling disconnected is a challenge that many of today’s professionals feel, whether it’s from the cubicle’s cork panel wall, late night coding at home, or a long day of becoming one with your laptop at the local coffee shop. In addition to the advent of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook FB -0.37%, today’s generation is constantly finding ways to connect, and yearn to find that kind of activity daily.
In an annual survey conducted by Deskmag, people who work in coworking spaces reported to be more productive, confident, and creative. Reports showed that 71% of people surveyed were more creative, 62% reported that their measure of work improved significantly, and 90% said they felt more confident when coworking. Additionally, 70% reported that they felt healthier than they did working in a traditional office setting. The statistics are the result of being part of a supportive and expanding network that offers flexibility in when you choose to work and whom you choose to work with. Aspects such as reduced stress also become a factor, as most people were able to minimize their commute time and were less likely to become victims of office politics.
It’s not just those who are self-employed that are benefiting. As coworking becomes the future of business, larger companies like AT&T T -0.66% and Zappos are starting to capitalize on this new shift, confirming that the benefits are real. And, while the workforce continues to shift, traditional office settings will become as obsolete as fax machines and dial up Internet.