How Coworking Fits Into The Future Of Work

In mid-March, businesspeople, technology experts and academics gathered together for the annual Information Roundtable at the Aspen Institute’s Communications and Society Program.

The topic of the event was simple, yet somewhat overwhelming: What do digital technologies and the Internet mean for the future of work?

David Bollier, an author, activist, blogger and consultant who spends a lot of time exploring the commons as a new paradigm of economics, politics and culture, was invited to sit in on the Roundtable.

Bollier's report on the things he heard and observed during the event, The Future of Work: What It Means for Individuals, Businesses, Markets and Governments, is now available online as a free pdf file.

The most interesting parts of the report were the sections that dealt with the coming crisis in organizing work (i.e. the hierarchical system that paid you for being a seat-filler between 9 and 5, is dying and no one knows what to do), how technology is changing the way we work, and why crowd-sourcing is the new template for work.

The Coming Crisis In Organizing Work

Bollier reports that Roundtable attendees shared a growing concern that there is an unacknowledged crisis brewing in the workforce and the way it's organized.

“My sense is that there is a constant move toward globalization, outsourcing and the ‘freeagent nation’, said attendee Dwayne Spradlin of InnoCentive, Inc. "People are engaging the workplace in a very different way. I think over the next five years we’re going to see a massive shift in demographics among young people and how they engage their organizations. In general, companies are wholly unprepared for what’s about to come.”

How Technology Is Changing The Way We Work

Most people see quickly-advancing digital technologies as an advantage for commerce and socialization, but for some at the Roundtable, there are larger concerns about the digital divide, and who this rapid pace is leaving behind.

"The lack of education and opportunity is not only hurting the most impoverished people of the world, skill shortages can prevent companies and investors from growing their business and expanding the economy," writes Bollier.

Technological developments also mean that the dynamics of the communications/computing/social ecosystem are becoming more bewildering and complex. Professionals used to operating in discrete work “silos” in which the focus was on the external customer, find themselves unsure about how to coordinate and collaborate adequately with other
workers in their own companies, nevermind interacting with and listening to customer feedback that's rushing toward them through social media channels.

In order to tackle these complexities, Roundtable participants suggest that it's time to "recognize our global connectedness, to view our wonderful planet with one eye" and "strive to integrate diverse human concerns into a coherent philosophical system that can reconcile divergent values as efficiency, equality and justice."

Why Crowdsourcing Is The New Template For Work

Thanks to the new freedoms and connections afforded to both companies and professionals through internet technologies, crowdsourcing has become a popular way to reap smart, innovative research results quickly and efficiently.

Beside the fact that companies can benefit greatly in the talent that's swimming around in the independent pool, some have expanded the crowsourcing technique into a full-fledged business model.

Bollier points to InnoCentive, Inc.--a Massachusettes company that acts as a broker between “seekers” with research and development problems and “solvers,” who propose solutions that meet the desired criteria--as a prime example of crowdsourcing's profitability.

Using crowdsourcing as a template of work solves many of the problems companies have experienced because of the down economy or the fast-paced technological climate.

Instead of struggling to just push information out the door, companies like InnoCentive hope to mobilize “vast pools of productivity and intellectual capacity” through open platforms and mass participation. And they're finding the perfect professionals for the job instead of making do with what they've got.

Where Does Coworking Fit In?

Bollier's report contains many more sections of commentary and analysis about work (and if you've got the time, I encourage you to read the full version), but one topic that seemed strangely absent was coworking.

Instead of waiting for companies to value accomodate their needs, the new, more dynamic workforce is embracing coworking as a DIY solution to their unique personal and professional needs--and they're discovering tremendous success

The sections of Bollier's report discussed previously highlight a few dense problems:

  • The old work model is outdated, inefficient, and lacks a value structure that today's professionals want and need.
  • The old organizational structure is slow moving and mired in hierarchy, making it hard to adopt and adapt to new technology.
  • They old system of harnessing people "through full-time, exclusive employment relationships where people are paid for the amount of time they spend at a common location" harms organizations and limits their access to the right talented individuals.

It might seem overly simple, but I think coworking provides solutions to all three (and more) of these problems:

  • Coworking spaces are modern, uber efficient, and based on a core set of values, just like the location-independent workers that fill them.
  • Coworkers, most of whom are freelancers, tech nomads, or small business owners, thrive, if not depend, on new technologies that make it possible to market themselves and connect with customers and clients (and compete with much larger companies).
  • The collaborative nature of the coworking community embraces a project-based work model. The physical density of coworking spaces allows talented professionals to come together in mutually beneficial ways, and often spawns startups that bring this sharing mindset to the new global economy.

Questions for you:

Do you agree with Bollier and the Roundtable participants that the traditional worksystem is facing and unacknolwedged crisis?

Do you have any experience with crowdsourcing on a professional level?

How do you see future companies taking advantage of coworking in the future?

Share your thoughts below!

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