Hi, everyone. I’m Clay Spinuzzi, an associate professor of rhetoric and writing at the University of Texas, Austin. I
research how people produce, circulate, and coordinate information in workplaces.
And two years and some months ago, I ran into a website that made absolutely no sense to me - I couldn’t ﬁgure
out whether this Austin-based organization called Conjunctured was a company, a collective, a cooperative, or
what. A few months later, Conjunctured opened the ﬁrst coworking space in Austin, and since then, many others
have opened up: Soma Vida, Texas Coworking (now Coworking Austin), Cospace, Brainstorm Coworking, Space12,
and soon LINK Coworking - and doubtless others will follow. These people are the real experts on coworking; I’m
just going to talk in broad strokes about how coworking ﬁts into larger work trends and why people are turning to
it in increasing numbers.
Let’s think in broad strokes. Futurist Alvin Toffler argued in 1980 that we have gone through three “waves” of
major change in human history.
In the ﬁrst wave, we became an agricultural society and for millennia most of our work was agricultural.
In the 18th century, we began the second wave, the Industrial Revolution, and until the mid-1900s industrial work
But, Toffler argued, since the mid-1900s we have been in the third wave: we have become a knowledge society
and the most inﬂuential work is knowledge work. Remember, these are broad generalizations, but they’re still
useful for thinking through some of the changes we’ve seen.
Because we certainly have seen changes. Knowledge work has taken an increasingly large share of the developed
world's economy in the last century. By 1980, the information sector grew to 46.6% (Beniger). By 1994, traditional
(agricultural and industrial) work has shrunk to only a sixth or an eighth of the workforce - the rest of the
workforce is engaged in service and knowledge work (Drucker 1994, p.6).
But these changes aren’t all. Each form of work has its own logic and form of organization. To get agricultural
work done, you have to establish hierarchies that direct labor on a mass scale. To get industrial work done, you
have to create and leverage markets. To facilitate knowledge work, it helps to establish networked forms of
organization: relatively independent workers in fast-changing, recombinant organizations.
“man will ﬁnd himself [sic] liberated, a stranger in a new
free-form world of kinetic organizations. In this alien
landscape, his position will be constantly changing, ﬂuid, and
varied. And his organizational ties, like his ties with things,
places, and people, will turn over at a frenetic and ever-
“managers are losing their monopoly on decision-making”
1970, p.125, 140
Tofﬂer saw this shift to networks in 1970, when he predicted that work would be reorganized from departments to projects,
attacked by transient teams of specialists: knowledge workers. In these “adhocracies,” cross-functional teams change in
composition, and leadership shifts during different stages and different projects.
“Soon we may see the rise of movements demanding that
all work that can be done at home be done at home.
Many workers will insist on that option as a right.”
“Put the computer in people’s homes, and they no longer
need to huddle. Third Wave white-collar work ... will not
require 100 percent of the work force to be concentrated
in the workshop.”
1980, p.203; 199
Tofﬂer saw that adhocracies meant that people no longer had to work in the same space - the same ﬁeld, the same factory.
With more and more work being knowledge work, people could install computers in their houses and perform their work from
home - i.e., telecommute.
“We might also see groups of home-workers organize
themselves into small companies to contract for their
services, or, for that matter, unite in cooperatives that
jointly own the machines. All sorts of new relationships
and organizational forms become possible.”
“neighborhood work centers”
“dispersed work centers”
1980, p.205; 200; 205
And yes, perhaps theyʼd want to get out of the house sometimes, so maybe theyʼd go to local coops. But Tofﬂer didnʼt see
these coops as being preferable to working from home - because he didnʼt foresee three things.
Pervasive and cheap Internet connections delivered through independent telecommunications companies ...
powerful mobile computers, affordable to individuals ...
and mobile telecommunications, inexpensive enough that even tweens could afford them.
These three technologies have really changed the present - and probably the future - of work.
A third space
Theyʼve allowed people to work in “third spaces”: coffee shops, libraries, parks, hotel lobbies, McDonaldʼs, etc.
Theyʼve opened up telecommuting and mobile work to small businesses, not just big business: freelancers, partnerships,
contractors. Theyʼve enabled virtualized organizations. And theyʼve accelerated the transition to project-oriented work - and
“the new production system relies on a combination of
strategic alliances and ad hoc cooperation projects between
corporations, decentralized units of each major corporation,
and networks of small and medium enterprises connecting
among themselves and/or with large corporations or
networks of corporations.”
Castells 2000, p.96
Theyʼve allowed more work to be outsourced. Companies retain their core functions, but they contract other jobs.
And theyʼve generated a “pickup” economy in which people reach out through their personal networks to assemble todayʼs
team, to ﬁnd contractors, to be contracted.
These are adhocracies to the nth power. And this is the environment in which entrepeneurs ﬁnd themselves working - part of
the reason that entrepeneurs can devote part time to the Ideation stage, but also how they can lay groundwork for their
Growth stage by networking with like-minded people
But in a pickup economy, how do you ﬁnd your team? How do you network?
Increasingly, itʼs through that third space, that coop that Tofﬂer mentioned but didnʼt really pursue. People without ofﬁces ﬁnd
themselves meeting in places like coffee shops. But coffee shops are noisy, unpredictable; you canʼt get a table;
you canʼt maintain conﬁdentiality. You donʼt know who else is there. You havenʼt been able to develop trust. And you need a
place where you can develop trust if youʼre going to work effectively in an adhocracy.
“Coworking is the social gathering of a group of people,
who are still working independently, but who share values
and who are interested in the synergy that can happen from
working with talented people in the same space.”
For the past two years, Iʼve been visiting such spaces - coworking spaces in Austin. In these spaces, people work in relatively
unstructured locations with unstructured schedules, share resources, form friendships, barter services, serve as tech support
and emotional support for each other, subcontract each other, mentor each other, form businesses, and above all, network.
• “Mamapreneur, papapreneur.” - Laura Shook, Soma Vida
• “People out here are roaming because they have to.” -
Andrew Bushnell, Cospace
• “30 to 40 year olds ... who want to get out to the ofﬁce
because the kids and the dog don't understand that they're
on a conference call” - Liz Elam, LINK Coworking
• “Freelancers tend to do stuff virtually .... But then one of the
beneﬁts of having this space is you get to sit down next to a
group of people and work on projects face to face.” - Dusty
Coworking spaces serve different people, groups and industries...
• Work-life balance: “Our work space allows you to have
dedicated time to concentrate and accomplish tasks, while
working within a community of entrepreneurs, free spirits
and individuals looking for more balance” - Soma Vida
• Mentoring: “We just want to sit next to this guy and just
soak up everything he leaves behind [about running a small
business]” - Andrew Bushnell, Cospace
• Collaboration: “I'm not going to let you go be on your
island.” - Liz Elam, LINK
• Swarming: “A project gets dropped in, we can swarm to kill
it, disseminate, and keep ﬂowing.” - John Erik Metcalfe,
They have different aims...
• “People have different social needs ... being human, you need
some social interaction.” - Cesar Torres, Conjunctured
• “That's the one thing the Internet social networking, all of
that stuff you cannot replace face-to-face.” - Liz Elam, LINK
• “So really the community aspect of it is what's made it be so
easy for us to keep growing. Because everyone keeps feeding
it.” - Andrew Bushnell, Cospace
• “I think it makes people reach their potential more when
there's that supportive container, than when you're kind of
spinning your wheels in your own isolated bubble.” - Sonya
Davis, Soma Vida
But they share a commitment to connectedness, networking, collaboration, and entrepeneurship.
A new urban space
“The individualization of working arrangements, the
multi-location of the activity, and the ability to
network all these activities around the individual
worker, usher in a new urban space, the space of
endless mobility, a space made of ﬂows of
information and communication, ultimately managed
with the Internet.”
Castells 2003, p.234
As corporations continue to outsource non-core functions and as knowledge work becomes more prevalent, expect to see
more coworking spaces, functioning partly as shoestring incubators. And expect to see more variations on adhocracies.
Slide 2, 3: Public domain, Library of Congress, http://www.ﬂickr.com/photos/library_of_congress/2179136302/
Slide 2, 4: Public domain, Library of Congress, http://www.ﬂickr.com/photos/library_of_congress/2179077779/in/photostream/
Slide 2, 5: CC, Rod McLatchy, http://www.ﬂickr.com/photos/rodbotic/2479178443/
Slide 9, 12: Public domain, OCal, http://www.clker.com/cliparts/2/4/e/
Slide 10, 12: CC, Ryan Jones (ichibod), http://www.ﬂickr.com/photos/ichibod/2073251155/
Slide 11, 12: Public domain, http://www.pdclipart.org/albums/Telephone_and_Cell/mobile_phone_22.png
Slide 13: CC, Kevin Fox (kfury), http://www.ﬂickr.com/photos/person/107899274/
Slide 16: CC, Ed Yourdon (yourdon), http://www.ﬂickr.com/photos/yourdon/3823194254/
All others: Spinuzzi
Slides will soon be up at spinuzzi.blogspot.com