What Coworking Tells
Us About the Future of
Liz Elam, LINK Coworking
Drew Jones, Shift101 and ShiftWorkspace
Clay Spinuzzi, University of Texas at Austin
Gary Swart, CEO, oDesk
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Thanks for coming...
7-10m per, then Q&A. Hold applause.
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This is our hashtag. If you’ll include this in every tweet...
The Past Future of
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For fun, let’s start with perhaps the best-known futurist, Alvin Toffler. He sold a lot of
books, and I remember seeing these everywhere when I was growing up: used
bookstores, garage sales, Goodwill. (He sold a LOT of books.) His most famous ones
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But the truth is, despite these way-off predictions, Tofﬂer got a lot of things dead on. For
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the death of secretarial pools. Tofﬂer looked at personal computers in 1980 and predicted that
soon secretarial pools would disappear as executives typed their own documents.
“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
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He also predicted in 1970 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
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Related, he predicted that knowledge work would become the preeminent form of work in our
economy. All true.
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But to me, the most interesting predictions are the ones he ALMOST got right: the ones that
are plausible, but happened differently because of one thing he overlooked. The most
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The “electronic cottage,” in which people would exit ofﬁces and go back to work in their own
“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
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Tofﬂer saw that 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
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And yes, perhaps theyʼd want to get out of the house sometimes, so maybe theyʼd go to local
coops. But their choices would be limited. Why?
Because they would need a network connection. And where would they get it?
A satellite “makes it possible
for each company to have, in
effect, its own electronic
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From the mega-corporations that employed them. Because only giant corporations could
afford to loft their own telecommunications satellites into orbit to connect their employees!
The missing 20%.
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This made perfect sense in the absence of the “missing 20%”:
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Pervasive and cheap Internet connections delivered through independent telecommunications
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powerful mobile computers, affordable to individuals ...
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and mobile telecommunications, inexpensive enough that even tweens could afford them.
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These three technologies have really changed the present - and probably the future - of work.
A third space
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Theyʼve allowed people to work in “third spaces”: coffee shops, libraries, parks, hotel lobbies,
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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 adhocracies.
“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
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Theyʼve allowed more work to be outsourced. Companies retain their core functions, but they
contract other jobs.
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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.
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These are adhocracies to the nth power. But in a pickup economy, how do you ﬁnd your team?
How do you network?
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Increasingly, itʼs through that third space, that coop that Tofﬂer got about 80% right. People
without ofﬁces ﬁnd themselves meeting in places like coffee shops. But coffee shops are noisy,
unpredictable; you canʼt get a table;
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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.”
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For the past year, 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,
• “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
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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,
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They have different aims...
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They have different ambience...
• “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
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But they share a commitment to connectedness, networking, collaboration, and
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
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As corporations continue to outsource non-core functions and as knowledge work becomes
more prevalent, expect to see more of these - and more variations on adhocracies.
Slide 8: Public domain , Donald E. Davis, http://www.donaldedavis.com/PARTS/allyours.html
Slide 9: CC, SpacePotato, http://www.ﬂickr.com/photos/spacepotato/2893686631/
Slide 10: CC, Esther Perez (esther17), http://www.ﬂickr.com/photos/esther17/30762259/
Slide 13: CC, Waikay Lau (seychelles88), http://www.ﬂickr.com/photos/seychelles88/361460377/
Slide 17, 26: CC, Kevin Fox (kfury), http://www.ﬂickr.com/photos/person/107899274/
Slide 20: Image credit: NASA, http://www.nasa.gov/images/content/142548main_image_feature_505_ys_full.jpg
Slide 22, 25: Public domain, OCal, http://www.clker.com/cliparts/2/4/e/
Slide 23, 25: CC, Ryan Jones (ichibod), http://www.ﬂickr.com/photos/ichibod/2073251155/
Slide 24, 25: Public domain, http://www.pdclipart.org/albums/Telephone_and_Cell/mobile_phone_22.png
Slide 29: CC, Ed Yourdon (yourdon), http://www.ﬂickr.com/photos/yourdon/3823194254/
All others: Spinuzzi
Slides will soon be up at spinuzzi.blogspot.com
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With this panel, weʼve tried to represent different views on coworking. Next up is Liz Elam,
whoʼs going to give us her perspective on coworking as a for-proﬁt business.