Coworking in the Digital Age: Why we Still Love to Congregate at the Office
August 5th 2017 | By Emma Grant
The Figment team has recently moved into a new collaborative workspace courtesy of Kingston CoWork, and we are loving it!
It’s prompted us to take a closer look at the history of coworking and how it has grown to become so popular, despite the fact that today’s advanced connective technologies allow people to communicate anytime, anywhere, making working and doing business remotely so straightforward.
Offices no Longer Required?
British economist Frances Cairncross, together with numerous other theorists, predicted that ‘distance will die’ following the proliferation of the internet during the 1990s. They said that with every place instantaneously connected to every other place on the planet, “space itself would become irrelevant” and that at that point, offices would no longer be required, “Why go to work when work can come to you?” they suggested.
As far back as 1973, there were murmurings of such a working environment. U.S. professor Melvin Webber, albeit two decades ahead of time, suggested, “For the first time in history, it might be possible to locate on a mountain top and to maintain intimate, real-time, and realistic contact with business or other associates”.
So would this remote way of doing business eventually render the physical office obsolete? Good question. In actual fact, it seems that the historical route of business has followed quite a different track.
Physical Office Space on the Decline? Well Actually, no…
Whereas the technology of today without a doubt lends itself to worldwide communication at a tap, commuting to an office has not declined as much as was predicted, and remote working is not quite as popular as was originally imagined. In fact, numerous organisations are continuing to invest extensively into physical office space in urban locations.
So what did the early digital commentators like Webber overlook? The answer is, quite simply, that even when people can work from anywhere, it does not necessarily mean that they want to work from anywhere. In actual fact, people are looking for opportunities to share knowledge; brainstorm ideas and bring together a variety of perspectives and skills. The interaction of minds is a crucial aspect of work, particularly in certain industries such as the creative sector. For this reason, good quality physical workplaces are becoming increasingly important.
Great Things Happen When Like Minds Meet
When a community of like-minded people come together and share a workspace, great things happen. World-changing discoveries took place in university parlours, which were, in essence, early examples of shared workspaces.
It is a fact that people and organisations appreciate that innovation and interaction come from physical colocation. In coworking environments, people feed off each other. Success and enthusiasm in one group breed the same in others.
In an article they wrote for Harvard Business Review, city architecture authors Carlo Ratti and Matthew Claudel examine the paradox of place from an office point of view.
“We strive for places that allow us to share knowledge, to generate ideas, and to pool talents and perspectives. Human aggregation, friction, and the interaction of our minds are vital aspects of work, especially in the creative industries.”
Coworking Spaces on the Increase
According to Kingston CoWork, coworking spaces worldwide have increased 400 per cent in the last two years. They say the reason for the rise in popularity of this way of working stems from the downsides of the alternatives, namely the loneliness and distractions associated with working from home, and the lack of privacy that comes with coffee shop working. Growth in businesses run from these locations tends to be slow.
Collaborative communities on the other hand provide connectedness and promote a diverse social network, so widening business development opportunities and encouraging a more contented and therefore more buoyant environment. Coworking spaces bring people together to pool talents, and share knowledge. Humans are sociable beings who enjoy each other’s company. For this reason, even though today’s technology makes it possible to work away from the office, the office will remain somewhere people continue to want to gather.
A Lesson in Coworking History
Coworking first came about in 2005 in San Francisco courtesy of Brad Neuberg who came up with the idea of combining the independence of freelancing with the structure and community of an office environment. The first coworking space in Europe opened in France in 2007 and these days the UK is one of the European countries most responsive to the idea of collaborative working, particularly in London where there are extensive numbers of coworking spaces cropping up.
In 2013, the UK Government made the announcement that it would be incorporating coworking into a pilot scheme for a new strategy stretching across twelve local authorities in England, encouraging individual councils, central government departments and other bodies to share buildings in order to promote collaboration as well as release property that was surplus to requirements, so freeing up land for local development.
Coworking offers numerous benefits to the freelancer, sole trader and smaller business. If you enjoy the freedom of working for yourself, but hanker after the camaraderie and encouragement that comes with being around other like-minded people, why not seek out a coworking space near you? It works for us, and it could for you too!