Co-working is now popular whether you’re a freelancer or work for a company with an office.
Management gurus even now recommend that employers encourage their employees to utilise co-work spaces on a regular basis. Not doing so limits creative and innovation potential of a company. Co-working has many benefits but specific to larger, less agile firms, they offer free exchange of ideas and endless possibilities to tap new resources (without having to pay for them) in an uncompetitive, mutually supportive reciprocal atmosphere. More than that, it’s an atmosphere that can teach business how to behave like deep-value capitalists (see @umairh).
But co-working is irrelevant if companies don’t know how to treat their employees. The amount of co-locating necessary in a successful working relationship is like a dance.
I’ve had Chris Bruce, an exec at BT tell me that he works hard as a manager to make certain that his team stays connected even though they ‘work from home’ (in different parts of Britain) most of the year.
I’ve had freelancers (and have experienced as a freelancer) tell me that they do better work and stick to deadlines better when they’ve physically met (not just chatted over the Skype with, but actually physically met) their fellows. One freelancer even suspects that the (downward) wage pressure creatives are under is a direct result of the outsourcing and the growth of freelance work: it devalues them as humans, and therefore their wages.
And that might just be the point.
Dan Ariely’s March column for Wired magazine highlights social cohesion in team dynamics: the bottom line is that most bosses don’t take into consideration the feelings of their employees.
Vineet Nayar can tell you all about the benefits: he put in place a new rule that employees come before customers and saw his business grow as a result of it.
Stowe Boyd blogged recently over at Podio that 40% of teams feel that they under peform. A major contributing factor of this is that they feel disconnected, they don’t co-locate enough. And 40% is just an aggregate. 69% feel that making decisions are harder when their team members are virtual.
Umair Haque in his manifesto on capitalism next calls this “under creation.” Employees don’t have time to think because they are overworked, and there isn’t enough consideration for the human in the employee. He says that firms lose creative opportunity when they are only profit orientated. (But how do you properly quantify foregone innovation?)
There were rumors not too long ago that Cisco was thinking of dialing back encouraging working from home by setting a minimum number of hours employees had to physically be at work.
Google forbids certain departments from working from home.
So is the freedom to self-govern your time as an employee a good or bad thing?
What we are talking about here is ‘phatic communication’ that’s necessary at work, but possibly something deeper than that as well: the need to feel someone physical by your side. As freelancers we all feel this at some time or another. You’ve been hammering away alone and then you break to grab dinner and tell your life story to the check-out guy.
Last year I chatted with the man who designs co-location spaces: thought leader Indy Johar.*
Here’s some of what he had to say:
“I think people are too literal saying, ‘you’re in a coffee bar.’ Actually, I can work anywhere, that’s already happened. But what’s the attractor? If you have a lot of start ups, a lot of people working the thing that’s attracting them to go to a Starbucks is coffee, is trading, and kind of life and all the other things-- which are all very nice and powerful-- but their economy of work and their community of work is not necessarily a Starbucks. And that’s what I’m really interested in because that’s where knowledge is transferred, that’s where relationships are transferred, that’s where knowledge is transferred. Lots of other things actually move in that community of work.
… The issue is not that, that has already happened. But what we think the key drivers are is the drivers of face to face economy. Which is people, you can create an environment where people can talk, discuss, and trade their ideas. That will become more and more relevant in an innovation based economy.
…yes you do work sitting down anywhere, definitively, but actually the community, the Hub, is not a physical location. At its best it’s a community of actors— it’s the community of actors, that’s your place of work.
…physical space is becoming more and more critical in terms of trust, so the issue is not the fact that you can sit in a Starbucks. How many times have you had a random conversation in a Starbucks, with somebody around there? The issue is Starbucks doesn’t create a trusted landscape. So there’s very little face to face economy. Yes you can sit there, yes you can have coffee but you won’t talk to a random stranger because they are just that, a random stranger.”
Yes, new tools like Podio help team members to keep in the flow virtually, but never forget it’s the face time that holds those bonds and keeps performance up. @Deskmag has an excellent Pavlovian like coworker hierarchy of needs on their blog: the base is practical functionality (tools), but next up: it’s people.
I don’t think we’ll ever see a decline of freelancing nor businesses returning to the always in the office model— the benefits are too huge. But we need to keep in mind that with our freedom comes responsibility to our fellows, and the humanity in the business relationship.
*Johar has a community project under the way with Haque.