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Summary:

New scientific evidence is emerging about the benefits of telework, supporting workers’ desire to work out of the office. Stowe Boyd discusses the implications involved in the increasingly popular post-industrial adoption of telecommuting, and explains why coworking may be the missing link.

Laptop Outside

Laptop OutsideThere are a a set of work-related trends that seem to sketch a scenario that could mean the end of of the office.

A recent Gallup study found that 71 percent of US workers are “not engaged” or are “actively disengaged” in their work. This suggests that only a third of American workers are deeply engaged in their jobs, which is at least a serious challenge for businesses, and perhaps a serious threat. And the proportion of disengaged seems to be rising.

New scientific evidence is emerging about the benefits of telework (or telecommuting), supporting anecdotal knowledge about workers’ desire to work outside of the office. (We’ll be digging more into these kinds of topics at Net:Work on Dec. 8.) Stanford University partnered with a Chinese travel agency to find out if teleworkers were more productive, as reported by Ray Fisman at Slate:

Within a few weeks, the performance of the telecommuting group started to pull away from their cubicle-bound counterparts. Over the duration of the experiment, home workers answered 15 percent more calls, partly because each hour was 4 percent more productive, and partly because home office employees spent 11 percent more time answering phone calls. (Home workers took fewer breaks and sick days, rarely arrived late to their desks, and had fewer distractions.) While answering more calls, the distractions of home life had no impact on the quality of service: The home-work group converted phone calls into sales at exactly the same rate as those in the office. And employees themselves liked the arrangement better, making it look like a win-win for the company. The home-work group reported less “work exhaustion,” a more positive attitude towards their jobs, and were nearly 50 percent less likely to say they were planning to quit at the end of the eight months. (In fact the quit rate among home-office workers during the experiment was about one-half of what it was for those making the commute.)

And the same sort of business thinking that is interested in productivity of telework also starts to extrapolate about the impacts. If 40 percent of workers — in general — are working out of the office, that means 40 percent of office space — and associated expenses, like furniture, energy, and cleaning — might be productively invested elsewhere. In a 2007 Businessweek report, it was estimated that as much as 60 percent of offices space is “a dead zone of darkened doorways and wasting cubes,” and some have estimated that $600B is wasted in direct costs, leaving aside the externalities like impact to the environment, and the costs that employees incur commuting.

Sara Horowitz recently made the case that we really don’t know the makeup of the US workforce any longer, since the US government stopped counting independent workers in any systematic way. However, her research at the Freelancers Union — she’s the founder — indicate that as much as one third of our workforce participates in the rapidly growing freelance economy.

Connecting The Dots

These seemingly independent trends are tied together by the changing mindset of the people doing the work. Young people in particular are increasingly disinclined to commute to a distant office for the sake of ‘face time’, but many people of all ages have personal reasons for wanting to work in a ‘results-only work environment’, where getting the job done becomes the core principle surrounding work.

Giving workers more control of their lives — giving them back many hours of time per week not spent in commuting and pointless meetings, letting them decide when to do what, and putting money in their pockets by cutting commuting costs — has a very serious impact on morale. As the Chinese travel agency example shows, many of the workers reported less ‘work exhaustion’ and were less likely to quit. That seems like a direct antidote to the unengagement risks that Gallup reports US companies are running.

And people moving into telework and results-only work models will need new tools — like the stream-based work media tools I discussed in a recent post here on GigaOM. But with ubiquitous connectivity, mobile devices, and the proliferation of work media, the technological infrastructure to support telework is very low-cost, and requires basically zero training.

What’s Missing? The Second Place.

But there is a factor that is a potential hiccup. Many folks that adopt a telework or freelance work model and opt to work from home quickly come to miss the social aspect of their old work place.

In the US and Western countries, there has been a growing adoption of coworking spaces, where freelancers, employees of small businesses, or teleworkers can get the best of both worlds: they can work from a work space close to their home — thereby avoiding a long distance commute — but at the same time they can have the support and stimulation that comes from social interaction with well-known people other than your family.

Ray Oldenburg, the urban sociologist, is best known for his notion of the Third Place, like the corner bar, the cafe, or the barber shop, where we can interact with people that we don’t know well, and perhaps with whom we have little in common. He argued that such places are critically import to the health of cities and out societies. He took almost as a given that people would continue their relationship with First and Second Places, the home and the workplace, respectively. But the trends of telework and freelancing means that an increasing means the more people are spending less time in official Second Places, and more at home and Starbucks. But as wonderful as working in a café is, there is definitely a great deal missing.

So it’s no real surprise that the coworking movement is growing at a pace that seems closely linked to the number of people jumping into telework or out of the traditional workplace. Deskmag states there are now more than 1,100 coworking spaces worldwide, more than double the number in 2006. Loosecubes, a service set up to help people find coworking spaces, is tracking over 1,400 locations in over 500 cities, globally.

According to Carsten Foetrsch of deskmag, 72 percent of all coworking spaces become profitable after 2 years of operation, and for privately-run spaces, the number is even higher: 87 percent . So the economics for those interested in setting up and running coworking spaces is compelling.

A Virtuous Cycle?

Looking from a economics viewpoint, all the players have economic motivations to support coworking:

  • The office worker saves significant expense and time by decreasing commute time, and those with the longest commutes should have the strongest motivation to shift to telework. Therefore, there is a steady migration to telework as businesses adopt policies to support it.
  • Businesses have a strong incentive to increase employee morale and productivity, and to decrease expenses related to the increasingly large percentage of their office space that is underutilized. Even if businesses have to subsidize coworking space use by teleworkers, the net savings are significant.
  • As the number of freelancers and teleworkers increase, the demand for coworking space grows, since people need the strong social connections historically offered in the workplace, not just the chance connections afforded by sharing a table in Starbucks.
  • Entrepreneurs have strong incentives to create coworking spaces: partly to serve as their own base of operations, but also as a business proposition of its own. Note that the desire of businesses to shed unneeded office space in our down economy also provides lower cost space in which to set up shop.

When you look at it as a system, coworking is a complex societal dance, where the various players are each seeking to  maximize their personal economic situation, and it leads to a new social reintegration. And the result of this migration of workers from the office to the coworking space is a net benefit for the world, too: the decrease in energy use for the unused office space and the decrease in commuting translates into decreased carbon footprints for all involved.

Coworking may turn out to be the pivot in today’s post-industrial transformation of work: a shining example, perhaps, of how large-scale positive change at the societal level can emerge peacefully from the independent pursuit of personal ends.

Stowe Boyd writes and speaks about social tools and their impact on media, business and society. A GigaOM Pro analystBoyd also writes at stoweboyd.com and is working on a new book about the rise of a socially augmented world, called Liquid City: A Liquid, Not A Solid; A City, Not A Machine. Stowe will be speaking about co-working at Net:Work. 

Image courtesy of Flickr userRob Pearce.

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  118. dump the office, keep the social – Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/9L5QmMdM #workconf @gigaom

  119. RT @liquidspace: dump the office, keep the social – Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/9L5QmMdM #workconf @gigaom

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  121. Right on. More spaces needed! RT “@liquidspace: Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/x3nXLlKP @gigaom”

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  128. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/OvhqhiJI

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  132. Sparkbox Coworking Friday, December 2, 2011

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  133. heidi groshelle Friday, December 2, 2011

    well said. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? @stoweboyd http://t.co/a5UPI6bC

  134. EntrepreneurShips Friday, December 2, 2011

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  135. Michael Overell Friday, December 2, 2011

    Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/2Ag20sxD – great extension of a discussion at #truaus cc/ @kwheeler

  136. Interesting piece. “Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work?” http://t.co/acLK2gJk

  137. Chris Johnstone Friday, December 2, 2011

    RT @gigaom: Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/Rb2ZVU7o

  138. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/WrahvLrE via @zite

  139. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/aFRUA9a4

  140. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/zokyFUia via @zite

  141. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/i18QXz7F

  142. RT @silvano_v: @IronShirtMedia http://t.co/lWIuojIa

  143. chris hackett Friday, December 2, 2011

    RT @gigaom: Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/CYbJHeqI WFH I find this interesting!

  144. Arturo Gutierrez Friday, December 2, 2011

    RT @gigaom: Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/CCcFOqz2

  145. Data Center Blogs Friday, December 2, 2011

    Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work?: There are a a set of work-related trends that seem to s… http://t.co/2GXoOKGy

  146. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/4HYDBo73

  147. RT @graemethickins: RT @gigaom: Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? (by Stowe Boyd) http://t.co/TwIM6S1q

  148. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/di4jMW8Z

  149. Working Village Friday, December 2, 2011

    “So it’s no real surprise that the coworking movement is growing at a pace that seems closely linked to the… http://t.co/1gpK2Vpb

  150. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work?: Many folks that adopt a telework or freelance work mode… http://t.co/NLD9c5Kv

  151. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? #wwd http://t.co/fVA6XrKO

  152. chris dykstra Friday, December 2, 2011

    RT @graemethickins: RT @gigaom: Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? (by Stowe Boyd) http://t.co/TwIM6S1q

  153. Nathasha Parker Friday, December 2, 2011

    Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/AsZuzgPd

  154. Michael Bistline Friday, December 2, 2011

    Is your office one of the 40%? RT “@liquidspace: Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/57w6geAQ @gigaom”

  155. Alan Weinkrantz Friday, December 2, 2011

    Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/DtAErFdB

  156. Carly McCrory Friday, December 2, 2011

    Coworking:The Pivot in Today’s Transformation of Work? http://t.co/0lgEwOiD (cc: @nmgoddard) #li

  157. Freelance Mentor Friday, December 2, 2011

    Freelance Advice | Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work?: There are a a set of work… http://t.co/GbUtONST #webdesign

  158. Location Alert Friday, December 2, 2011

    Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work?: There are a a set of work-related trends that seem to s… http://t.co/R97vAxpH

  159. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work?: There are a a set of work-related trends that seem to s… http://t.co/EqneUg2Y

  160. Tech Management Friday, December 2, 2011

    Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work?: There are a a set of work-related trends that seem to s… http://t.co/doViOVxM

  161. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work?: There are a a set of work-related trends that seem to s… http://t.co/rFN4OhRQ

  162. ESPACES, Inc. Friday, December 2, 2011

    RT @liquidspace: dump the office, keep the social – Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/9L5QmMdM #workconf @gigaom

  163. Jonathan Gewirtz Friday, December 2, 2011

    RT @stpeter: Fine essay by @stoweboyd on coworking spaces: http://t.co/k832qG2O

  164. Chris Hamilton Friday, December 2, 2011

    RT @gigaom: Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/18FNFymw

  165. Speakers Connect Friday, December 2, 2011

    RT @gigaom: Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/Rb2ZVU7o

  166. Matthew Lloyd Friday, December 2, 2011

    Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? — Online … http://t.co/qLw25MNJ

  167. Indie Ballard Friday, December 2, 2011

    Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? — Online Collaboration http://t.co/5u4Ef7fF

  168. RT @liquidspace: dump the office, keep the social – Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/9L5QmMdM #workconf @gigaom

  169. Tom Fleerackers Friday, December 2, 2011

    Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/yO2AvgCT

  170. Paul Marshall Friday, December 2, 2011

    Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/vYh7wTne

  171. Carter Hostelley Friday, December 2, 2011

    Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/RRtWn9hC [Good post]

  172. Dewang Mistry Friday, December 2, 2011

    Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/2OdrX8AH

  173. Olympics 2010 Rental Saturday, December 3, 2011

    Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? – GigaOm: GigaOmCoworking: the pivot in today’s transfor… http://t.co/5TpShovM

  174. Francisco Sáez Saturday, December 3, 2011

    Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/67I5c3Jt | Interesting

  175. RT @mboverell: Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/2Ag20sxD – great extension of a discussion at #truaus cc/ @kwheeler

  176. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/bd6cbIJd

  177. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work?: Many folks that adopt a telework or freelance work mode… http://t.co/zCb4QqEX

  178. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work?: Many folks that adopt a telework or freelance work mode… http://t.co/b15YkIj4

  179. Thomas Turnbull Saturday, December 3, 2011

    Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/ykEjsPU3

  180. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work?: Many folks that adopt a telework or freelance work mode… http://t.co/q0ZCAQm6

  181. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work?: Many folks that adopt a telework or freelance work mode… http://t.co/AwujM63z

  182. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work?: Many folks that adopt a telework or freelance work mode… http://t.co/mJq6yC4D

  183. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work?: Many folks that adopt a telework or freelance work mode… http://t.co/Gzql7m6l

  184. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work?: Many folks that adopt a telework or freelance work mode… http://t.co/jTMTme1g

  185. RT @liquidspace: dump the office, keep the social – Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/9L5QmMdM #workconf @gigaom

  186. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/AfCxu3Ul

  187. RT @gigaom: Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/Rb2ZVU7o

  188. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/EpD7r9Zl

  189. James Schmeling Saturday, December 3, 2011

    Important developments in future work planning, org development Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/w87LWePV

  190. #Worktrends, of the #future, already here!
    http://t.co/5FjGdmIL

  191. 오피스의 끝? RT @gigaom: Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/diENbgyF

  192. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/SE3mmMSs

  193. @WorkBarBoston Good read on coworking. http://t.co/GSSF4u5l

  194. Martell Thornton Saturday, December 3, 2011

    Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? — Online …: The home-work group reported less “work ex… http://t.co/BcavqoTa

  195. Philippe Verstichel Saturday, December 3, 2011

    #social Transformation of work – #Coworking increases employee engagement ? Read out : http://t.co/tSr57ErX

  196. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/J9heIcqo

  197. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/UbQOEA5l

  198. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/DTqmyfEP by @stoweboyd

  199. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work?
    http://t.co/zzAPhqsm

  200. “@VenessaMiemis: Coworking? http://t.co/5rnby0UX by @stoweboyd” how exactly does teleworking of a dock-worker look like?

  201. takashi yamashita Saturday, December 3, 2011

    RT @gigaom: Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/Rb2ZVU7o

  202. RT @VenessaMiemis Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/2OTOMpDH by @stoweboyd

  203. @gavinmckenzie I’d just read this. http://t.co/74XeSppr

  204. RT @gigaom: Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/Rb2ZVU7o

  205. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/r9zCCB45

  206. Kelly Hungerford Saturday, December 3, 2011

    RT @VenessaMiemis: Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/DTqmyfEP by @stoweboyd

  207. David Pensato ★ Saturday, December 3, 2011

    Reading: Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/TO5ocyDM

  208. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/wsgODpkd by @stoweboyd on @gigaom

  209. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/0sMexoIW by @stoweboyd on @gigaom

  210. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/aNt4v1zI I heart CoWo. If in L.A., check out @BLANKSPACES.

  211. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/pCaVuMr4 I heart CoWo. If in L.A., check out @BLANKSPACES.

  212. Andy S. Parsons Saturday, December 3, 2011

    Great piece on coworking by @stoweboyd http://t.co/RIHgQhjj

  213. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/5YxLQxrU by @stoweboyd via @VenessaMiemis

  214. #Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? — Online Collaboration http://t.co/1VegIqB4

  215. RT @gigaom: Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/Rb2ZVU7o

  216. Anyone know someone who coworks? Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/qGLptB95 via @zite

  217. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/AcH2sBCS

  218. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/9zEadIck

  219. Interesting analysis on the future of co-working & its impact on work & life: http://t.co/M6MdKKH1

  220. #COWORKING: the pivot in today’s transformation of work?
    http://t.co/3dWJXr5p

  221. Kristian Norling Saturday, December 3, 2011

    Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/GLWVV56P

  222. Chris Lottridge Saturday, December 3, 2011

    RT @hunegnaw: Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/EpD7r9Zl

  223. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? — Online Collaboration http://t.co/dae3e41Y

  224. SkagitCoworking Saturday, December 3, 2011

    #Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/QyOyn96g

  225. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/N6HDbfug

  226. Coworking Florida Saturday, December 3, 2011

    Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/xduCv5xB

  227. Panos Papadopoulos Saturday, December 3, 2011

    Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? – http://t.co/hye1u0bJ cc @colabathens

  228. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/W6s8Pj24

  229. Daniel Durrant Sunday, December 4, 2011

    #Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? – http://t.co/X4pHPqb0

  230. Teleworkers more productive than office workers? – http://t.co/1dJ9GoYX – Intriguing

  231. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/rX36eVMR

  232. Roland Legrand Sunday, December 4, 2011

    Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/3vSPDoEz

  233. Our friend Campbell’s Loosecubes in GigaOM on distributed work forces. 75% of SalesCrunch peeps are distributed. http://t.co/xERe2P2t

  234. Our friend Campbell’s Loosecubes in GigaOM on distributed work forces. 75% of SalesCrunch peeps are distributed. http://t.co/ESwrntrM

  235. Reading, “Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work?” by @stoweboyd, http://t.co/krA9IZ2E (via @stpeter @MarionChapsal)

  236. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/uHEB6Zsp

  237. Coworking: the pivot in today’s transformation of work? http://t.co/agd2fWgg RT @jpaine #socbiz