If smarter, cheaper computers can take care of more and more routine tasks going forward, then the future of work is all about those most human of capabilities – caring interaction and creativity. And necessarily workspaces will need to be built to foster exactly those ideals, rather than routine, standardization and efficiency, the watchwords of the cube-filled or assembly line workspaces of the past.
That’s what coworking is betting on, as the movement sells itself as providing ideal environments for serendipity, relationship building and nurturing the creative spark. But it’s not just spaces for entrepreneurs and independent pros that are adopting these ideals. “The future, I believe, is that corporate offices are going to become coworking offices,” Harvard-trained designer and ParallelCities.com founder Sidi Gomes told GigaOM in the run up to this year’s Global Coworking Unconference (GCUC).
Zappos for one is already embodying this change. The company’s new downtown Las Vegas base is “a great extension of coworking ideals,” another GCUC participant, architect Jerome Chang, told GigaOM. “Zappos is looking to build a whole mini-city community by having encouraged a lot more people to live, work and play all in the same area as their office. The surrounding community becomes the campus itself,” he explained.
But don’t take Chang’s word for it. Recently, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh laid out his own thinking about his company’s $350 million investment in Las Vegas at Venture for America‘s Summer Celebration, giving a presentation explaining just what the company is up to in the city. The plan includes $50 million for local small businesses, $50 million for technology startups, $50 million for education and $200 million in real estate. Business Insider has posted the entire 60-slide presentation.
Or for the short and sweet round-up of Hsieh’s thinking look to Las Vegas Weekly, whose reporter J. Patrick Coolican met with Hsieh recently and was converted from his previous skepticism about Zappos’ plans. “Is he building a Burning Man encampment Downtown?!” Coolican wondered, but after speaking to the Zappos boss, he understands there are pragmatic business reasons for the company’s hefty investment in Las Vegas as well as philosophical ones. Coolican writes:
Zappos considered building a new suburban mega-campus, like Apple or Google. These campuses have creature comforts to induce workers to never leave, and/but they can be very isolating.
Hsieh had a radically different idea: Downtown, because he believes, he knows, that workers in cities are more productive. He thinks Zappos will be more profitable Downtown.
Here he leans on the work of Harvard economist Edward Glaeser, who notes that per-capita productivity increases by 4 percent as population density rises by 50 percent.
It’s not entirely clear why this is true, but Glaeser calls cities “machines for learning.” Humans have succeeded because of our ability to collaborate, and cities are the best geographical mechanism for doing so. Hsieh refers to “serendipity,” the chance encounters between technologist, thinker, social entrepreneur, artist and venture capitalist to create the new.
More human interaction means more serendipity and happiness, which therefore means higher productivity and profits.
Does this equation seem sensible to you?
Image courtesy of Flickr user Moyan_Brenn_I’M BACK NOW.