Coworking. Not just for trendy freelancers and startups.

Earlier this week I was reading an article about the rise of coworking spaces in recent years. In case you’ve never heard of it, coworking is the practice of individuals or small teams working from shared office space. Aside from enabling these groups to have a flexible base of operations without committing to fixed leases, these spaces have created flourishing communities and helped connect and inspire people from differing professions around common goals.

This had me pondering – couldn’t the benefits of coworking office space be applied to absolutely anyone, not just freelancers and startups?

For a while now the technology has been in place where people can work from literally anywhere (see the definition of digital nomad if you want to be green with envy). I’m at a point where I could do a large chunk of my job armed with just an iPad and an Internet connection. So why aren’t we encouraging more staff to spend office days in places other than their desk? Especially faced with mounting evidence that the traditional office environment is bad for productivity.

Yes, it’s good (essential even?) for staff to spend time with their colleagues to foster those working relationships that are so crucial to getting things done and making the job enjoyable. However, I think it’s equally important to work in different spaces to shake off the ‘default’ mindset of plodding through routine, doing what you’ve always done before.

So, speaking from experience of my own sector – what if we had shared working space for all the Housing Associations in Cardiff? How many serendipitous conversations and relationships would be forged simply by sharing the same working area whilst doing the daily email trawl?

Let’s throw the net wider. Why not open that shared office space to Housing Associations in Wales? What sort of ideas might get swapped over a cup of coffee in the kitchen?

Let’s go broader again – why not open that office space to Local Councils and Health Boards? What common struggles could we talk about over lunch? What sort of connected approaches might we start defining?

Whilst we’re at it, why don’t we host regular unconferences in this space to help flesh all these new ideas out to find wider support?

Obviously, there’s a whole raft of logistical challenges to solve. But I think it illustrates that working in this sort of environment could result in huge opportunities for collaboration and connecting the dots across multiple sectors. In a broad sense it’s all about removing barriers (physical, hierarchical, political, organisational) to prevent people toiling in isolation, duplicating or expending effort in the wrong areas.

In this way we might be able to get on with the business of tackling the wicked problems that matter most, together

15 thoughts on “Coworking. Not just for trendy freelancers and startups.

    1. Cheers Mark!

      That’s okay – I think I’m quite far from digital nomady-ness (that’s definitely not a word) too. Don’t think it’s compatible with the school run.

      I’ll keep you in mind for future developments! :)

  1. Well said Neil! We’re fully behind (and overly invested in) the idea of ‘using’ shared spaces to bring people together, knock down walls, and create value for people who need it most.

    If you’re seriously considering this idea, we’d love to chat about how we’ve seen it done, and how we’d be able to help. :)

    1. Thanks for the comment – I’d love to hear about any real world examples you have where different organisations have used coworking to improve services.

  2. Traditional office buildings are an enormous waste of resources in the modern world, think of all that money tied up in bricks and mortar, heating, lighting, etc, and the effect on the environment of all those people commuting. And they reinforce silos. I think it would be particularly helpful for the housing sector for its employees to be forced to mix with people from different disciplines on a daily basis.

  3. Great post – it’s time to reimagine offices as social networks. I always remember a visitor to one of our offices pointing out that we were directly above the NHS. They asked how often we went for coffee and talked about linking housing and health. The thought hadn’t crossed our minds.

    The problem with offices is they usually aren’t networked. They organise around product or department rather than around the end user. Think of it – IT, HR, Finance, Customer Services – all sitting separately. In a networked age there’s simply no reason for it – other than it’s “easier to manage”.

    We are still in the very early transition from the hierarchical leadership model of the 20th Century and offices as they currently exist are just an almighty hangover.

    You’re spot on – this way of doing business is not for hipster start-ups – it’ something we all need to explore if we have any hope of joining up services and realising true value to the end user.

    1. Thanks Paul! Increasingly I think those hipster startups are the outliers for the future of work. Not just because of the technology they use, but how they choose to organise themselves and how they’re able to rapidly respond to change.

      It does beg the question(s) – is it possible to reboot a traditional organisation to work in this more open, connected manner? Can this culture only take root when you start with a blank slate? Are most big org’s immunised to anything that threatens the status quo?

  4. Love the post Neil!

    For the past couple of months I have been splitting my time between sharing my office with one of our Directors and hotdesking in several locations (blog post to follow shortly!). A step in the right direction. Really like the idea of sharing office space with other HA’s. Let me know when you get it off the ground in Cardiff ;-)

    1. Cheers Dyfrig!

      Thanks for the link, related info ALWAYS appreciated!

      Has there been any movement on this? I got a subtle undertone from the video that there was concern that more collaboration = mergers.

      1. Wrexham CBC are looking at implementing come co-working spaces, and I think there’s scope in Conwy. We’re aware that re-organisation is putting some stuff on the buffers, but on the other side there are some organisations planning flexibly to aid better co-operation and integration (check out this case study – A mixed bag I’m afraid!

  5. Great post Neil! One thought occurred to me: until something more solid/organised is arranged how about we just do it?

    I think the only things required for co-working are people and working. Office space is ace but on the cheap, or to test that it’s useful: instead of a day working from home, we could work and meet at a chosen cafe with wifi. Anyone in public service/housing/health who is able to could come, and the worst that could happen is that I am (or someone else is) the only one who turned up, in which case there is an opportunity to crack on with some work without distraction.

    First Friday of the month at Coffee Barker for instance. Or something like that.

    What do you reckon? I have freedom to work anywhere, any time but perhaps it’s not as easy as that for people in some organisations.

    1. Thanks Helen! Do you know what, you’re absolutely right! Whilst we’re trying to figure out the fiddly bits, why don’t we just do it?There’s a similar sort of movement that’s already started in Stockholm where people started to cowork from each other’s homes :

      As you touched upon, I think there’s still a prevailing attitude that if you’ve got an office and a desk, you should be sat at it by default. With the myriad of ways we’ve got to communicate with each other, I can’t help but think that being physically present shouldn’t really be a requirement for getting work done. If you’re predisposed to skiving, it’s much easier to do that in the traditional office (so I’ve heard!).

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