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

Working Out Loud

I can’t stand buzzwords and business speak. So, on the face of it I should’ve avoided ‘Working Out Loud’ at all costs.

I stumbled across the term whilst researching the use of Yammer within various organisations. At first glance, it seems like the sort of snake oil that social media “experts” pedal whilst promising MASSIVE ENGAGEMENT and HYPER-CONNECTED SYNERGY.

Upon further reading though, it actually turned out to be a very practical approach to working that makes a lot more sense in our ever more connected lives.

So, what does ‘Working Out Loud’ actually mean?

“Working Out Loud starts with making your work visible in such a way that it might help others. When you do that – when you work in a more open, connected way – you can build a purposeful network that makes you more effective and provides access to more opportunities.” – John Stepper

As someone who works in IT, the bulk of the workload can be largely invisible to the majority of the organisation.. unless something goes horribly wrong! Additionally, if those around you can’t grasp the technical challenges involved it can be hard to get recognition for a job well done. In an attempt to do a little bit of PR, I started making progress updates and decision processes more visible via platforms like Asana and Yammer. In essence, this is one of the core practices of Working Out Loud. 

Working Out Loud IS NOT about bragging to the rest of the organisation about your achievements. It’s about giving your colleagues an opportunity to work with you. In some way it’s also about encouraging those serendipitous conversations where you’re struggling with the exact same problem as someone else in the organisation, albeit from perhaps a different perspective.

Working Out Loud does require a good dose of honesty. If you only share your roaring successes, you’re depriving people of valuable lessons learned when you’ve failed. And actually, if you’re being open and transparent in the way that you approach work, you should have reduced your chances of huge catastrophic failures because somebody should’ve steered you in a different direction.

Obviously the effectiveness of Working Out Loud largely depends on the culture of your work place. If your organisation isn’t very open, you may find that there’s a great deal of resistance when you try and lift the veil on what you’re doing.

Working Out Loud can also be threatening to traditional rigid ‘top down’ management structures, perceived as trying to circumvent the chain of command or going rogue!

But Working Out Loud doesn’t have to exist purely inside the work place. The same principles can be applied to Social Media. If you can’t work transparently inside your workplace, why not try and connect with others with similar interests in other organisations?