Our panel on Workplace Trends: Telecommuting and Coworking at InnotechAustin on Thursday went very well. Thanks to those of you who attended and participated; there was a lot of interest and energy around the subject. My takeaways:
Telecommuting has caught on in a big way
More than half the crowd or more reported they are already telecommuting full time. That was a surprise to me. I hadn't realized the telecommuting trend had spread so rapidly, thoroughly, though of course this conference and our topic selected for them.
The Demand for Coworking is There
The four of us represented the gamut of coworking models, and there is demand for all these levels.
- Occasional free coworking sessions,set up and hosted by someone with time to give. No commitment, good for corporate and telecommuting workers needing a refresh/break.
- Shared office space, where folks act as working roommates to share expenses. Good for very small businesses and freelancers. The resulting community can function like family, throwing one another work, helping out.
- Dedicated coworking spaces that allow people who are committed to the coworking model and need to count on having their space open and ready.
- On-demand coworking space available through a no-commitment, pay-as-you-go model good for travelers, freelancers, corporate workers or anyone who benefits from a well-equipped workspace that isn't home or the regular office.
Our Different Types of Coworking Spaces
Here's how the four presenters shook out along this continuum.
- Susan Price at Firecat Studio hosts one open coworking session per month, with a brownbag lunch to build community. We get on average 15-20 folks over the course of the day, a mix of corporate employees, small business owners and freelancers, drawing heavily but not exclusively from the internet/tech sectors.
- Cody Marx Bailey opened up his small business space as The Creative Space to save money on expenses, as well as build community. They offer a membership/tenant model, and are currently full at 13 tenants, with a waiting list. As they grew from 3 tenants to 13, their per-tenant fee to cover expenses dropped from $400 per month to less than $85.
- Dusty Reagan organized ad hoc Jelly Austin coworking sessions and enjoyed rapid growth and a flow of projects, ideas and referrals for his freelance web development business. He and some colleagues launched a dedicated coworking space earlier this year in east Austin -- Conjunctured. Another tenant/membership model, they're still accepting new members at $250/month.
- Julie Gomoll is banking on a higher-end clientele for coworking, and judging from the crowd at Innotech, she's right to do so. LaunchPad Coworking is being built out now, slated to open by the end of the year in the heart of downtown Austin. The adjacent free wifi coffeeshop allows folks to cowork for free, but they'll be lured into the open coworking side with amenities like ethernet fiber lines, flatscreen monitors and mice, ergonomically correct desks and chairs, and a lovely ambience. When a project team needs privacy, there are 6 meeting rooms for rent, and even a "cloud room" designed to inspire creativity.
Benefits of Coworking
Although I had a good sense of why folks come to Firecat's once-monthly sessions, it was good to hear from a broader mix of tech professionals their most compelling reasons they want and need coworking.
- Home can be isolating. The telecommuters in the audience reported stir-craziness and cabin-fever, as well as a lack of perspective, that results from being alone too much.
- Home can be distracting. Though participants reported an increase in their ability to achieve work/life balance, sometimes it's hard to maintain a solid "work boundary" when the office continually beckons. Kids benefit from having parents at home more, but one or the other still suffers from inattention. Then there are the standard distractions of household chores, tv, fridge and home maintenance.
- We're social creatures who need human contact. Remote teaming and collaboration tools were frequently cited as almost - but not quite - being the same as face-to-face contact with other humans.
- Several corporate folks report that their employers are embracing telecommuting to reduce costs, be "greener" by avoiding carbon emissions of commuting, and offering employees a desirable option and more control.
- Freelancers and small business people need leads, an extended network to accomplish projects and stay competitive in the global workforce.
- Several people expressed their appreciation of "accelerated serendipity -- the unlooked for but valuable benefits of being in a stream of fresh ideas, faces and work styles.
If you were there, please expand on what we learned together. And thanks for coming!
Here's the presentation we had going (Download coworking_innotech.pdf); it features photos from each of the spaces showing coworking in action, as well as links to learn more about coworking and how to get it going in your area.
Here's the presentation at Slideshare.