Monday, August 3, 2009

Self-Employed? Laid-Off? "Co-Working" Fights Isolation

As a sole proprietor working at home since 1984, lonely is something I never get. But over the years a lot of people have said to me, “I couldn’t work at home by myself. I need people around me.” With thousands of middle- and upper-management level “information workers” put out of a job in this recession, co-working is a growing trend that may also be the best of all worlds.

Co-working got its name in 2005 when software engineer Brad Neuberg organized a gathering spot called the “Hat Factory,” where people could hang-out to work independently, but side by side. A July 26 Washington Post article talked about“digital nomads" self-employed folks in the Nation's Capitol who seek the energy of other people and multiple places: the Dulles corridor, Adams Morgan, Embassy Row, hotel lobbies downtown, etc. Post staff writer Michael Rosenwald says, “They work -- clad in shorts, T-shirts and sandals -- wherever they find a wireless Web connection to reach their colleagues via instant messaging, Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, and occasionally by voice on their iPhones or Skype.”

Why go to the trouble? The Arizona Republic describes the struggle of Steven Shaffer, an entrepreneur who started his own company, but had issues with working at home. “Isolation set in and he struggled to stay focused.” For some, the answer to the work-at-home lonelies is to take it on the road.

That road could lead to WiFi retailers like Starbucks or Panera Bread, but in some communities, co-working has become more formalized. Localities like Pheonix are actively supporting communal work environments where the self-employed can gather. For example, dubbed “gangplank,” the Arizona Republic describes one idyllic meet-up in Phoenix as “... Ikea office tables dot the concrete-floor in a room filled with natural light. The building includes a research library, conference space, and a podcasting and video studio. Couches and an air-hockey table occupy an area where free small-business workshops take place each week.”

Online support for co-working is huge and growing. For example:
• Co-workers can gather srategies at the Coworking Blog, which cites ten ways to get involved;
• Google has a coworking group, as do Yahoo and LinkedIn;
Tweeple can gather at Twitter's #coworking hashtag on Twitter;
Work At Jelly helps co-workers find spots around the country where people are gathering;
• For some, the co-working movement segues with the green/eco movement—Raines Cohen bills himself as a “co-working coach," who travels to help people and municipalities set up co-working sites.
Double Happiness in New York City has announced August events scheduled at the SALT artspace (even for an isolationist like me, that's tempting).

Two decades ago, "home office" was a dirty word. In the 1990s, we heard that "telecommuting" would -- at last -- replace driving to work. This time change is, indeed, blowing in the wind. Probably we're in the Perfect Storm, brewed from the convergence of affordable, portable technology that actually works, the decline of jobs for middle and upper managers, an irreversible shift to an information economy, a weakening of the corporate stranglehold on all fronts, and growing acceptance of cloud computing, which lets us both create and back-up elsewhere.

Bring it on.

-- scrubbed by Marketing Brillo


H said...

I love when technology is used for good. Even better when the populace drives the technology rather than technology driving us.

Unknown said...

You were born to co-work. It's who you is. :-)