CONCEPTUAL ORIGINS OF CO-WORKING: KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY AND COGNITIVE CAPITALISM
Conceptual origins of coworking: knowledge economy and cognitive capitalism coworking stem from two interrelated economic trends (Moriset, 2014): the emergence of a knowledge economy and the substitution of cognitive for physical capital. The emergence of the knowledge economy sparked the third industrial revolution, in which work shifted and became devoted more to tasks requiring discernment, creativity, judgment, and initiative. That is, it substituted “brain-force” for the classic “work-force”. Such an economy uses a resource that prior economies could not exploit to its full potential: the brains of operational agents.
The automated company relied on the close interaction of machine and workforce; the contemporary company, developed with advances in computing and technology, increasingly relies on the interaction between the computer and the brain-force. Therefore, the classic division of labor also gets replaced by collective intelligence, as a source of value creation and development. Some resources, in turn, become more fundamental than others; intellectual or cognitive capital substitutes for physical capital. The result prompts predictions that “the 21st-century economy will be largely fueled by capital other than monetary capital. Meaning influence capital or social capital, human capital, we believe that those are going to be much more powerful as we shift from an industrial to a knowledge-based economy.
Cognitive capitalism is “an accumulation system in which the object of accumulation is mostly constituted by knowledge, which tends to be the object of a direct valorization, and whose production overflows the classic spaces of organizations” (Corsani et al., 2009, p. 9). Because technological developments enable continuous access to an organization’s information resources (i.e. mobile technologies coupled with cloud computing, fostering continuous and distant access to the company’s applications), knowledge work has grown untethered and independent, free from the physical boundaries of the organization, in terms of both space and time.
The knowledge economy, coupled with the digitization of both processes and organizations, has led to deep changes in both the production and consumption of spaces dedicated to knowledge work (Moriset, 2014). New information technologies considerably affect the way knowledge work can be done, and where, as work has become dematerialized and ubiquitous.
The social and architectural boundaries of the company thus become obsolete. Noting companies’ increasing demands, knowledge workers – increasingly serving as “intrapreneurs” and innovators, rather than reproducers of procedures – have found “third spaces” to work in (Oldenburg, 1989) rather than the company’s offices. In these spaces, they can optimize their productivity and creativity. Better than any previous model of work organization, coworking spaces address the five conditions that characterize knowledge work: access to information, access to knowledge, access to symbolic resources, access to social capital and opportunities for serendipity.
A recent study shows that more than two-thirds of knowledge work is now done outside of classic office spaces (Waber et al., 2014). The developments of independent work, freelance opportunities and startups also have accelerated the spatiotemporal dispersal of work, further explaining the emergence of these third spaces. Specifically, 35 million people work independently in the USA, and 27 million do so in Europe (Marzloff, 2013, p. 24). An estimated 60 million US workers will not have any formal employer by 2020, representing 40 percent of the workforce (Marzloff, 2013, p. 24). People increasingly value independent work over salaried tasks, and they look for independence, autonomy, and empowerment, which are related implicitly to freelancer status (cf. employee status).
The lack of social and professional interaction inherent in these activities, in turn, has prompted independent workers to find new workspaces that combine the comforts of telecommuting with the social richness of offices. In response to the oppression of classic office spaces and the isolation of telecommuting, knowledge workers, mobile workers, freelancers, founders of startups and creative and technology professionals all have helped initiate the birth of new work settings. They are located outside typical office spaces (Johns and Gratton, 2013) and characterized by the development of social interactions, notions of “community” at work (Garrett et al., 2014), close encounters and learning opportunities.