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Published on April 21, 2019 by Qasim Naqvi

Toffler (1980) predicted that personal computing would lead to an inevitable transformation of organizations: “Put the computer in people’s homes, and they no longer need to huddle. White collar work will not require 100 percent of the workforce to be concentrated in the workshop” (p. 199). This prediction, cited widely in telecommuting research, characterized the beginning of a long-term trend toward “dispersal”, “detemporalization” and “despatialization” of work, which contributed to virtualization processes in organizations. For example, in 2014, more than 1.3 billion people worked “virtually”, from spaces and sites of their choice, relying on rich electronic connections (Johns and Gratton, 2013) More than ever, modern people can work outside the organization’s classic, physical, spatiotemporal boundaries (Spinuzzi, 2012). Three waves of work virtualization, and thus three models of work organization, have developed in the past two decades, reflecting changes in employee priorities, evolutions in employer demands and the emergence of new information and collaborative technologies (Johns and Gratton, 2013):

1. The first wave appeared at the end of the 1980s and intensified during the 1990s, corresponding to the first democratization of personal computing at home (Toffler, 1980), combined with the development of email, which offered organizations new flexibility, manifested in the development of telework and telecommuting.

2. Developed during the 2000s, the second wave corresponded to the development of mobile technologies in organizations and teamwork at a global level, thus favoring spatial and temporal dispersal of work and enabling employees to work anywhere and anytime, as manifested in the growth of mobile, distributed work and work performed remotely (Leclercq, 2008; Mark and Su, 2010). The number of mobile workers, working remotely, has increased, and the classic work infrastructure has been progressively replaced by personal mobile and intelligent technologies (e.g. smartphones, tablets), whose usage has increased with the development of cloud computing.

3. Finally, the third wave of virtualization is embodied in the current development of “coworking spaces” (Johns and Gratton, 2013), characterized by work that spreads beyond private and professional spaces (e.g. the office). More workers choose to work independently, as information and communication technologies provide them with more flexibility for doing work in settings other than the classic office or home. Coworking spaces thus reflect a broader trend, characterized by the emergence of new spaces dedicated to work.

Coworking spaces are specific “third places”, where coworkers seek a sense of socialization and community (Garrett et al., 2014), opportunities for serendipity and creativity and networking encounters to increase their social capital and avoid the drawbacks of virtualization suffered in the first two waves.

As people and organizations have become progressively aware of the drawbacks of remote working and excess virtualization (e.g. lack of natural collaboration and encounters, isolation, loss of opportunities for serendipity, excess divisions and distributions of work, reduced sharing of tacit knowledge, blurring of boundaries between private and professional life), a new model of work organization has emerged: “coworking” (Waber et al., 2014).

Social, organizational and managerial issues of Co-working

Third spaces appear to accelerate serendipity, and they represent a deep change to, or even reversal of, the paradigms for work processes in organizations. Individual workers are the keystones for new work systems, which raises important issues for management science and organizational theory. Coworkers tend to co-create a sense of community that fits their expectations (Garrett et al., 2014) instead of being subjected to a predefined, corporate form community which they might have perceived as artificial or imposed (Ezzy, 2001). Just as technologies have been subjected to a “consumerization” process through the adoption of consumer applications, tools, and devices in the workplace (Leclercq-Vandelannoitte, 2015a, 2015b; Moschella et al., 2004), workers have begun to initiate new ways of working for themselves which address their expectations and needs in both professional and personal areas. This new ecosystem seems free of classic versions of organization, with renewed notions of organization and company (Marzloff, 2013). More employees adjust workspaces to adapt to their personal habits and ways of working, instead of the contrary. The future of work will not be guided by the office space but by the individual and her or his tasks (Deskmag, 2014).

Companies in turn are increasingly interested in this phenomenon and favor new forms of work organization for their own (mobile) employees, for obvious reasons, including reduced real estate and commuting costs, greater flexibility and enhancements to their employees’ dynamism (Johns and Gratton, 2013; Strauss, 2013; Waber et al., 2014). Companies also recognize the need to offer employees a range of work spaces to attract a diversified workforce, spanning the workers’ different expectations of work. At the end of the 2000s, coworking spaces largely emerged as small work areas, developed by and for independent workers; today, they constitute a new work organization. In turn, more traditional companies have embraced coworking spaces, as evidenced by the development of “internal coworking spaces” and desk-sharing practices in companies such as Ernst & Young, Deloitte, Orange, and IBM (Vignette 2). Other companies have created their own coworking spaces for mobile workers. At Telus, only 30 percent of the workforce will function at the company’s premises by the end of 2015 (Johns and Gratton, 2013).



Category: Coworking

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