CO-WORKING: A NEW WORK MODEL EMERGING FROM A THIRD WAVE OF WORK VIRTUALIZATION
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 per cent 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, spatio-temporal 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, a 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).
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