At the dawn of the 21st century, coworking spaces and the sharing economy reconfigured the concept of an office. In the old world, an office was a physical location where workers gathered to access professional tools and perform essential tasks side by side. The problem was that not all workers can reach peak productivity in that environment.
The office of the future is a virtual construct. It’s collaborative, connected, comfortable and it could be literally anywhere. The smart workspace is app-enabled and mobile-ready. Where the old office prioritized a rigid schedule and specified location, the office of the future prioritizes “flow.” Coworking spaces have flourished over the past two decades because they present a wide variety of work environments and high-tech tools, allowing each individual worker to find their own flow.
The Business Value of Flow
The concept of flow refers to the state of mind captured by athletes and artisans at the peak of their skills. It is a feeling of timelessness and mastery that results in maximum productivity and excellence in performance. Flow makes work feel like play. This state can be the best of all possible worlds for both workers and their employers.
David Johnson, principal analyst at Forrester, concluded that the employee experience has a greater impact on a company’s financial performance than any other KPI. He wrote, “A growing body of scientific research is proving that supporting employees’ ability to reach a mental state called flow is much more important to boosting customer satisfaction, talent retention and revenue growth.”
For forward-looking startups large enterprises, that future is already here. Trends in flexible scheduling, mobile devices and IoT at the network edge are all converging to transform the workspace of the future into a smarter, more connected space dedicated to facilitating states of flow.
Trends in Flexible Scheduling
The nine-to-five workday is a relic of the prior century. The new normal is “discontinuous diligence,” where work is spread across various projects or employers and broken into chunks of time that fit more organically into the workers’ lives.
The benefit of discontinuous diligence has even been embraced by Google, which requires employees to spend 20 percent of their time working on innovative side projects. A new classification of “sidepreneurs” has sprung up to define those who have their own business, even if they are permanent employees at one of their client companies.
Startups and lean companies are depending on this to scale up operations with a mix of employees, freelancers, outsourced talent and sidepreneurs, who work for more than one company at a time. The membership at coworking spaces reflect that changing dynamic. Although coworking spaces are often considered a home for freelancers, in reality 47 percent of coworking occupants are the staff of small companies.
Trends in Mobile Devices
The smartphone has morphed into a mobile office. Email, business applications, expense tracking, web search, document version control, CRM and meetings all happen behind their tiny screens.
The smartphone can even make phone calls with HD Voice matching the sound quality of an old copper land line. CIO reported that 87 percent of employers rely on some employees to access work apps on their own smartphones. Kevin McMahon, director of global marketing at West UC, acknowledged where this trend is headed, pointing out that, “We’re entering a world where the primary business phone is the mobile.”
That new world challenges the assumption that an office is where business takes place. New enterprise tech like the Cisco Spark has embraced this new mobile workforce, making it easier to bring live-streaming feeds from mobile users into videoconferences and connect attendees in real-time chat rooms.
Meanwhile, virtual PBX systems like Spoke Phone and web-based video conferencing apps like Zoom put the power of enterprise tech in the hands of startups.
Trends in IoT
Everything in and around coworking spaces is getting smarter as well. The Internet of Things (IoT) is putting intelligent sensors and network edge processing to work in creating more personalized, less interruptive workspaces. In a shared office space with variable memberships, configurability is more important than ever. That’s why coworking spaces have implemented cloud connectivity inside objects like printers, elevators and lighting systems to make adjustments on the fly, reducing wait times and optimizing working conditions. The applications of IoT are limited only by the imagination, and the multigenerational, multicultural mix of coworking occupants provides the ideal conditions for generating and testing innovative concepts.
The Expansion of the Shared Office Space
Over the next few years, coworking spaces will have an even greater impact on the way business gets done. In 2017, there are nearly 14,000 coworking spaces serving more than a million workers.
By 2020, projections indicate there will be more 26,000 shared office spaces customized to facilitate the flow of 3.8 million workers. While coworking has been associated with some of the nation’s largest cities — New York, Chicago, DC, San Francisco — that’s also changing as rural areas in the U.S. and international locations adapt to the new normal. In the future, work-life balance may become obsolete, as work and life merge into something new — something the world has never seen and doesn’t even have a name for yet.
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