I’m personally fascinated with innovation in the workplace. About 10 years ago, remote working — AKA working from home — was gaining traction, offering new possibilities with
groups like women looking to balance a family and a career. With VPN access and the continued adoption and proliferation of high-speed broadband and wi-fi, remote working became a reality even before
Blackberry made access ubiquitous via push e-mail.
Companies like Jet Blue led the way in terms of powering their entire call centers (ticketing, customer service) using stay-at-home moms, largely based in Utah. Dell perfected the ability to outsource their technical support to countries like Malaysia, India and the like.
Unfortunately, trends in the workplace seem to have taken a turn for the worse during the same period. Open plan seating is just another way of putting lipstick on a pig in the form of cubicle purgatory. Once upon a time, we could aspire to occupy that corner office. No more. It’s sad that the model for today’s corporate office environment is 1999s Office Space and no, giving everyone locked and supervised iPhone’s doesn’t exactly make me feel differently.
What excites me is the boom of shared workspaces geared to today’s start-up, consultant or mercenary. I’m not talking about the more corporate kind offered by companies like The Regus Group, but companies like Grind, WeWork or Alley to name but a few. It's a mushrooming category of cool places to rub shoulders with fellow creative class, founders and entrepreneurs.
Perhaps once upon a time, it was cool to have a “virtual assistant” who would answer the phone and dupe your caller into thinking you were larger than life. Nowadays, the transparency afforded by social media is sort of a democratized open secret that lumps everyone into the same Twitter, Facebook, Web, Moo Card, Card Munch, Evernote and Dropbox melting pot.
Getting wi-fi is not a differentiator, any more. It’s pretty much free no matter where you go (Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, Cosi, Panera, McDonalds and the list goes on) and if Google gets its way, it’ll soon be accessible in every public place or space. A desk and a chair is essentially a commodity, but what makes the difference here is the ability to be a part of a growing community and movement.
At Evol8tion, we don’t have an office. Rather, we utilize partnerships with said shared workspaces. Sometimes we pay and sometimes we don’t. We choose to move around like nomads with next to no overhead. What really attracts us to these spaces is the commonality of the people who work there and the collaborating opportunities that are just waiting to happen. Need a freelancer Web developer? Guess where you can find them.
In addition, there is so much value add in the form of guest lecturers (from Cindy Gallop to Noah Brier to myself), events (mixers or pitch nights), office hours with potential investors or even mid-day yoga.
The innovation doesn’t stop there. A company called Loosecubes is doing a “Priceline” with available space across companies of all shapes and sizes. Major corporations with excess space (perhaps due to inevitable rounds of layoffs) can now put this space to use and in the process, get a leg up on talent acquisition, ideas and even a bit of incremental revenue.
If we want to see more innovation in the workplace, doesn’t it make sense to begin – literally – in the workplace?
I remember back in 1997 when I interviewed at TBWA\Chiat\Day, they were experimenting with an
incredibly innovative approach, which was ahead of its time. When I eventually joined them in 2001, it was no more. The idea: no one had an office, except for the CFO and HR, for obvious
reasons. Instead people just had lockers and could move around anywhere in the office, logging in and out of shared terminals.
What other trends do you see affecting work? What innovative approaches are helping companies – big and small – do better at attracting, retaining and maximizing the full potential of their talent pool?