The new world of work – cafes to coworking

lifestyle design — By on April 8, 2008 at 1:01 pm

The world of work has evolved considerably in the past decade, and perhaps nowhere is this change more evident than in the mobility of workers, who keep finding new ways to move beyond the traditional office environment. It began when high speed internet access and teleconferencing technology enabled more people to work from home, at least for part of the time. But the ubiquity of laptops and the wireless internet has now irrevocably altered the concept of the office.

Most obviously, it has given workers the freedom to work not only from home, but also from coffee shops and other public locations. This topic was explored in a recent NY Times article that focused on the technology workers and entrepreneurs who gather regularly at Ritual Coffee Roasters in San Francisco.

As latte sippers pore over the latest draft of a business plan, bang out a little code or post to a blog, it is not hard to overhear snippets of dialogue with a decidedly capitalist bent: “We could make money off that,” and “Have you talked to them about a deal?”

For the Web 2.0 crowd creating businesses, as well as the post-Web 2.0 crowd looking for businesses to build, Ritual is the place to be. While it has not yet risen to the mythic proportions of Buck’s, the hangout in Woodside, Calif., for entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, it is becoming the place to generate ideas, find staff members and troll for companies to finance.

” … when you go into Ritual, it seems they’re either writing code or writing a blog or creating something with a widget that will make money for them this week, and that’s really different from a lot of the other places.” …

Indeed, San Francisco cafes have emerged as the new office of choice for many small start-ups. Atlas Cafe, also in the eclectic Mission District, is one, and Coffee to the People in the Haight is another. But Ritual, located between a heating repair shop and a video store, is perhaps the most popular. … Flickr, the popular photo sharing site, held weekly meetings there before it was bought by Yahoo. And Rubyred Labs, a Web design shop, had its debut party there.

Even more intriguing, though, are some of the ways in which the office has morphed into new forms. One example of this is the movement toward coworking, in which various individuals rent out desks in an office so they can have the camaraderie of coworkers while retaining their independence. This trend was explored recently in a different story.

Contemplating his career path a couple of years ago, a young computer programmer named Brad Neuberg faced a modern predicament. “It seemed I could either have a job, which would give me structure and community,” he said, “or I could be freelance and have freedom and independence. Why couldn’t I have both?”

As someone used to hacking out solutions, Mr. Neuberg took action. He created a word — coworking, eliminating the hyphen — and rented space in a building, starting a movement.

While coworking has evolved since Mr. Neuberg’s epiphany in 2005, dozens of places around the country and increasingly around the world now offer such arrangements, where someone sets up an office and rents out desks, creating a community of people who have different jobs but who want to share ideas…

Coworking sites are up and running from Argentina to Australia and many places in between, although a wiki site on coworking shows that most are in the United States…The coworkers, armed with Wi-Fi laptops and cellphones, are in some ways offering a techie twist on the age-old practice of artists or writers teaming up to rent studio space…

Coworking comes in many flavors. The Hat Factory in San Francisco is a live-work loft that’s home to three technology workers who open up during the day to other people. Some companies, like Citizen Agency, a San Francisco Internet consulting firm that has done the most to evangelize coworking, have an open-door policy, in which people rent desks but others are free to drop in and use the Wi-Fi or the conference room.

Some companies rent out desks to the nomadic workers, hoping some of their Internet mojo will rub off. Yet others have started coworking spaces as businesses unto themselves, like a community version of the corporate business centers operated by the Regus Group.

Tara Hunt, a co-owner of Citizen Agency, which calls its office Citizen Space, has listed (in a blog, of course) some principles of coworking. They include collaboration, openness, community, sustainability and accessibility. Many of the ideas come from the open-source software movement, in which people share their work freely with little regard for financial gain. Taking a nod from that movement, the people involved in coworking share their experiences and ideas on a Web site, coworking.pbwiki.com.

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