The traditional office: a place where employees congregate Monday through Friday for 40+ hours per week to produce work for a company. If you are a for-profit publicly-owned company, this work leads to maximizing shareholder value; in a non-profit, providing services and helping make the world a better place.
But what’s the benefit to everyone congregating under one roof five days a week, spending much of their living and breathing life within the same four walls? Is the traditional office really the best way to conduct business in the most meaningful and efficient way?
A quickly changing freelancer economy
Whether your company is comprised of freelancers or not, the reality is that by 2020, it is estimated that more than 40% of the American workforce (60 million people), will be freelancers, contractors, and temporary employees. How will these people work with your full time salaried staff and where will they work? Will they be required to show face time in the office or will a co-working space for them to collaborate with others suffice?
This movement toward more independent contractors will surely play a role in redefining the traditional office culture. It will affect how much physical office space a company needs if employees are more temporary/seasonal in nature and office and company culture.
The rise of coworking spaces
The traditional work environment is quickly changing. The rapid rise in coworking, defined as “the use of an office or other working environment by people who are self-employed or working for different employers, typically so as to share equipment, ideas, and knowledge,” has started to change the way we work.
For example, WeWork is the world’s largest shared-workspace startup with locations in 28 cities. This past March, their latest funding round valued the company at $16 billion, making WeWork the world’s sixth most valuable private startup. WeWork was founded in 2010 with a simple business model, according to a Fast Company article: “The company rents office space from landlords wholesale, breaks it into smaller units, and subleases it at a profit. WeWork, which now has 77 locations and more than 50,000 members, says its ultimate potential is much bigger…” Plan pricing ranges per office location, but for example, at the WeWork Chelsea location in Manhattan, a hot desk space is $450 per month with a one-person office going for $950 per month. Amenities include everything from micro-roasted coffee to weekly mixer events.
Another similar concept with a socially conscious twist is the Center for Social Innovation (CSI), which first started in Toronto and now has a space in New York. CSI brings together companies and non-profit organizations that have a social mission tied to their work. The CSI New York location just recently opened an extension to their space, a Women’s Lab, dedicated specifically to organizations whose primary focus is women. (Full disclosure,I am a proud member of CSI New York)
What is the benefit of using a co-working space when a company already has an existing physical office of their own? Employers should consider investing in memberships at places like these in addition to their own office, as it can fuel innovation, new connections, creativity, new business collaboration and involvement in after hours networking events. It’s a relatively small investment for potentially large returns.
Taking the co-working space one step further – to across the world (literally)
A friend recently put Remote Year on my radar, which “is a program for digital nomads to travel the world while working remotely.” The program covers 12 cities and costs cover lodging, a workspace, transfers between cities, social activities and more. Their site says, “We’ve seen success with Fortune 500 and startup companies and with traditional and nontraditional remote roles.”
This setup is surely not for everyone; many people enjoy the stability and routine of going to the same office every day. However, offering an innovative opportunity like Remote Year to employees with a travel itch could lead to increased work satisfaction, amongst a host of other benefits. Naturally, the rapid growth in technology allows for many office jobs to truly be accomplished from anywhere.
Before you offer this to your team, what would be the parameters for a company to offer an opportunity such as renting out space at a co-working space or sponsoring a spot in a Remote Year-like program? When considering flexible work options, consider employee tenure, their track record or even soliciting recommendations from previous managers and employers.
Moving toward a less traditional workspace
Moving toward a less traditional office setup may be a large shift that will take time, depending on your organization. Think about the following steps when determining whether this could work for your company:
- What percentage of the current full-time workforce is already working remotely? How is this working for the company now?
- Which employees would be most interested in a more nomadic or non-traditional environment? Millennials who want to change up their daily office grind? Individuals nearing retirement who are looking to have a more nomadic lifestyle while still in good health? Parents with young kids who would appreciate a more flexible schedule? Think about surveying employees to gauge interest-level and identify employees who would favor non-traditional work options.
- Test the waters. Will giving employees the option to take on a more non-traditional work environment lead to less burnout, lower turnover, more work life balance and overall healthier and happier employees? Consider a pilot program to test out a co-working space for six months and see what comes of it. Or perhaps employees can apply through a contest that you hold for why they should take advantage of a year abroad via the Remote Year program. Not only is this an incredible opportunity for an employee who really wants to live abroad, but imagine the knowledge the employee could bring back.
- Talk to your independent contractors: Use a poll or survey to better understand what works and what could be improved as they work remotely. They should be able to provide valuable feedback in terms of how well they fit into company culture,and provide insight into the benefits and drawbacks of not being in a traditional office setting.
Non-traditional work environments take time to implement within a company, leading to a fundamental shift in what it truly means to go to work. However, the long term benefits to both the employee and employer could be great, leading to happier, more productive employees.
“Don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.” ― Dolly Parton