It’s no secret that the 21st century is challenging the very notion of work, as people all over the world are re-writing the rules of where, when, how and even why we do what we do for a living.
At the forefront of this revolution is the resurgence of the independent worker. At the intersection of technological advance, new market realities and human ambition, the independent professional has been reborn, seeking greater flexibility and seizing the opportunity to untether themselves from what many perceive to be the corporate vacuum.
In the United States, it’s estimated that by 2020 40 per cent of the workforce will be comprised of independent workers – freelancers, contractors, consultants and temporary workers. In the UK there are roughly 1.4 million freelance workers, representing an increase of 14 per cent from the previous decade, and in the EU freelance numbers increased from 6.2 million to 8.9 million – an increase of nearly 45 per cent – in 2013 alone.
But independent working is not without its pitfalls. It’s not uncommon for independent workers to bemoan the isolation that comes from their office absence, and many actually feel that their work-life balance suffers as there is no clearly defined beginning and end to a working day. The nine to five, for all its drawbacks, at least provided a familiar structure and routine that created a sense of stability.
Even so, the yearning for community and ‘somewhere to be’ hasn’t caused independent workers to flock back to their desk jobs. Quite the opposite.
As the culture of independent working matures, an entirely new infrastructure is being built to serve the evolving demands of this growing demographic. Of all the components that make up this new infrastructure, perhaps the most meteoric industry to emerge is co-working. Today there are close to 6,000 co-working spaces worldwide, with that number set to increase to 10,000 by the end of 2016. In 2015 co-working spaces raised close to $1 billion from venture capitalists.
But co-working is more than just a gutted office space filled with quirky second hand furniture. It’s a social revolution, and the next stage in the development of the independent working culture. For many, their co-working space is their home away from home, as well as their primary source of social interaction and their place of work.
Lana Morisoli, a former interior designer turned co-founder of Seattle based MAKERS Space along with Caitlin Agnew, believes that the physical environment of work should be beautiful and inspirational, as well as functional.
"As a designer, I have always believed that the physical environment plays a large part in our mood and state of being. With having this belief, then, working in a beautiful space becomes very important because this is the environment that provides us our livelihood and inspiration, which aren't insignificant."
If that sounds like a million miles away from the cubicle, you’d be right. Co-working spaces like MAKERS are designed from the outset to provide a sense of homey-ness, and are intended to recreate the feeling of working from home minus the isolation.
"Traditional office spaces can feel very isolating, " Lana says. "They don't provide many opportunities to rub shoulders with others or allow for flexibility in choosing a work environment depending on your changing tasks. When designing MAKERS, I wanted it to feel like a great hotel lobby, your favourite restaurant, with a twist of a beautiful home.
"These spaces are all places people enjoy spending long hours and that's what I wanted to come across with MAKERS. I did this by incorporating old and new furniture, a calm colour palette, easy to move furniture, and a fabulous open kitchen. Many people walk through our doors, saying they want to move in, which I think is the highest compliment a workspace can get."
Lana also believes that spaces like MAKERS offer independent workers the ability to achieve better work-life balance by giving them a designated place to work.
"I think that having a designated space for work allows for more focused work and balance in life. I remember trying to work from home and always feeling like I was working and needing to check my email. Now, having MAKERS to work from, it is slightly easer to turn off the work brain when I'm at home."
The secret it would seem to the perfect co-working space is in the coupling of a beautiful physical environment with a thriving and inspiring community.
"I would love to believe that it's just the space that inspires people to work hard but I do think part of it is that you are surrounded by other amazing people that are working hard to pursue their dreams, which only makes you want to work harder on yours, " says Lana.
"I do think part of working in a space that speaks to you, reflects the belief that you/your business deserves to be in a space you find inspiring. Once you have made that leap, you want to work hard because you believe in your success."
All of this is deliberate, of course, and built into the very fabric of co-working spaces.
So how will co-working evolve into the future? Lana believes that spaces will increasingly reshape themselves to offer environments that are conducive to different types of work.
"I think that there will be a shift from just open spaces, which aren't always the best for focused work or for the more introverted worker. More workspaces will offer multiple options for all different types of work. Be it a large room for team meetings that can be broken into smaller spaces for breakout discussions, or more lounge like settings for relaxed meetings or laptop work. I think these spaces will be intermixed too, so you can shift around and meet new people."
It would seem that work has a new home, and it’s spaces like MAKERS that are leading the charge.
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