Co-Working. Not Just For Trendy Freelancers And Startups.

Different places for different thinking.

In case you’ve never heard of it, co-working is the practice of individuals or small teams working from shared office space. Aside from providing a flexible base of operations with solid Internet connectivity, co-working spots have been responsible for creating flourishing communities comprised of different businesses and professions. This leads to an exciting, diverse and unique workplace that budding entrepreneurs are now choosing over and above traditional office space.

This had me wondering. Couldn’t the benefits of co-working apply to absolutely anyone, not just Macbook sporting freelancers and startups?

For a while now the technology has been in place where people can work from anywhere. See some examples of being a digital nomad if you want to be green with envy. So why aren’t we encouraging employees to spend time in places other than their desk? Especially faced with mounting evidence that the traditional office environment is bad for productivity.

Yes, it’s good (essential even!?) for staff to spend time with their colleagues. To establish and enhance those working relationships that are so crucial to getting things done and making the job enjoyable.

However, there’s something to be said for working in different places to encourage different thinking. When sat in the same spot every day, doing similar things there might be a danger of activating autopilot by default. We place such high value on creativity and thinking outside of the box, especially in more senior positions. What is our working environment doing to encourage and develop these qualities?

So, here’s a proposal based on my own experiences of working in the public and third sector. What if we had shared working space for all the Housing Associations based in Cardiff? How many serendipitous conversations might occur by sharing the same working area whilst doing the daily email trawl?

Let’s throw the net wider. Why not open that shared office space to Housing Associations in Wales? What sort of ideas might get swapped over a cup of coffee in the kitchen?

Let’s go broader again — why not open that office space to Local Councils and Health Boards? What common struggles could we talk about over lunch? What sort of connected approaches might we start defining?

Whilst we’re at it, why don’t we host regular unconferences in this space to help flesh all these new ideas out to find wider support?

Obviously, to make this a reality there’s a whole raft of logistical and cultural challenges to address. But, I think it demonstrates that co-working could provide vital opportunities for connecting the dots across many organisations in different sectors. Particularly those interested in delivering real social innovation. In a broad sense it’s all about removing barriers (physical, hierarchical, political, organisational) to stop people toiling in isolation, duplicating work and/or expending effort in the wrong areas.

We might then be able to better tackle those wicked problems, together.

An earlier version of this post was first published on my old WordPress blog in August 2015.

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