Earlier in the week I wrote here about the concept of co-leadership as part of the social dynamic that has made coworking a successful movement over the past seven years. Even more fundamental to the movement, though, is community. While perhaps the notion of community has been so overused by so many people in the past decade that it has started to lose some of its meaning, there can be no question that it is the foundation of the coworking movement.
Marissa Mayer was probably right
Not too long ago Marissa Mayer made headlines when she demanded that those Yahoo! employees who had been untethered from the office were being required to come back to the hive and work at the office. The reaction to her decision was quite strong, with some accusing her of being out of step with the vibe of the industry and the times. Her reasoning, though, seems to make a lot of sense. Communication, collaboration, and innovation very often happen within and between people who are co-present in the same space. This is the stuff of whiteboards, Post-it-Notes, prototypes and mock-ups, and the myriad iterative steps on the long road of innovation. Despite all of the promises to the contrary, online collaboration platforms (Asana, Mavenlink, and Base Camp) simply don’t stack up to the experience of people sharing and working in the same physical space.
Working ‘home alone,’ as many advocates of coworking have argued for years, can be quite a drag. Zappos’ Tony Hsieh weighed in on Mayer’s policy change, suggesting that it’s not working from home that is the problem, but rather that working at home alone is the problem. This is not to suggest, and I am not suggesting, that all work needs to be collaborative, group work. In her brilliant book (Quiet) and TED talk, Susan Cain argues very persuasively for the the value of introverts and the importance of quiet, heads down work. The original kernel of an insight that can become an actionable innovation often has its origin in the mind of an individual. From there, though, to get that idea out into the world, usually requires a team effort.
So, to suggest that all work needs to be done remotely, as advocates of ROWE might suggest, or that all work should be done at the office, as others might suggest, probably oversimplifies the issue. What is really needed is balance, because some days it is nice to work from home in your pajamas. Especially if you are not feeling well.
But at the heart of thriving, innovative companies (W.L. Gore, Semco, Google, 3M) lie communities of people interacting in physical spaces. This is nothing new to the coworking world. We are all about co-presence. Heck, even when we don’t know much about what the person next to us is working on, we somehow thrive off of their energy. Parallel collaboration, or something.
What we see in the corporate coworking model we are designing is a venue and platform for injecting more opportunities for communities to develop and flourish inside large firms. This might mean us encouraging some firms to incorporate more flex-work policies that extend greater choice to their people. But for sure this will also include our suggestion that, while on campus, as many workers as possible spend time in the on-site coworking space, jamming alongside colleagues.
For this process to be truly helpful for companies, there will need to be accommodation for private, quiet, solo- work as much as there is for open, collaborative work. This is one of the key lessons we are learning about coworking in its native habitat- variety and flexibility are essential for creating a balanced work environment.
Maybe Yahoo! will revisit this one day soon, and begin to incorporate more flexibility and variety, and perhaps even corporate coworking, into its larger workforce/workspace management process.