Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Coworking in Austin: Launchpad Coworking + Cafe

After the Future of Work Salon, Michael Funk of Launchpad Coworking + Cafe took some of us on a tour. Launchpad Coworking has been in the works for a while, but the current credit crunch has made it very difficult for this space to get finished out. It's about 90% done; most of the remaining work will involve finishing out the space - flooring, furniture, etc.

The three coworking spaces in Austin are aimed at very different demographics. Launchpad Coworking is aimed at a high-margin demographic: corporate accounts, for instance. And the environs reflect that. Launchpad is on the ground floor of 800 Brazos, with condos upstairs, and they expect that they will attract people who live downtown and work at Launchpad Coworking. They also expect to pick up some foot traffic: during open hours, an enormous door slides open to reveal a coffee bar with wifi - and beer and wine will be available.

At the coworking space, a concierge will watch over 30 desk spaces. Peripherals such as mice, monitors, and chargers will be available for checkout. The space will also include a server room, printer, fax, copier, whiteboard, and corkboard.

Launchpad Coworking will also include seven meeting rooms: a "treetop" or boutique meeting room accessible via a spiral staircase; three small meeting rooms; three large ones. Each meeting room has own fridge and "green" bottled water in addition to tables, chairs, and large flat-panel monitors. One meeting room is soundproofed; they envision supporting video and audio podcasting as well as voice-over work (easier than flying to LA).

Michael explained that community is not where you are, but who you're with. "You don't force community," he said. So how to facilitate a coworking community at a new space? Launchpad Coworking's approach is to create the right space, leading to an unforced community. They've been working for two years to develop the right space.

Despite the dismal credit environment, once they obtain funding, Launchpad Coworking estimates two months from funding to opening. I hope the funding comes through soon: Launchpad Coworking looks like a fantastic place to work, and it serves a very different segment from the other two coworking spaces in Austin.

For more on Launchpad Coworking, including their own pictures, see Launchpad Coworking's blog.

To see my own (poor) pictures of the space, see my photostream. And to see Launchpad Coworking on the map, see my map of alternative work spaces.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Future of Work Salon: An account and some thoughts

The Shift101 Future of Work Salon was held March 6. Shift101 is a consultancy based in Australia, focusing on outworking solutions (teleworking, coworking, alt-work communications applications, etc.). Drew Jones and Todd Sundsted of have recently joined Shift101 and are conducting salons in Austin, New York, and Sydney.

Drew Jones invited me to serve on the respondent's panel, which also included Bruce Eric Anderson of Dell (who runs the Digital Nomads blog) and John Erik Metcalfe of Conjunctured. Todd Sundsted presented on behalf of Shift101.

We had a light crowd, but a good one: Representatives from Launchpad, Conjunctured, The Creative Space, and Dell - and the University of Texas, I suppose, since I was there.

The presentation
Drew opened the session by discussing trends they had seen. He sees shifts in performance management, security, flexibility, and work-life balance due to demographic changes: the rise of Gen Y and the approaching retirement of the Baby Boomers. Those shifts point to the increasing popularity of "outworking" as people move from the corporate environment to other spaces.

This trend is not exactly making the office obsolete. But a generational transition is the elephant in the room. As Drew pointed out, we have 70 million Gen Ys. Ten thousand Baby Boomers reach retirement age every day. The two trends constitute what Drew calls a "demographic transfusion." And Gen Y brings in different values: they want individual, meaningful work.

Todd followed up by starting the presentation, entitled "Bold Moves." The 2008-2009 recession, he said, can be the great business school of the modern era.

Todd noted several "forces" that characterize the current moment and the near future:
  • Increasing unemployment
  • Corporation natural selection wiping out companies
  • Workforce will get both older and younger - deferred retirement - but then much younger.
  • Huge chunk of Gen Y
  • Laptops, wifi, secure networks -> mobility
These have consequences:
  • Executive: compensation more tightly coupled to performance, especially long-term
  • Results: focused environment -> advantages of full-time employee under scrutiny
  • Companies must justify growth of staff size, addition of full-time employees. Must justify $ of desk, office for each employee. Real estate utilization is about 40% in an office.
In 10 years, Todd added, 50% of the workforce will be Gen Y.

Todd thinks we're facing a fundamental shift on the scale of the last century's shift toward scientific management. He expects 5-10 years of innovation in the next round of work. In particular, outworking will become not just tolerated but necessary, due to the costs of commuting coupled with costs associated with maintaining underutilized buildings.

At this point, John Erik added: His generation is used to measurement in terms of video games and grades. Now they want that feeling back. (I understand this to mean that he wants clear measures of achievement coupled with autonomy in maintaining that achievement.)

Todd added that new work will involve new management skills:
  • Managing remote teams becomes a necessary skill.
  • Managing multiple generations, perhaps up to 4 generations - never before.
So he predicts Bold Moves:
  • Companies must get by with fewer, more productive employees
  • Companies will exit lease obligations, reduce real estate expenses
  • Companies will develop robust methodologies for managing employees and contingent workers
  • More teams will be allowed and encouraged in outworking
  • Performance-based management will replace subjective measures (e.g., face time)
  • Effective corporate leaders must become masters at framing, defining distribution. Innovation -> growth.
  • Companies must pay more attention to workspace design as a factor in recruitment, retention, and productivity
John Erik adds here that Conjunctured (the coworking space) is a "loss leader" for Conjunctured (the design firm). Conjunctured functions as a brand - a company with many possible employees working in the space - and John Erik functions as an account manager. Drew adds that such distributed organizations rely on trust and nimbleness, and speculates that peer-to-peer banking will be the next necessary step. Privately, I wonder: are such organizations necessarily business-to-business?

The dialogue
And at this point, I lost track. I presented some of my own work here on federations - if you went to ATTW or CCTE, or if you're going to IA09, I covered the same ground as here - and we talked about the differences and similarities between my Gen X participants and Gen Y participants. We also had some great discussion with Cody Marx Bailey and Roby Fitzhenry of The Creative Space, a College Station-based coworking space, about their different perspective on outworking. The most important takeaway was that Cody and Roby didn't worry at all about facework the way that my Gen X participants did: they said they were entirely transparent about their lives and work, and didn't want to work with clients who didn't respect that.

Bruce Eric Anderson at Dell then talked about Dell's efforts in this space. Dell is concerned with recruitment and retention of Gen Y, but also lost work time during the commute, carbon footprint, and similar factors. They believe that "digital nomads" will become more prevalent, particularly in some highly desirable knowledge leadership positions, and they want to make sure they can support such work and evolve with it. Bruce also brought a prerelease netbook that Dell will soon release. Nice machine.

My thoughts
I left the salon thinking that Shift101 and the respondents have done some good thinking. But many questions remain about the future of work. I see the following additional trends:
  • Mobile work accelerates.For instance, I strongly suspect that in knowledge work sectors, the mobile phone, home broadband, and smaller prosumer computing will continue to enable and accelerate the trend of mobile work. (The three technological trends are collapsing, and I expect smartphones+peripherals to take over basic email, word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations in the next couple of years.)

  • New standards develop for distributing work. As work becomes more mobile and distributed, I also expect to see much more outsourcing and attempts at modularization in the corporate sector. But that's a very complicated and messy proposition, and to make it work, we'll probably see a lot of sub rosa workarounds and growing pains. Trust and accountability must be distributed too, and those mechanisms will be hard to lay out and enforce across an increasing number of subcontractors. So we'll see a proliferation of answers to that problem, probably including (a) rebounds: bringing subcontracted services back in house; (b) trade standards: articulation and voluntary policing of trade guidelines; (c) APIs for making work transparent across elements of emerging federations; (d) redundant subcontracting, leaning toward spec work. It will take a while for these innovations to settle down.

  • Social media become essential communication services. I further expect that the use of social media for b2b contacts will continue and increase. I won't be surprised to see not just b2b versions of popular services (e.g., the corporate services that mimic Twitter, currently cropping up) but also b2b features of existing services (e.g., b2b features built into Twitter or layered over the Twitter API). OpenSocial and others in this space will become increasingly important. So will web-based collaboration services, which will increasingly depend on corporate accounts for revenue.

  • Your social graph becomes your resume. Social media and collaboration services will return value for these corporate accounts by suggesting subcontractors, a really critical aspect of distributed work. They will increasingly include reputation systems, which have mostly been applied to products and sellers, but will increasingly be applied to service providers and independent contractors. Reputation systems of some kind will have to perform the same service that merit reviews do within organizations.

  • Strategic planning becomes very difficult, then very easy. Transitioning to radically distributed organizations means a period in which getting a strategic overview becomes very difficult. This, by the way, is something that has bothered me about Zuboff and Maxmin's envisioning of federations: since federations are essentially project-based, with the federation dispersing at the end of the project, time horizons are very short and the federation is essentially tactical and reactive. I don't know that the business community currently has the tools to perform strategic planning in such an environment. But as subcontractors begin generating relatively stable social graphs, I expect a new equilibrium to be developed, meaning that strategic planning will become much easier - particularly as gobs of data become more available and aggregated.
If these trends are on the money, short-term winners include Google and Facebook (who are pushing APIs to connect different social networks); broadband providers; and nimble organizations. Long-term, the more stable and rich social networks become more valuable. I envision the day when people's social graphs are traded in portfolios - though I don't endorse that move.

Anyway, the FoW panel was great. I don't think Shift101 has plans for another one in Austin soon, but if they do, I will encourage everyone I know to go!

Monday, March 16, 2009

A map of Austin alternative working spaces

So I've been visiting coworking spaces in Austin. At this point, I've visited Soma Vida, Conjunctured, and Launchpad Coworking. (For writeups, just check out the "coworking" label to the right.) I'll be visiting other places this spring and summer, including Jelly meetings at Cafe Caffeine and Cupprimo.

And as I do, I'll be updating this map of Austin alternative working spaces. Take a look - the differences among these spaces are fascinating. I've included links to the sites' URLs and to my own photos of the spaces.

And if you can think of other spaces - coworking spaces and Jelly spaces in particular - drop me a line at

Reading :: Go Put Your Strengths to Work

Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance
By Marcus Buckingham

Go Put Your Strengths to Work comes from the coauthor of First, Break all the Rules and Now, Discover Your Strengths, neither of which I have read. I strongly suspect that they cover very similar ground, which can be summed in this passage:
The radical idea at the core of the strengths movement is that excellence is not the opposite of failure, and that, as such, you will learn little about excellence by studying failure. This seems like an obvious idea until you realize that, before the strengths movement began, virtually all business and academic inquiry was built on the opposite idea: namely, that a deep understanding of failure leads to an equally deep understanding of excellence. (p.5)
That is, Go takes the position that studying failure teaches us a lot about failure, but not much about excellence. That, the author says, is like diagnosing health problems but never learning how to exercise (p.11). Rather, the author says, we should study our own strengths and figure out how to reconfigure our jobs, organizations, and lives to leverage them. The alternative is to spend our time working on our weaknesses - that is, to work on becoming uniformly mediocre rather than excellent in a few areas.

If this sounds a lot like Drucker, it should: Drucker made this argument long ago. But Buckingham develops a set of heuristics for helping individuals determine their strengths. ("What does one of your strengths actually feel like to you?" asks one heuristic, and answers it with a set of bullets, p.90). Buckingham exhorts us to take charge of our own time, to stop feeling like victims (p.208), and to make our work revolve around our strengths rather than conforming ourselves to the work we're presented. Yes, he makes it sound easy. But at the same time, he acknowledges that reconfiguring our jobs could be really hard to achieve, and he suggests several persuasive strategies for working through this reconfiguration with superiors and subordinates.

So does Go read like a squishy self-help book? Sure, in spots. But those books have their uses. The heuristics help to put this book ahead of others I've seen, and I think they could be really useful for people who are still trying to figure out their place.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Reading :: I'm Outta Here!

I'm outta here! How coworking is making the office obsolete
By Drew Jones, Todd Sundsted, and Tony Bacigalupo

I've mentioned my fascination with coworking and related outworking practices, but I've also complained that I can't find much in the way of serious publications about them. I'm Outta Here! is not exactly a scholarly publication, but as Drew Jones told me, it's a sort of downpayment on the more serious work his group has been developing. Their more conventional book should be out in April; this one is more like snapshots, pensees, "101 stories about coworking." And it's valuable in its own right: although it's not detailed, it captures the zeitgeist of coworking by collecting quotes and documents from a wide range of coworking sites across the world.

In telling these stories, I'm Outta Here! provides a first cut at the many motivations and opportunities represented by different coworking sites. As the authors explain in the Introduction, people work from home, motivated by flexibility, convenience, and autonomy. But working from home often means working alone, without "human interaction, support, structure, and often balance" (p.1). In the many stories they have collected from coworkers and proprietors of coworking spaces, they flesh out some of these many motivations and factors. The stories are human and the wide range of spaces is represented. Some of the history is told here too.

Most importantly for people who are interested in coworking, the book functions almost as a Rolodex of coworking spaces. The authors have visited many spaces and have included contact information of even more. So it shouldn't be a surprise that my copy is heavily annotated. I'll be going through that Rolodex this spring and summer as I continue to get my head around this phenomenon. If you're interested in doing the same, do pick up the book.

Reading :: Digital Korea

Digital Korea: Convergence of Broadband Internet, 3G Cell Phones, Multiplayer Gaming, Digital TV, Virtual Reality, Electronic Cash, Telematics, Robotics, E-Government and the Intelligent Home
By Tomi Ahonen and Jim O'Reilly

This book is being reviewed by Huatong Sun in my upcoming JBTC special issue on social software, so I won't provide a deep review here. It's an interesting book, though, more in terms of trends and implications than depth or analysis or data collection (most data comes from newspapers and trade sources). Like the authors' blog Communities Dominate Brands, Digital Korea provides an overview of how mobile and digital technologies are changing some basic aspects of how people interact - in this case, people in perhaps the most wired nation on the planet, South Korea.

"To be South Korean means to be connected," the authors state (p.5). Conscious of the high pace of digital change, the authors caution us that this 2007 text will be out of date by the time it hits print - and they note that the iPhone was just about to hit the market, to give you an idea of the changes involved - but they want to chronicle the trends that collectively characterize "the 'Connected Age,' the new wirelessly connected society which has moved beyond the 'Networked Age' of the 1990s" (p.5).

The authors identify several factors. For instance, "Generation-C" (the "community" generation) is constantly connected through mobile phones, particularly text messages; a third of SK students sent over 100 text messages per day in 2006 (p.17). Mobile phones are "umbilical cords" that bind youth, allow them to consult each other immediately before and after purchases, and link them constantly - they even take phones to bed and sleep with them (not on the bedside table as we aging Gen Xers do). They haggle with five car dealers simultaneously over SMS (p.19). As the authors state in a section title, "Adults don't get it" (p.21). (Incidentally, perhaps Twitter has taken off for adults recently in part because it folds SMS into a more familiar, less immediate medium?) Texting is preferred over email, which is characterized as communication for the boss (p.22). The mobile phone "is seen as a major element in the definition of a young person's emerging persona" (p.23).

Since youth overwhelmingly own mobile phones in SK, the authors state, they will not answer the home's landline. By definition, the call isn't for them, and they don't see a reason to take messages (p.25). In a related trend, the authors quote Mizuko Ito's research of Japanese youth, in which she notes that "it is common to send text messages before phone calls, to 'schedule' the time for a voice call" (p.30). (I thought this was brilliant, and I wish more people would do it.)

Paying for goods and services by mobile phone is common in SK, and this means that the mobile phone is the first credit instrument (p.31). Mobile phones also introduce youth to other adult practices, for instance, through simulated boy/girlfriends so that youth can learn social mores involved with dating (p.52), dancing classes delivered over the phone, and phone-based karaoke.

Moving along, the authors note that mobile-delivered full-length television programs were common in SK in 2007, making TV-watching mobile but also intensely personal (p.78). MMORPGs were common as well. Digitally delivered music outsold physically delivered music by a wide margin, with mobile phones and MMORPGs being the main delivery networks.

Digital Korea is an interesting read, although it's not a scholarly text and doesn't really pretend to be. It does get fairly breathless, and I had trouble figuring out how broad-based some of the conclusions were. It also tends to paint a very rosy picture of SK's governmental decisions and involvement; see Castells for a more critical view. But if you want a bloggish overview of different technologies and their potential to remake how we live and work, pick up this book.