Telecommuting, coworking, and live-work spaces are changing the dynamics of the traditional office space.
The image that comes to mind when the word “office” is uttered: lines of grey cubicles, thin tiled carpet with a muted geometric pattern, air conditioning humming and drying out your skin, and fluorescent lighting flickering above your head. It’s almost a dirty word: “office,” much like the dreaded “w” word: “work.” According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average employed American spends over 1,600 hours a year working and commuting to their job. Without even trying to comprehend that number, we know that collectively we spend a lot of time driving to and working in an office and employees are finally demanding more than drab and dreary.
We can almost hear our parents/grandparents getting on our case, “Work is work. It’s not supposed to be enjoyable.” As long as employers have been trying to maximize efficiency, employees have attempted to make work more bearable.
Recent research has indicated that managers who cut corners on employee satisfaction to maximize profits may actually be hurting their bottom line. In fact, unhappy employees cost the U.S. economy $450 to $500 billion a year in lost productivity, according to the University of Southern California. That’s why companies and independent contractors are saying goodbye to the monotonous cubicle or office buildings all-together. Through co-working, creative technomad innovations, and updated live-work spaces, working has never looked better.
Rather than jumping through the hoops of creating a Google equivalent environment (we’re talking mountain views, in-house massages, basketball courts, and cozy egg-shaped work pods), more businesses are allowing all or some of their employees to work from home. This change of pace not only increases employee productivity by allowing them to work in a comfortable space, it also decreases overhead costs for the company. The same is true for independent contractors, freelancers, and other self-employed individuals. Nationwide, telecommuting has increased 115% in the last ten years, according to the State of Telecommuting Report.
Researchers from Stanford University studied the effectiveness of remote working by splitting the workers of a Shanghai company in half. For two years they examined the workers’ performances while half worked from home and half remained in the office. The remote workers had, on average, a 13% improvement in performance over the traditional workers.
Remote working isn’t perfect, however. It simply does not work for all personality types or corporate dynamics. Many major companies (IBM, Yahoo, Best Buy) have reverted their work from home policies in the last few years as productivity has become stale. Instead, they are taking a page from Google and Apple and making their corporate offices more creative and relaxing. Perhaps, it is just a change in pace that people crave to get them motivated.
Currently, Boulder is leading the United States in the remote working charge, with 8.5% of the total workforce telecommuting. Denver is not far behind with 5.1% of their workforce telecommuting. Some have called Boulder the Athens of the west; a new, exciting Mecca for today’s thought-leaders. It could be that the types of people attracted to BOCO also have the demeanor to work successfully under less supervision.
The exciting element of remote work is the possibility of where you could be if you’re not in a corporate office. Technomads—a term originally coined by Steven K. Roberts, author of Computing Across America—are people who are able to travel nationally and internationally while still fully connected to their jobs and the rest of the world.
Experienced technomads are sharing their stories and creating resources to get the rest of America on a plane or in a car, working and living. The Mobile Internet Handbook was written by Cherie Ve Ard and Chris Dunphy who have spent ten years traveling and working in various rigs (including cars, RVs, and boats). Now the duo has a whole team who help them test new mobile internet gadgets and hookups to help their audiences stay connected while on the move. They’ve even tested their connection in the most remote parts of Colorado, so it is possible to keep working while exploring your own backyard.
The “Workationing” podcast (convenient to listen to while traveling) is another resource that delves into the details of transitioning your life to working on the road. The hosts, Kari DePhillips and Kelly Chase, also give helpful advice about other on-the-road hiccups unrelated to work, such as staying healthy and maintaining relationships while traveling. The point is to foster a healthy work-life balance.
If you’re looking for a less mobile workspace that is a bit more predictable but more catered than a home office, coworking could be for you. Coworking spaces are popping up all over the Boulder County area to serve that need. The spaces charge a membership or drop-in fee to use their luxury office spaces. Many of them come with other perks—unlimited free coffee, a free bus pass, peer mentorship, book exchanges, printing and office supplies, etc. Most also have scholarship programs for individuals just getting started in their business or craft and need a bit of help.
Todd Eichorn, the steward of Experience Longmont, designed his coworking facility with three crucial questions in mind, “How do I support their business? How do I support their personal life? How do I support the community?” Just like all these changes being made to the workplace, creating a holistic work-life balance is key.
The beautiful buildings are designed to increase productivity in members utilizing the space. Boulder’s Niche is a repurposed horse equipment foundry that now boosts spirits with its ample natural sunlight, exposed brick walls, vintage rafters, and polished concrete. Another example is Highland City Club, a BOCO social club that offers a business membership and coworking space, and has more of an elegant, Victorian feel.
I asked all the coworking spaces that I spoke with why people should cowork, rather than utilize a home office. Their answers rang similar: “People cowork because they want to be around other people, first and foremost. It makes such a big difference if you go into a workplace—especially if you’re working by yourself—and just be around other people,” said Jesse Day, Community Manager at Niche. “We’re here to build community,” said Sina Simantob, the founder of Highland City Club. “We’re not solitary creatures. We really need to be around people to feel the energy. Collaboration and ideas and inspiration are all going to be difficult to get in your house,” said Eichorn.
You might be surprised by the types of jobs utilizing coworking. Real estate agents, graphic designers, consultants, accountants, lawyers, life coaches, marketing analysts, investment lenders, a man who designs board games and escape rooms, another who creates horoscopes, were among the members that the three aforementioned businesses support.
Other coworking offices make traveling easy, so you could combine the nomadic lifestyle if you wanted. Impact Hub has over 100 locations worldwide that their members can utilize. Locations include Boulder, Dubai, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Singapore, London, and more.
Live-work spaces are yet another option for today’s stir-crazy workers. The concept of living above the very office where you work is not new. It was actually fairly common up until the industrial revolution. There was a resurgence of the concept in the 1970s, but after push back from city planners, the trend slowly died down again.
The modern era of this trend, however, is dubbed “live-work-play” as all aspects of our lives converge in one location. These creative communities are popping up everywhere. S’PARK, a new sustainable community, was designed with the motivation of bringing back live-work spaces to the Boulder area. As their website says, “It’s all built on the notion that retail, office, and residential spaces work best when they can coexist and collaborate.” The concept has very similar benefits to a home office—no commuting, autonomy over space, proximity to your living space—but is still separate enough from the home that distractions are fewer. Live-work homes are also easier to prove as deductions on taxes than a home office.
If you think you are stuck at the same gray desk you’ve been sitting at, in the same daily traffic, ending the day emotionally drained, you are not. Thinking creatively about how we make money is dramatically changing lives in BOCO and beyond. Change is good for the soul.
We are now living in a society where workers have choices. Gone are the days where you are bound to a cubicle and a 40-hour week. Employees are demanding a better work-life balance and employers are recognizing that they receive a higher quality of work in return. And if employers won’t wiggle on creating a better work environment, they run the risk of losing valuable employees to the expanding world of employee-centered choices.