oConomy
March 16, 2010 by Erica Benton

Yesterday, Gary shared his vision for the future with attendees at SXSW 2010 as part of the panel "What Coworking Tells Us About the Future of Work". Today, he shared with me some of his thoughts on coworking, co-location, and the future of work:

Coworking is the future of work. There’s a community, a synergy, bred by coworking that may not exist in corporate-mandated structures. Where I differ from the other panelists, though, is that I don’t believe coworking needs to be tied to a physical location.

Spinuzzi quote
Clay Spinuzzi shared this earlier. The key for me is that this “space of endless mobility” this “space made of flows of information and communication” is managed by the Internet.

Think about it… If its managed by the Internet, why do I have be at a physical THERE?

With this in mind, what does the future of work look like? It’s Coworking without location.

Currently, people are telecommuting. They’re working from home, from coffeeshops, from coworking spaces. They are making a shift away from rigid corporate structures towards a more flexible, more online way to work.

And it’s a shift that will keep growing. How do I know? Because oDesk has more than doubled in size, year over year, for the past 3 years. How much work is really happening online? To provide a little perspective:

In just one week, online workers accomplish more online workers accomplish more than 80 years worth of 40-hour workweeks. How do they do it?

It’s transparency. The Internet has opened the door for this open, free flow of information and communication between workers and employers, beyond the limitations of the physical environment.

As an employer, you gain the ability to collaborate with workers anywhere in the world, and find the best worker for each and every job.

What does this mean for you as a worker? This means you have the ability to work from anywhere in the world, on any job that suits your skills – no matter where it’s located.

Think about it. If you can work for anyone, anywhere in the world – does it make sense to work in one place for 50 years? It would feel like standing still. You wouldn’t. On the flip side, if you can hire people who only have the skills your company needs, would you keep hundreds of full-time employees? You wouldn’t.

What you would do is follow the path that Hollywood has been treading for decades. It’s like producing a movie: You get together a group of people with really specialized talents to create something unique, that taps into each one’s skills in a different way. You don’t ask the Best Boy Grip to direct. You don’t get Brad Pitt to organize the catering. You get the right person for the right job. Then, at the end of the day, they go their separate ways – they may work together again, or they may not. But the point is that this group of talented individuals is flexible and on-demand. They have the ability to change at a moment’s notice. The action script can shift to a romantic comedy by switching out a couple of screenwriters, replacing a stuntman with a lighting specialist, etc.

And if the work model mimics movie production, then there is no need for big office buildings. There’s no need for a physical location to dictate where work happens.

When work is tied to the physical world, much like real estate, location is key. You have to live near where you work. You have to commute or relocate based on where there is demand for your skills. If you’re a CAD Engineer in Flint, Michigan, and the auto maker you’re working for shuts down, you’re hosed.

But that’s the old model – work as a place. Let me stress this – “Work is not a place!

This is the new model, enabled by the Internet. It’s about communication. It’s about connection. It’s about community.

For workers, this means they have access to opportunities far beyond their hometowns. The Internet becomes the road from all points beyond, lead into Austin, Texas, into Greensboro, South Carolina, even into Flint, Michigan. It brings jobs, it brings community, it brings opportunity.

But with the Internet bringing any opportunity to anyone in the world, it’s going to get competitive out there.

As a worker, you are competing for work against a much larger candidate pool than those within commute distance of a company’s office. You’re competing against everyone else with similar skills.

But the Internet gives you ability to truly stand out – to share your work experience, your portfolio, feedback from previous employers, certification tests, etc. with anyone. You can showcase yourself, without ever meeting your clients. We have a member of our marketing team named Jacqui, who travels the world with her husband. She's worked for us for over a year, we love her work... and we've never met her.

Jacqui’s just one of hundreds of online workers we’ve hired over the years. As a company that is embracing the new model, we love having access to providers like Jacqui – in the old model, we never would be able to have her on our team! It’s the access to a global talent pool that lets companies pick from a worldwide offering of talented workers, and select the right person for the job – regardless of location.

So why should you consider all of this?

When you’re thinking about the future of work…. when you’re thinking about coworking…. remember: “Work is not a place!”

The community and synergy that coworking affords doesn’t come from what table you sit at, what building you go to… It’s about you.

It’s about your talents, your skills, your passion, and taking advantage of all the myriad of opportunities a world of work has to offer. It’s about finding the community that fits your needs, no matter where you are. It’s about creating synergy, communicating and connecting with other people. “Work is not a place!” It’s anywhere you are.

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Erica Benton

Social Media Guru

Erica Benton joined oDesk in 2009, bringing with her nearly a decade of small business and freelance experience, and a love of all things social. Her passion for startups, technology and marketing was born during her tenure with Kulesa Faul Public Relations, while she learned the art of entrepreneurship firsthand through Equine Alternatives, a business she founded while earning her Bachelor of Science degree from… read more