Todd Sundsted | I’m Outta Here!

On Wednesday, May 27, I’m piloting a Coworking Field Trip to coworking spaces in Manhattan and Brooklyn.  The plan is to highlight the diversity in coworking spaces in a city or metropolitan area.  This diversity—in design of the space, in the activities (other than work) that take place there, in the people that work there—is one of coworking’s strongest points.  It points to the incredible level of innovation that’s going on in the space—innovation that will both lead to insights into work and workplace, and into the design of coworking spaces themselves.

The spaces this time around are:

  • New Work City
  • Ditmas Workspace
  • Treehouse Coworking
  • Williamsburg Coworking

If you’re interested (either as a space or a participant) in taking part in a future field trip, let me know.

Pictures (and tweets) of the event will be posted.

Todd

The #1 question is still, “What is coworking?” if my day to day conversation about our book is any indication.  Most people on the street have never heard of coworking, so that question isn’t a surprise.

I’m interested in what people who have heard of coworking want to know about, so I asked (via Twitter, of course—my ad hoc polling tool of choice).  The answers surprised me.  I had expected questions about the mechanics of setting up a coworking space, mixed with questions about where to find more information.

Instead, easily well over half of the questions had to do with social issues—how to handle noise, what about distraction, can I really get my work done in a coworking space?

In retrospect, this is no surprise.  Coworking is about work.  Coworking’s invention and rapid growth is fueled by the very pragmatic need for a place to work.

Ensuring this is the case should weigh heavily in any coworking plan’s feature list.

– Todd

Thanks to everyone who responded!

I hate the phrase “the perfect storm”.  I also feel like it’s exactly what’s about to happen around coworking.

In 2006 there were only a handful of coworking and related alternative workspace facilities.  There were over 70 spaces worldwide by the end of 2008.  Based on the volume of discussion and the number of new spaces online since the beginning of 2009, I predict that there will be 200+ coworking spaces worldwide by the end of 2009.

Here’s one data point to chew on.  One March 9th, I went to Jelly NYC, which was being held at Treehouse Coworking in downtown Brooklyn.  Brooklyn already has Williamsburg Coworking, one of earliest coworking spaces, and Ditmas Workspace which opened in Ditmas Park in 2008.  Since then, I’ve learned of concrete plans to launch two more spaces in Brooklyn.  Then there’s Manhattan, Staten Island…

Why the sudden interest?

A lot has been written and said about two important drivers—work that can be done anywhere (design, software development…) and technology that allows workers to work anywhere (laptops, wifi…).  I believe there are two more drivers that are more important but that haven’t been given as much attention.

A year ago, I wrote Coworking as Catalyst, and described the impact that coworking will have on business.  But I failed to see the impact that business—specifically the current economic crisis—would have on coworking.

One factor is access to real estate.  Coworking depends on physical space, and as Drew wrote a few weeks ago, there’s never been a better time to negotiate.

The second factor is the job market.  Layoffs started in earnest the last quarter of 2008.  Many of those affected have had time to look for another job, reconsider (either begrudgingly or not), and take steps toward independence.  Life as a new independent worker is challenging—coworking provides a support system comprised of people and place that offset the office.

If only a small percentage of the millions laid off start coworking, the impact, in terms of numbers, will be tremendous.

Todd

Tony Bacigalupo is I’m Outta Here author-at-large at SXSW.  If you haven’t had a chance to buy a copy of the book and want to leave SXSW with a copy, find Tony—he brought a pile of books with him.  The exact price will depend on how heavy his backpack is and how late at night it is (read into that what you will) when you find him.

We’ve been lucky to have great feedback on the book on the ‘Net, even though we only soft-launched a few weeks ago.  I’ve linked to a few mentions below:

Finally, we’ve had intermittent problems with printing the paperback at Lulu.  The ebook version is not affected.  I think we have the problems sorted out, so order away—both versions are available again.  If you have problems, please let us know here or on our UserVoice account.  We’ll be following up with those of you who’ve contacted us.

Todd

…that I’m aware of, anyway.

Still, I’m pretty proud.  Johnny is part of the team at Indy Hall.

The Coworking Manifesto—With Pictures

Thanks and I agree, all the way around.

Todd

I don’t know who many of these people are.  For a while I tried to follow everyone/anyone who mentioned “coworking” in a tweet.  I’ve long since given up.

Todd Sundsted

I came across the following entries in the FAQ for The Hive in Denver:

What Amenities Do You Offer?

We provide secure access via cardkey, a cafe lounge, a fridge, a dishwasher, a coffee machine, a microwave, nightly maid service, a conference room, cool and functional semi-private desk pods, 802.11N WiFi, a chill-out room with desks and bean bags.

What Amenities Don’t You Offer?

A secretary, a copier (Kinkos does a better job and is just down the street), a phone system with cheesy hold music, mahogany paneling, a legal library, 80′s faux wood desks, boredom.

How Do I Make Phone Calls?

How do you make calls now? We assume most freelancers/entrepreneurs/road warriors use cell phones and VOIP solutions 90% of the time. We didn’t see much sense in charging everyone for a phone system they don’t really need…

To me, these entries brilliantly sum up the positioning of coworking with respect to other, similar flexible space arrangements.  Coworking, in my opinion, is a great example of a blue ocean strategy–one that emphasizes the product/service elements that customers value, and de-emphasizes or removes the product/service elements that customers don’t value.  People get what they want and little more.

Todd Sundsted

With few exceptions (book layout), we used Google Docs (specifically the Documents component) to write The Work/Life Revolution.  This was result of one part need (Drew lived in Birmingham; Tony lived in New York City; and I lived in Birmingham and later in New York City) and one part curiosity.  Bottom line, we weren’t just writing about a highly mobile group of workers–we were a highly mobile group of workers.  In the process, we pushed Google Docs to the limit.

Is Google Docs ready for prime time?  I’m not sure.  That depends on what you need for prime time.

The final manuscript for the book was 30-40+ printed pages, without images and boilerplate.  During the writing and editing, we kept multiple revisions of each story around and at times the page count climbed much higher.  We cursed a lot.  We also learned a few things.

  1. You cannot keep everything in one document.  Google Docs has a roughly 500K limit on document size.  Markup counts against this limit.  In cut-and-paste scenarios between Google Docs and word processing applications, the invisible embedded markup and styling can easily outweigh the actual text.  When you hit the limit you will lose content.
  2. “Clear Formatting” is your friend.  The invisible embedded markup and styling will eventually drive you crazy.  On more than one occasion a single backspace at the beginning of a paragraph resulted in a cascading failure in which the paragraph was slammed to the left margin, lines of space were added after the paragraph, and the entire paragraph changed to another format.  If you cut-and-paste from another word processor, get used to selecting the entire pasted region, clearing the formatting, and reformatting.
  3. Beware the simultaneous edits.  Google Docs will punt when it detects edits to the same part of the document at the same time.  This is reasonable and expected, however Google Docs also punted for less obvious reasons.  As a general rule, only one person should edit the document at a time, even if you are all viewing it.  But, see part two, below.
  4. Beware the simultaneous edits, part two.  Google Docs had the annoying habit of jumping to another section of the document at unpredictable times when more than one person edited the document at the same time.  This probably was intended to call attention to parts of the document that just changed, but it made it nearly impossible for two people to edit the same document at the same time, even if they were editing different parts of the document.
  5. The user-interface will change.  During a long project you can count on the Google Docs team adding features to and removing features from the application.  I had intended to include a few screen shots in this post to show you what I meant, but they’ll be out-of-date in two months, so forget that.  Sorry.
  6. Back up (download) the documents you are working on early and often.  I can’t define exactly how and when we lost text, but I tell you with absolute certainty that we lost text.

The experience wasn’t bad in all aspects.  As a free, lightweight collaboration tool, Google Docs works well.  In fact, for small documents that you want to share, it works extremely well.  Even for large projects, it’s far far better than passing a document around by e-mail and merging the edits by hand.  I’ve done that and that’s the path to madness.

A common concern is availability.  The availability of Google Docs was never a problem during the entire project.  I worked on the document from multiple computers, in places I wouldn’t ordinarily have been able to work.  Google Docs was always there.  That’s a big win!

Todd Sundsted