Last week another example of how quickly and collaboratively ideas move thanks to the power of social networking, I unexpectedly found myself in the process of starting up a co-working location for Little Rock. To me this concept reflects where the future of work is heading. This is why I am interested in this project, and excited about the possibilities it brings to Little Rock.
To understand where we are going we have to, as often is the case, understand where we have come from. The idea of working for a large company in a big office building is a new concept in the history of the world, yet it is the only mass way of work that any of us know. However you only have to look as far as the late 19th and even early 20th century to see how this has not always been the case.
Historically people were independent workers. Individuals had various skills that they would sell out or trade other individuals in the community or general area. More successful independent workers would have a small business with a handful of wage workers under them, but by and large the corporate system that we understand today did not exist.
This all changed of course with the factory system, suddenly hundreds and thousands of people worked for the elite few who distributed wages and owned the company. The skilled independent worker became an unskilled factory line employee. You all know the story.
The factory system spread to ever area of our workforce. Sitting here now in my office I am a factory worker. True, I manage marketing and communications, but that is my widget that I build for the corporate structure. However if you are to believe Seth Godin in his book Linchpin, which I personally do, this system is about to change.
I believe the new system will look a lot like the old and forgotten skilled independent worker of the past. Instead of taking our skills to our neighbors however we will take them back to the companies we broke free from. Companies will essentially employ fewer and fewer workers, until all that is left are the people who own and run the place. We will work on contract, and we will be on contract for multiple companies at once. This system, I believe, works in the benefit of all. Companies assume less risk for workers, and workers will be less controlled by the fear of layoffs, firings and corporate bankruptcy.
The system will happen very slowly, for certain there will be bumps in the road, but more than likely we will never realize the transformation until we reflect back on the changes. In a sense it is already happening. I recently visited a company where they certainly do not use these terms, but it is exactly what they are doing. They review regularly how well the employee fits, how well they fit the employee and then they continue or discontinue the services. What really made it feel like this new system however was not the structure but the actual work environment. It looked very much like co-working.
The office was an open area where people worked on sometimes common tables. Most were working on different projects, but they would frequently discuss with others around them ideas on how to make each other’s projects better. This is the heart of co-working. See we realized something in working with others in a factory system. When a problem came up or new ideas were needed it was helpful to be in close connection with others to share ideas and brainstorm how to solve problems. This is the one thing that the previous system lacked.
My idea for co-working is just that. A friend of mine @Arlton has started a co-working location in Conway and looks to be very successful. I think this idea can be expanded on to serve more than just coders and designers, but any independent worker. With various types of course comes various needs, so what this will look like is still a bit of an unknown. But I am willing to figure that out.
If you are interested in keeping up with the initial exploration of a co-working site in Little Rock or want to get on the list to be a part of the interest meetings please follow @LRcowork.