Coworking, Crowdsourcing and the Future of Work

Coworking, Crowdsourcing and the Future of Work 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

The way we work is changing pretty radically.  We all know that because we are smack dab in the middle of the change.  We feel it every day.

But, the interesting thing about how work is changing is that the places where the majority of work is done (corporations) seem to be the least willing to embrace the fact that work is changing.  When you start scanning for new models of work, the most compelling concepts seem are found outside of the traditional organization–generally rooted in entrepreneurship or the internet or both.
There are two models that I’m particularly interested in and that I think could have some profound impact within traditional organizations if we were just willing to open our mind a bit.  These models are coworking and crowdsourcing.
Crowdsourcing is, at least I hope, becoming a more common concept.  It seems that people are beginning to understand the basic idea of giving a task to the masses and letting those who are interested participate in shaping the outcome.  But, crowdsourcing is so much more than allowing customers to chose the new flavor of Mountain Dew.  When you consider the models of companies like, and others, you find that companies are taking real projects, posting them to the online community and offering up a bounty ($$) to whoever comes up with the best solution or product.  Literally hundreds of thousands of people are working on these projects and not all of them are professional freelancers and consultants.  Many of these folks are your employees, doing this work in their “free” time because it’s challenging, they can pick their project, and they know up front what the reward is.  This model is exploding and it’s changing the game of work.
While there are many companies who have started looking to crowdsourcing as a way to supplement their internal development or R&D efforts, I think that the real opportunity might be to unleash the power of crowdsourcing internally.  Why not post cool or challenging projects internally and let individuals or groups of people chose what they’d like to work on?  Why not allow your own employees to pick and chose some of their work?  Or, to take it a step further, why not completely blow up the idea of a job description and the formal position structure?  Instead of having a formal position, why not change the system completely?  Assign point values to tasks and projects and then post them for individuals to work on.  Then, allow your talented folks to pick and chose what tasks they work on with the expectation that they deliver at least so many “points” worth of work each month or quarter.  This is probably far too simplistic, but you get the picture. The potential to apply the principles of crowdsourcing internally are unlimited.
The second practice or model that I think has great merit is coworking.  Here’s how Wikipedia defines coworking:

Coworking is a style of work which involves a shared working environment, sometimes an office, yet independent activity. Unlike in a typical office environment, those coworking are usually not employed by the same organization. Typically it is attractive to work-at-home professionals, independent contractors, or people who travel frequently who end up working in relative isolation. Coworking is the social gathering of a group of people, who are still working independently, but who share values, and who are interested in the synergy that can happen from working with talented people in the same space.

When you investigate coworking, the first thing to understand is that people are choosing to participate in coworking because it helps them do better work.  And, when you read about it or talk to people who do it, the common themes you hear about why it works are pretty telling: openness, diversity, flexibility, shared values, and socialization.  The people in these coworking spaces aren’t your ordinary, everyday workers either.  They are talented, motivated, driven creators of work.  These are the people who we covet in corporate recruiting circles, but who have opted out of the corporate hamster wheel because they don’t like being told how to work–and they are talented enough to dictate their own terms.

So, if we want to attract the next generation of highly talented rock star employees (read innovators) into our workforce, we may need to completely rethink how we organize our workplaces.  Instead of assigning desks or offices, we create spaces and places where people can chose to work based on what kind of work they need to do that day or how many people they are working with.  We may need to rethink the idea of housing departments together and instead mix it up.  Coworking spaces bring together people doing completely different work in completely different industries and they benefit greatly from the collision of ideas and perspectives.  What would happen if we mixed up the product people with the business development folks and (dare I say it) the HR folks.  One thing you generally won’t find in a coworking space, cubicle walls.  Cubicles are miniature silos.  They kill creativity and openness.  They make us think and behave smaller than we are.

Depending on your business, why not build a network with some other non-competing businesses to create a network of coworking spaces for employees to share and use.  These spaces don’t need to be anywhere near your brick and mortar corporate palaces.  The just need to have the basics that employees need to work and be designed to feel like a place you’d want to go to do work.

At the end of all of this is my underlying point: to find out how work is changing, don’t study what’s happening inside of yours or any other organization.  To find out what’s really happening, go study how work is being done (from the worker’s perspective) when there isn’t a traditional employer-employee relationship involved.  There are loads of examples and I’ve only given you two here.  That is the future of work and it’s playing out all around us.

  • Bryan Wilson

    Jason, wow excellent work here. You picked a subject I've been very interested in myself. Having worked remotely for some time now, I appreciate the freedom it affords me but also feel like I miss out on some of the social interaction you get from an office. Coworking is an excellent solution and is flexible enough to adapt to almost any situation. I've used Crowdsourcing for small graphic design projects with a lot of success and I'm excited to see its potential on a larger scale. I've never thought of the "internal" crowdsourcing idea before but love the idea! It would take a very forward thinking organization to implement this, but as you hint at, the rewards would be well worth the effort. Talented people gravitate towards these types of companies.

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