Coworking is an emerging trend in the evolving nature of what we call the workplace. The term is new to me, but not all that new. It's an idea that first found favor with work-at-home professionals, independent contractors and people who travel frequently and so end up working in relative isolation. Let's say I run an consulting business from my home. Total freedom, right? Work when I want to, office in the basement, choose my start and stop time... Yes, telecommuting was going to be all the rage. We worked on some seminars and continuing education courses about it when I was at NJIT.

Coworking space (via Flickr where there are plenty of coworking photos)

But, sometimes, you need to get out of the house. Have you seen those business people who seem to have set up an office in a coffee shop, Internet cafe or bookstore? Well, some entrepreneurs have decided there is a market for temporary office space. Enter coworking and the creation of workspaces where those people can go to work.

It seems more co-op, BarCamp and open source than business incubator or executive suite. These spaces offer both business hardware (desk, file cabinets, copiers, Internet etc.) and the softerware of the social, collaborative, and informal aspects of the workplace.

I first learned about all this from a Jumping Monkeys podcast which Megan Morrone does (with Leo Laporte) about parenting in this digital age.

They talked with Felicity Chapman, founder of Cubes&Crayons. That's a coworking company that has found a niche by offering both flexible office space (cubes) and onsite childcare (crayons). You can get office space and childcare services during regular business hours on a full–time, part–time or drop–in basis.

Chapman talks about providing infrastructure, but also a sense of community. Not everyone needs the childcare. Sometimes a small startup needs conference room space for a few days to get coworking employees together. A consultant might need an office for only 2 days each week. Right now Cubes&Crayons is only in Menlo Park, California, but they are looking to open other spaces in places like Austin and San Francisco. And they are not alone.

from "Redefining Coworking" by Dusty Reagan

 "...coworking is not a noun but a verb. So, coworking is not a space, a community, a set of values, a business model, or any combination of those things. It's an activity like swimming is an activity. Coworking is two or more individuals working independently or collaboratively who are socially interacting while they work....As a verb you can cowork with people, you can be coworking, or you may have coworked. You may even go to a designated coworking space."

If you're interested in creating or sharing space or want to learn more about this trend, check out this coworking community blog and this coworking wiki. Take a look at this video with some coworking folks.

So what effect might this have on education? The quick answer is to tap into any training this workforce might need as we tried with telecommuters. It might take a bit more imagination to see schools offering their own learning spaces as coworking spaces when classes are not in session. The larger idea might be envisioning what kind of education a workforce of coworkers (that doesn't work too well as a term - too close to co-worker) might demand in the coming years if this trend continues to grow.

Of course, a Coworking Institute has already emerged, so get started on your business plan.


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