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Exploring Workplace Culture, Style, and Trends to Define a Personal Workspace

What can architects and designers of offices and headquarters learn from the coworking movement?

As a workplace strategist, I spend my days learning how the design of workspace can influence and engage people to share ideas and build relationships. A trend I’m seeing is activity-based planning, which means that people in a workspace can choose where to work based on what they need to do at any given time. For this to work, there needs to be variety of spaces for interaction and focused work.

While this trend is emerging on the client side, it reflects a shift toward individual work across different locations in the US workforce. In a research study conducted by GigaOm Pro, 62% of companies allow their employees to work remotely. Today independent contractors comprise 30% of the U.S. workforce and the Freelancers Union reports that by the year 2020 more than 40% of work will be contract-based. According to Deskmag, the coworking movement has roughly doubled in size each year since 2006. These numbers support the shift of physical place of work to the “third space” or other locations within the same city or to other global locations. We are seeing this change because employees no longer work at the same company for 25 years, waiting for the gold watch or expecting the security that comes from years of loyalty. Today we see more and more freelancers or consultants whose careers consist of piecing together various types of work and creating offices at the kitchen table, in coffee shops, and coworking spaces.

In the not too distant future, it might not be commonplace to go into the office every day. People may choose to work from home, or at the airport or a coworking center so that they can concentrate in an environment best supports their work. Because everyone cannot afford to own more expensive technology, office space will still be a place to go and connect with teams in person or with high definition videoconferencing or in virtual worlds.

Recently I came across Susan Cain’s TED talk about her new book called QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. Susan makes a good case that business as well as education has focused on promoting extroverts. I immediately thought about the work environments we design every day and the application of her concepts to those spaces. There have been many articles written recently on the topic of “Groupthink” and the need for privacy. As a self described extrovert, I was enlightened while reading to learn about the world that introverts work in. There are so many stories and examples in the book that I was able to relate back to physical space.

I’m headed for Austin this week to join a panel at the 2012 Global Coworking Unconference Conference. The question on the table is, “Who’s leading change in the workspace ecosystem?” I think it’s coming from the grassroots. If you look at your own workspace, you can relate to the work-arounds that we do to accommodate our personal workstyle. Individuals are choosing to work differently and everyone else is trying to make sense of it and get in front of it. As the economy improves and the talent wars heat up, companies will be vying for people accustomed to calling their own shot about when, where, and how they work. When the introverts are speaking up, you know that work choice matters!

Sonya Dufner
Sonya's background in interior design combined with her planning experience leads to an approach that synthesizes strategy and design. She works with national and global clients to rethink their use of technology, processes and standards through research to support culture, promote innovation and attract the best talent. Over the past few years Sonya has explored what is happening as more and more individuals choose to work in ‘third places’. Corporate clients have been fascinated with the creative culture of coworking communities which have allowed entrepreneurs to explore innovative ideas and develop what they are passionate about. Sonya is the Director of Workplace Strategy in the New York office of Gensler. Contact her at sonya_dufner@gensler.com or follow her on Twitter @sonyadufner.

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