Thursday, April 16, 2009

evolving work culture - conversation with Todd Sundsted

evolving work culture - conversation with Todd Sundsted

Yesterday I had a long telephone conversation with Todd Sundsted, one of the trio of authors of I'm Outta Here: How coworking is making the office obsolete. We were talking ostensibly about CoWorking, but in the end what we were really talking about was the culture of working as it relates to the workplace. It was a far ranging conversation and I hope to expand on more of these topics as blogging continues here at Workalicious. Here is a brief of some of the ideas covered with Todd - get ready, there is a lot to swallow here:

- In writing their book they really hoped to cover the individual's relationship to work, more so than CoWorking, but CoWorking is becoming the hub for a new class of independent entrepreneurial workers. So it is about CoWorking - an activity, and less so about CoWorking - a kind of office or workplace.

- CoWorking appears to be at the cross roads of many work trends - independents, mobility, cafe culture, and as such it can take on many variations within the umbrella of shared workspace.

- The cultural component of CoWorking is what ultimately separates it from office suites. Suites bottom line is to provide space and office services. CoWorking's cultural component goes beyond that, bringing people together for more reasons than shared space. But this cultural component can take on many different forms. There are social dimensions, collaborative dimensions, entrepreneurial focuses - ultimately each CoWorking site/community has to define for itself what the culture of its site will be and how to foster that.

- The design of CoWorking spaces has not been studied closely to date, and the range of work environments provided has not been looked at in regard to how it interacts with the culture that the site/community wants to foster. Some people want a social atmosphere, others want project collaboration, some need some solitude. The right mix will vary with the overall mission of the site/community.

- Manufacturers of office implements, furniture, services do not have CoWorking on their radar yet, and have not considered how they might tailor their product to serve this growing work paradigm.

- The economic slow down may become an engine driving the growth of independent working as many workers are laid off. Many will decide to go on to work independently rather than seek out another employer. In some situations the souring of business will cause the best workers to leave companies and seek independence - the workers that the companies can least afford to loose.

- Can companies offer workers the benefits they see in working independently? The series of Dot-Com booms have seen a change in the management and design of workplaces. New media companies desperate to retain creative workers incorporated recreational activities into their workplaces - ping pong, basketball courts, dogs at work, in house coffee bars. Much of this has bled over to larger less creative corporate workplaces. But is this enough to retain the worker tempted by independence? At some level this is seen as pandering to the worker, and provides none of the meaningful issues that are fulfilled by independent work.

- Todd related story of Best Buy corporate that instituted a new results oriented management style, where workers were not evaluated by long standing conventions - conforming to office culture, work hours, absenteeism; but rather by the results they achieved. What if workers were "cut loose" so to speak to pursue the responsibilities given to them by the method of their choosing. What if they choose to work from home, out of a local coffee shop - what if your employees could operate as independently as they choose, in order to produce the best results.

- Can companies import a CoWorking like culture - not in a superficial manner by putting a coffee bar in their office, but in a true sense by allowing their employees to act with true independence. Could this enable them to retain the best people. Todd is a partner in a new consultancy, Shift 101, whose mission appears to be helping companies institute this form of office culture. Fascinating. They are in the process of launching a new CoWorking site in Birmingham, Alabama where I imagine they will test the waters of this idea.

I am absolutely thrilled that the foundations and implications of CoWorking run so much deeper than moving a workgroup from a coffee shop to a shared office space. It is clearly a by product of issues endemic to work culture in general, one that stands to have a great impact on the standing status quo. If independence is indeed the next coming wave of work paradigm, then it will certainly take hold in the very places it splintered from in the first place. The implements of work are bound to follow and we hope to cover this evolving work-landscape as it happens.

Some links:

I'm Outta Here's blog

Shift 101

follow Todd Sundsted on twitter


  1. First off, your note taking was awesome; in fact, I think it improved on my discourse :-)
    While we three authors are definitely immersed in coworking, it is absolutely true that we see/saw coworking as a bellwether for larger changes in the world of work. The first draft of the book was barely about coworking at all (slight exaggeration, but not much).
    While things like coworking existed before coworking, things like ubiquitous wifi and good telecommunications tools force us to ask questions that challenge the status quo. More to the point, they have allowed a growing number of people to actually experiment with alternatives. Right now, coworking is an anomaly; but as Drew likes to point out, anomalies are often the leading indicators of significant/revolutionary forward change.
    That's where we see coworking.
    Todd Sundsted

  2. Ha! That is very kind of you Todd. I didn't actually take any notes while we were talking, and I did not have a chance to make any notes until I had the chance to write the blog post. And I sort of just recalled the discussion as one thing led to another. It all seemed clearer to me after sleeping on it and maybe that's what has come through in this.
    Anomalies can take on a life of their own as well. Things don't always settle on the optimal solution, and sometimes what is at hand or familiar takes hold. CoWorking could grow into that relationship with independents out of momentum.


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