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The Future of Work: Temporary and Co-Working Spaces

Just because "work is something we do," doesn't mean it's not nice to have some place to go and do it occasionally. With the rise of mobile and distributed work teams, a lot of press has been dedicated to the "Coffice" – the coffee shop-office where road warriors go to connect, catch up, and restart their work processes while on the road.

I believe that in the future this will be the consumer version. You might stop at the coffice between soccer games during your teenager's out-of-town tournament, but real road warriors will be using co-work spaces – dedicated professional work spaces with guaranteed facilities and a more business-like atmosphere.

I see three distinct classes of these temporary office spaces in today's market: incubators, my first office, and temporary/overflow/remote space. The latest generation of these offices have a community manager (not an office manager ... how OLD school that would be!) who can do traditional tasks like summon IT assistance or an event caterer, but they also pull together programs of interest to the members of the community. Local arts, business, and music – as well as company-focused presentations like demos - are standard, but even hobbies like brewing beer are seen on the program for after-work education at some sites. There are literally millions of locations across the country, and I see them roughly falling into these three categories:

Incubators – Small spaces for early stage startups that are practically oozing creativity and innovation. In addition to offices, desks and business machines, these spaces are often associated with a technology luminary or serial entrepreneur, some private equity and venture capital assets, and even business consultants. 1776 in Washington DC and Acceleprise in DC and San Francisco are good examples

My First Office – A step beyond the incubator/accelerator, as businesses start to get up and running, they can move into a space with other like-minded companies. Sure, some startups are here (and some business nomads, too), so the vibe can get more "Mad Men" than "Silicon Valley" depending on the tenants and the landlord. Two examples of these types of co-work spaces are Carr Workplaces and WeWork.

Temporary Space – The traditional guys like Regus and YourOffice provide all manner and size of office space for temporary or permanent homes for your business, your employees, or your road warriors. There is even an equivalent of AirBNB for office space called HiRise

There are lots of players in this game, and not being a real estate guy, I am sure I am missing something. But I have been trying to figure out the collaboration technologies that these offices should have – I have been visiting a few and watching how people use technology.

What I see today is a lot of people either using a VoIP phone provided by the temporary office space or their cell phone. PCs and laptops are omnipresent, and I saw a few Web conferences in session on these BYOD platforms. (I am sure there are many more that I did not see or notice.)

What I don't see is a simple shared infrastructure to allow tenants to use the smart TVs that I saw in EVERY workspace as collaboration solutions. These small companies need to be able to effectively communicate, collaborate and innovate with their peers, customers, suppliers, partners, and the rest of their ecosystem. There is generally a plug in the middle of conference room tables that allows tenants to display their PC on the big screen (opening the door for shared Web conferencing experiences), but why not use the smart TVs to connect directly and enable open video and Web conferencing via the blazingly fast Internet connections that these office maintain?

What Should These Offices Do?
For Cisco shops, it is likely there is already a call manager somewhere that can connect to a SX10, which could then display HD video or data on the screen. A little network configuration to expose the address of the room externally, and some training on when, why, and how to use Jabber clients for community members, and the workspace now has voice, Web, and video conferencing capability from big screens and BYO devices as well.

Polycom RealPresence Group Series 500 comes with 4 port HD video conferencing capability with the codec, so hanging one behind that smart TV gives you open audio, Web and video conferencing as well as remote whiteboard capabilities with the Polycom VisualBoard. The same networking configuration considerations need to be taken into account. Throw in some training about Polycom's CloudAxis app for remote access and tenants at this office can be collaborating and innovating like a Fortune 50 in seconds.

Organizations with Microsoft Lync can do the same thing with a Lync Room System from Polycom, SMART (adding world class remote whiteboard capabilities) or Crestron. Using a familiar Microsoft user interface will simplify some of the user training – unless your tenants are Mac lovers! Vidyo offers the VidyoRoom HD 40 that will do similar tasks, as do several other vendors. A co-work space could even choose to simply enable a built-in Skype application on smart TVs from manufacturers including Samsung!

At the end of the day, real estate developers will have to do more of what I did – watch their tenants and how they collaborate and innovate with their ecosystem partners outside of the office and see if technology can make it as good (or even better) than having them in the office.