It’s no secret that work practices are changing as a result of new technologies, shifting demographics and increasing connectivity. Traditional organisation structures are being challenged and transformed, and there is significant opportunity for businesses to benefit from new, leaner ways of working.
Rise of the peer-to-peer economy
Jobs of the future are likely to become more flexible, agile and connected. This is what CSIRO predicts as one of six megatrends set to transform employment markets over the coming twenty years. Already, we are seeing a shift from traditional employment towards a freelancer or “peer-to-peer” economy, in which workers are connected directly to the users of their services. Portfolio workers – freelancers who provide services to multiple employers – are also becoming more prolific. Whilst the trend is yet to take full hold in Australia, it is taking other countries by storm. One in three working Americans is an independent worker. Companies are beginning to opt for staffing models which include a smaller number of core staff, with many other roles provided by freelancers. Even within companies, the sharing of roles across previously disparate divisions – internal freelancing – is seeing increases in efficiency and employee engagement.
The power of collaboration, communities and human interaction
In this workplace of the future, human connections are more important than ever. The peer-to-peer economy is made possible only through the connections facilitated by technology, with sites such as Kaggle and Freelancer.com enabling employers and employees to meet in job markets that would otherwise have been inaccessible. In line with this, there is a growing appreciation for the value of communities and collaborative thinking. The old adage that two minds are better than one is bearing increasing relevance as the boundaries between disciplines are blurred, and diverse skillsets and mindsets are required to solve today’s ‘wicked’ problems.
Employers of all sizes are recognising the power of this phenomenon and capitalising on it by embracing new ways of working to encourage productive human interactions. Many organisations are opening innovation labs and designing physical spaces specifically to facilitate connections between people, and enable fast problem solving and idea generation. Workspace design trends like open plan layout and hot-desking are becoming the norm and employees are increasingly encouraged to work in ways that suit their personal style.
Collisions through co-working
Co-working communities are a manifestation of our understanding of the importance of human connections in business, and a response to our more independent, mobile workforce. Co-working joins together independent workers from different companies to share a common workspace and community. The number of co-working spaces operating worldwide has roughly doubled each year since 2006, and there were over half a million members using co-working spaces globally in 2015 .
For small businesses and start-ups, co-working spaces provide members with a fluid working environment that can reduce costs, save administrative hassle and provide a professional backdrop for important client interactions. For larger organisations, co-working spaces can provide an engaging off-site alternative for hosting events and enabling productive teamwork. But by far the biggest benefit of co-working for organisations of any size, is the access it provides to a connected (and generally likeminded) community.
Because co-working spaces consist of members who work for a range of different companies and often in a range of different fields, they provide a unique environment for collaboration. Their physical spaces are generally designed to enable creative collisions and provide an engaging cultural experience. A recent study in the Harvard Business Review found that being based in a co-working space has the added benefit of boosting professional identity, as workers are given the opportunity to “frequently describe what they do” to a diverse audience . Many co-working spaces have curated membership, events and communication channels to allow for more specific connections to be made, either amongst members or with their wider networks.
Co-working provides a bridge between the traditional working environment and that of the future. As workers become more agile and connected and business needs change, it is important for organisations and individuals seeking employment to consider new ways of working. Most co-working spaces have flexible membership arrangements meaning that they can be a low risk, low investment way to try out a new working environment – whether you’re a sole-trader, small business or start-up, or part of something larger.
Written by Nous Group Principal, Prins Ralston
 CSIRO 2016, accessed 23 September 2016. http://www.csiro.au/en/Research/D61/Areas/Data-for-decisions/Strategic-Foresight/Tomorrows-Digitally-Enabled-Workforce
 Carsten Foertsch 2016, Deskmag, accessed 23 September 2016: http://www.deskmag.com/en/2016-forecast-global-coworking-survey-results
 Gretchen Spreitzer, Peter Bacevice, Lyndon Garrett 2015, Harvard Business Review, accessed 23 September 2016: https://hbr.org/2015/05/why-people-thrive-in-coworking-spaces