A New Kind of Grind

Within the next few years, close to half of America's workforce will have transitioned to independent labor, begging the question: Where will they all work?

By Erika Templeton and AnnMarie Martin
Photography by Matthew Olive

As we noted in our May 2013 issue, the corporate structure that rose to dominance in the 1960s is slowly starting to crumble as a new generation takes the reigns of the modern workplace. And while corporate America itself certainly isn't crumbling, it is going in for some "elective surgery."

According to the Intuit 2020 report (with research led by Emergent Research, in close partnership with Intuit), "contractors, or contingent employees, have a greater say in when and how much they work, giving them a greater work-life balance. Today, roughly 25 to 30 percent of the U.S. workforce is contingent and more than 80 percent of large corporations plan to substantially increase their use of a flexible workforce in the coming years." Their research is also showing that small businesses will similarly develop their own collaborative networks of contingent workers, minimizing fixed labor costs and expanding the available talent pool.

As these independent workers begin to account for a large chunk of the American workforce, they're going to need a place to work that isn't Starbucks or their dining room table. Enter the co-working space.

Over the years, they've evolved from simple, open seating areas with a few outlets, to full floors providing all the amenities one could ask for (including the chance to further build out your network). Co-working isn't just for Silicon Valley start-ups or urbanite entrepreneurs anymore. They're for the everyman: the freelancers, the temp workers, the part-time hustlers, and anyone else trying to make ends meet in a job market that is consistently shedding traditional virtues.

"You have to look at this globally," says Michel-Claude Fiechter, partner at TPG Architecture, designers of the luxury co-working project Silver Suites, located on the 46th floor of 7 World Trade Center in New York City. "As companies begin to work more on a consultant basis that they put together to form projects, spaces like that become very important. You need spaces for them to meet and collaborate, but don't necessarily want to sign a 10-year lease somewhere."

In fact, we at I&S have been a largely remote team since 2005, producing this publication from home offices across the country, in addition to our headquarters in Iowa. And yes, in that time, we have dreamt of the benefits of an office space. Key among them is the collaborative community a co-working space provides. As Danial Brown, co-founder of the Midwest Sustainable Cities Symposium, succinctly summarizes in an article penned in 2012 ("At Co-working Spaces, Plenty of Coffee (Without the Cubicles)", bit.ly/officehub):

Co-working spaces create a new type of economy, one that more closely resembles an open-sourced knowledge bank rather than an information silo. Furthermore, and most importantly, the co-working economy is one based on collaboration rather than self-interested competition. On a purely psychological level, co-working spaces are healthier, more productive, and more in line with a healthy society than traditional work spaces.

We took a trip to Grind and Fueled Collective, two successful co-working office space brands with hubs in NYC, to learn exactly what it is that makes these places tick, and what that could mean for office design.

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