BY L.A. LOREK
Founder of Silicon Hills News
Traditional work is killing people so they are looking for alternatives and coworking fills that void.
That’s the view of Gervais Tompkin with Gensler, a global design firm. He spoke Tuesday morning on a panel on trends in coworking at the Global Coworking Unconference Conference. An estimated 300 people are attending the two-day conference at the Austin Music Hall.
“Modern work has pushed everything we’re doing onto little screens,” Tompkin said. “Work in a traditional office environment is literally killing people.”
Coworking can make people more active, Tompkin said. The computer and Internet age has resulted in workers leading more sedentary lives. That coupled with a poor diet in the U.S. has led to an obesity epidemic. Coworking can bring more balance into people’s lives and lead to a healthier lifestyle, Tompkin said.
Coworking is a movement that is about 10 years old but in the last few years it has grown tremendously.
Work is changing, said Jean-Yves Huwart, an expert in organizational models with Global Enterprise, and the panel’s moderator.
Coworking is becoming a specialized industry, said Liz Elam, GCUC founder who runs Link Coworking in Austin. Coworking sites that specialize in food, technology, maker spaces and more are popping up around the country.
More than 110,000 people worldwide work in one of the nearly 2,500 coworking spaces worldwide, according to deskmag, a coworking magazine which covers the industry. Its annual report shows that coworking spaces increased 83 percent last year and membership at those spaces grew 117 percent.
An explosion in the number of coworking venues allows employees more flexibility on how and where they do their jobs, according to panelists. Austin has more than a dozen coworking space scattered around the city. San Antonio has Geekdom, the state’s largest coworking space with more than 500 members.
Coworking spaces allow people to work remotely in a workplace with others. The businesses provide desks, Internet access, networking and coffee. Some are run as nonprofit ventures, but the majority are for profit ventures. The workplaces encourage collaboration and provide workers a more social and interactive environment than working from home.
“It’s the new health club you can get your workout and get your work done,” said Tompkin with Gensler. “People come to cowork with an intention.”
The coworking movement is a phenomena that is taking people by surprise, Tompkin said. He estimates that 77 percent of all relationship’s are virtual so people need contact with others to be happy and productive.
“We need these extremely divergent experiences to keep us human,” he said.
The U.S. has the most coworking spaces with 781, ahead of Germany’s 230, Spain’s 199, Great Britain’s 154 and Japan’s 129, according to deskmag. Altogether, 83 countries have coworking facilities.
The industry is not going to slow down, said Kevin Kuske, chief brand anthropologist with turnstone, and panelist.
“The things that drove coworking to be popular are not slowing down,” he said.
He estimated that there will be 1.3 billion virtual workers in the next decade. And energy costs and carbon emissions is also driving that behavior, he said.
At a later panel on corporate coworking, company representatives said coworking gives their employees flexibility and the ability to save time commuting to a remote office.
Disclosures: Silicon Hills News is a media sponsor of the Global Coworking Unconference Conference. And Geekdom is a sponsor of Silicon Hills News.