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'Co-working' grows amid new office lifestyle

By Agence France-Presse in Washington (China Daily) Updated: 2016-02-15 08:04

When Lance Macon started his real estate consulting firm, he did not want a traditional office. But he wasn't going to work out of his home or a coffee shop either.

Macon instead signed on with the "co-working" space Cove, where he gets an available desk and conference room, along with coffee, Wi-Fi, copier access, soft drinks and a professional work environment.

"I have to be in the field every day, so it doesn't make sense for me to have a regular office," Macon said at the workplace in the Columbia Heights neighborhood in Washington, a short walk from his home.

"Here, I have the comfort of the office, but I don't have the expense and hassle of being trapped in the office."

In Washington and in communities around the world, growing numbers are turning to this new kind of work environment, sharing office space with people from various fields and using their smartphones and laptops as portable offices.

A survey by the website Deskmag, which tracks the trend, found 7,800 co-working spaces worldwide as of October, up from 3,400 in 2013 and just 75 in 2007.

These workspaces had more than 500,000 members, tenfold growth since 2011.

The survey projected the number of co-working spaces to grow to more than 10,000 in 2016, in dozens of counties, with a strong growth trajectory in Canada, Italy, France, Thailand, and Australia.

While informal office sharing has always existed, the emergence of co-working spaces with low-cost memberships has become appealing to new startups as well as individual entrepreneurs, consultants and others who want a flexible but professional work environment.

"These spaces fill a need for people seeking a work community who don't necessarily have a work organization," said Gretchen Spreitzer, a University of Michigan professor of management, who leads the school's co-working research project.

'Sharing economy'

Spreitzer said the co-working movement is a natural extension of the "sharing economy", which draws on unused resources like vehicles or apartments.

"People are used to the idea of sharing a car, or sharing tools, so it makes sense to be part of a co-working community," she said.

Spreitzer said co-working helps provide "a sense of belonging" that allows independent workers to thrive, while also making more efficient use of real estate.

She sees ongoing growth in co-working because "we have more people freely choosing independent careers and more people working remotely, helped by collaborative technologies like cloud computing and strong Wi-Fi."

Co-working spaces offer plans similar to gym memberships without a long-term commitment - some as low as $60 a month for part-time use of a desk, while others offer dedicated or locked offices.

"We view this as an evolution of the workspace," said Adam Segal, a co-founder of Cove, which has nine locations in the US capital and two in Boston, with plans to expand to other US cities.

"This is part of a decoupling of the organization and the individual. It's a lifestyle change."

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