February 2018, “Third Places and Coworking” by Sophie Boutillier
Emerging in the early 2000, the coworking movement, or collaborative workspace, emerged in San Francisco in the Californian universe of Web 2.0 and free software. The spaces of coworking are defined as “third places”, according to Oldenburg’s definition, which take place between the living space and the working space, as for example coffee shops or libraries where young innovative entrepreneurs meet to develop their project.
Thus the coworking would be a new mode of work organization based on a sharing working space, developed to promote exchanges and synergies between coworkers, and to promote innovation. The coworking is generally presented as a new revolution of work organization, as the Taylorist and Fordist revolutions at the beginning of the 20th century. While the worker of the 20th century was a robot-worker, placed in the incapacity to take initiatives, the worker of the 21th century would be creative, autonomous, flexible and responsible working in an open and collaborative space. Thus the spaces of coworking should be working spaces encouraging innovation under all its forms (product, process and organizational) in, a friendly working atmosphere, generally thanks to new technical tools, such as FabLabs and 3D printers.
These spaces of coworking can be created according three different ways: 1/ by local authorities who consider it a solution to push local economic activity, to create jobs and to promote entrepreneurship; 2/ by Schumpeterian entrepreneurs who have detected in this phenomenon a new entrepreneurial opportunity. In the media and in the Web, a lot of advertisings try to attract new coworkers thanks to low rents and user-friendly working spaces; 3/ by multinational firms, such as Microsoft, Google or Pepsi, which create in big cities free coworking spaces under an open innovation strategy, to pick up new ideas and innovations. So by these different ways, the creative capacity of coworkers is captured by big firms and Schumpeterian entrepreneurs.
Nevertheless, spaces of coworking do not attract only individuals with high capacity to innovate, but also individuals who are looking for a job, and who create by this way their job. In these conditions, synergic relations between coworkers do not exist. If coworkers can talk with each other about their projects in the cafeteria, the place of coworking gathers individuals with independent careers. In this context, synergic relationships do not exist.
What is, in these conditions, the creative and collaborative revolution announced? In reference to the system of louage during the 19th century, before the development of mass paid work, number of individuals are looking for a hypothetic employer, only technical tools are changed. The coworking spaces are multiplying around the world to attract the innovative capacity of some, while others, without paid job, create their own job. On the other side, Fordist enterprises always exist. This way of work organization has extended form industry activities to services activities since many years. Under the current productive system, the old and modern forms of work coexist, as well as the different means to capture the created value.
*Clersé, University of Littoral Côte d’Opale, France / Research Network on Innovation