Coworking in Australia: from Digital Dens to Executive Establishments by Tim Mahlberg

In 2005, a new form of working was conceived when a small group of individuals from creative industries came together in an experiment to work alongside each other in an open and shared space called Spiral Muse in San Francisco. This marked the birth of the coworking space.

Coworking refers to the practice of working alongside people with whom one shares a workplace but not necessarily an organisational affiliation. Coworking spaces refer to dedicated places that are shared by people from different organisations, often freelancers, who work alongside each other, share infrastructure and often engage in joint activities associated with learning, innovation and collaboration.

Image: Tank Stream Labs, Sydney

Image: Tank Stream Labs, Sydney

Spurred by trends such as activity-based work, and other new forms of work organisation, the rise of the freelance model and ubiquitous digital and mobile technology, coworking has escaped its niche and is now of broader interest to startups and corporations, inner city firms and suburb and rural communities alike. Today, the number of coworking spaces exceeds 10,000 worldwide.

Coworking comes in all shapes and flavours, and caters to a diverse range of needs. And while coworking spaces are the spiritual home of successful start-ups, the digital disruptors, the corporate change makers, and social visionaries, their appeal is now much broader.

In our report we ask: what can be learned from coworking spaces about how to facilitate new ways of working with a view to increase collaboration and innovation? How can the various models be harnessed by small businesses and corporates to drive growth and efficiency?

We find that well-run coworking spaces provide insight into how our workplaces could be if they were more innovative and collaborative, supporting their people to work autonomously, flexibly and courageously.

The stereotypical coworking space may be envisaged as the opposite to traditional corporate work spaces, with a focus on technology, socialising, and informal ‘play’ spaces. However, new and more sophisticated coworking spaces have emerged providing concepts more relevant to larger organisations.

In our report ‘Coworking Spaces Australia’ we provide an introduction to the coworking phenomenon and an overview of the state of coworking in Australia. In doing so, we analysed over 300 coworking spaces active in Australia (as of March 2017) to unpack this phenomenon and to derive a taxonomy of seven distinct types of coworking spaces which we describe in detail. We further provide learnings about how to translate the concept of coworking into more traditional small business and corporate work realities and how to get you started on your own coworking journey.

Download the full report here

THE FUTURE OF WORK by Tim Mahlberg

I’ve always been curious to understand and explore better ways that people can work together, whether through building high performing cultures, celebrating world class customer experiences, or inspiring and empowering others to imagine more for themselves through their work.

Since studying psychology and workplace performance, I’ve found myself drawn further into conversations and experiments around the future of work. My recent work has been my boldest experiment to date; establishing the innovative business community that is The Village. Facilitating the success of this space has exposed me to thought leaders in the future of work from around the world who see The Village as a clear example of how we will all work in the future. 

The Village is an embodiment of how I imagine the future of work to be; where people are authentic and supported to bring all of themselves to work, with a focus on their strengths, areas of passion and finding greater purpose and meaning in their work. My views on this have been shaped by my studies in humanistic and positive psychology, and the vision of thinkers like Maslow, Rogers, Czikszentmihalyi, Seligman and Deci & Ryan. I'm curious about how we can translate their amazing research into everyday life to make meaningful impact to as many people as possible. For me, the laboratory is the workplace.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been involved in numerous conversations with corporates, entrepreneurs, the start-up community, and politicians about the future of the digital workspace, and the evolution of existing platforms like Yammer, LinkedIn, Facebook etc. I envisage that coworking communities like The Village will realise their full potential for social and economic impact when they are underpinned by a strong digital offering that doesn’t yet exist. This platform will have maximum impact when it replicates the authentic human interactions that make places like The Village so appealing: sense of identity of the community, innovation and experimentation, access to thought leadership, curation/hosting of the space, and finally, “accelerated serendipity”; where people are curious and drawn to a space for who they might meet and what they might learn, which is unexpected but comes at the right time. It's that social alchemy that creates a pull. 

My vision for the future of work is a continued growth in collaborative shared workspaces, including coworking spaces, that are connected across Australia’s metropolitan and regional centres, positioning us as a role model for community and innovation for our region and the world. We need to prepare for the next generation of workers who will demand greater flexibility in working, with preference to access distributed hubs that better support their preferred lifestyle, rather than waste away valuable time and energy in traffic and transport.

I believe that we will continue to see an employment growth in small business rather than big business, which will require a new way of organising and sharing knowledge. I see the important role of digital spaces to help facilitate meaningful connections between diverse groups of people, giving a platform for ideation, debate and civic engagement. Social media and enterprise collaboration platforms will continue to evolve, and we will see a shift away from the “email and meeting” cultures currently experienced in so many organisations.

Our aging population will put pressure on our economy to be more productive and move solutions to market faster, which will be accelerated by strong digital collaboration platforms. This will also coincide with Australia further embracing the start-up and entrepreneur culture, reversing the talent drain to Silicon Valley.

Finally, I believe that work will continue to embrace authenticity, compassion, and innovation, particularly as we see more female leaders come to top positions of influence and traditional institutional hierarchies continue to flatten. Leadership will shift from authoritative to more adaptive, authentic, transformational, and servant leadership models, which inspire and empower employees to be the very best they can be.

Imagine if we could create our ideal workplace. For me, The Village was the start of creating this.  After all, it's not every day that you are invited to build something from the ground up, so a huge kudos to NAB for this opportunity letting me experiment with them. I recognise that this was just one step towards a much bigger change in how we work that the world is hungry for.

The future of work is unwritten, and we have the opportunity to shape it now. Since leaving NAB, I've been fortunate to be sponsored by Deloitte Australia to undertake PhD research into the Future of Work and the Digital Workplace over the next 3 years at the University of Sydney Business School. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to dive deeper into what work might, and will look like for future generations. I'm currently holding some big questions in mind to shape this research, including:

- What would we like the work in the future to look and feel like and why?

- How could we organise work differently and what elements of our current workplace would we keep or change?

- What could we learn about work from other cultures and incorporate into the future workplaces?

I'll be sharing my findings and insights here regularly, and am committed to sharing the journey with as many people as possible. If you see an opportunity for collaboration, please reach out to connect