The office is dying - get ready for Bring Your Own Workplace (BYOW)

Credit:Slovenia Coworking via Flickr

Yahoo's ban on working from home put the spotlight on flexible work arrangements and the growing trend of employees working remotely, often thanks to mobile technologies and cloud services. The terms "telework" or "remote work" may conjure up thoughts of people working at home or in the local Starbucks, or the image of business travelers turning airport waiting areas, planes, and hotel rooms into on-the-road office replacements.

While there's definitely some truth to these images (I'm writing this at home and my CITEworld colleague Chris Nerney and I have been known to work a particular upstate New York coffee shop), they represent just a fraction of the flexible and remote work options that are becoming common for today's workforce.

The fact is that flexible work environments -- corporate office space, shared office rentals, temporary workspaces, and coworking spaces/communities -- are changing the definitions of remote work, freelancing, networking, and even 21st century entrepreneurship.

The corporate branch office

Corporate office space is often an option for many traveling professionals and executives. When a company has multiple offices, there is often some space that goes unused. Regardless of whether it's a single vacant desk, a conference room, or an executive office, corporate office space comes with a big advantage for employees on the move -- access to their corporate network and standard office features.

This almost always means a reliable network connection inside the firewall, which can let people access corporate resources -- like intranets, SharePoint and other collaborative tools, file shares, and network printers -- without for VPNs or other remote connectivity solutions or unreliable mobile connections. It also means access to things like faxes, copiers, office supplies, and even administrative staff and on-site technical support.

Sharing remote office space is a great option for traveling employees, but it has some challenges. One is that companies tend to station employees of a department or division together. So a traveling marketing person may find office space halfway across the country -- but it might be devoted to manufacturing or customer service operations. That could mean their office doesn't have some of the tools you need.

In some cases, employees may find themselves working in a remote office quite regularly or even indefinitely -- like when relocation isn't an option. Situations like that can sometimes give employees the worst of both worls -- you're isolated from the team or department as much as if you were working from home, but you still need to trek into the office every day. The isolation can even feel particularly intense if the employees at the remote site have no connection to your job.

This appears to be the tactic that Yahoo is using when it comes to corralling its remote workforce back into Yahoo offices. It remains to be seen how well that ultimately works out for administrators and employee satisfaction.

Leasing shared space long-term

Whether you work in large company, you're a freelancer, or you're working to launch a startup, you can find office space to rent.

In the most traditional sense a company -- big or small -- rents a single office or a block of offices as needed. That company pays the rent and utility bills, provides telephone and Internet services, and is essentially responsible for the office and everything in it.

Another option, particularly common in smaller businesses or for freelancers wanting to work away from the house, is to band together with other companies. This co-op like solution means that there are joint or shared resources -- phone, Internet, reception staff, supplies -- often managed by an individual or a committee. This approach can work well for smaller business using the space as a central office and for remote workers that cannot relocate to a central office of a larger company because personal or business needs.

In any case, there's often excellent networking potential if everyone sharing the space are in the same profession or related fields -- but there can also be culture shock and isolation when they aren't. As with remote corporate spaces, there can also be challenges to ensuring the remote staff at a shared space feel like part of their parent company.

Renting workspace as you need it

For many workers on the road, some small companies, and freelancers, a permanent and full time base of operations isn't necessary. If you're launching a product or service in a community, you may only need space to work for a few days or weeks.

If you're on vacation, you might need to take a break from your family to handle a work emergency. Or if you're a freelancer or long-term remote worker with no fixed office space, you may simply want a change of pace. In some cases you may also need access to specific resources like fully outfitted graphic design workstations, digital video recording space and editing equipment, or an arts studio.

Liquid Space provides searchable directories of offices that have space available that they're willing to rent out, often for short term or temporary needs. You can think of them as Airbnb for workspaces. Both have spaces in major (and not-so-major) cities throughout the U.S. and around the world. You can search based on location, dates, price, or the type of space that you need.

Often used by freelancers, creatives, and entrepreneurs, these kinds of spaces also make great temporary homes for remote workers and business travelers. They also often better deals (and sometimes better experiences) than shared spaces or hotel and airport business centers. Plus there's the advantage that you can easily leave and find a new space if your first (or second, third, or tenth) space doesn't fit your needs or personality

Coworking means something different than it a decade ago

The coworking movement has been going strong for years in many parts of the country, and is particularly well-suited to freelancers and entrepreneurs. Like a shared office space, coworking spaces have a very co-op or community feel. Often they are described as communities and offer flexible and shared space, amenities, networking opportunities, and flexible membership terms.

Coworking communities tend to attract individuals or small teams rather than large companies. Most have a startup-like vibe to them that's great for networking, sharing ideas, collaborating, and launching a business. Membership is generally based on how many days you use a space during a given month and what office features you need. Wi-Fi, printing, phones, and fax machines are typically included in all coworking memberships, but conference rooms, dedicated desks and storage lockers, full-on offices or cubicles, parking, and 24x7 access to a space are often extras reserved for the more expensive membership levels.

Typically, coworking spaces incorporate a range of flexible spaces that include formal and informal settings. That usually means desks, offices and conference rooms, kitchens and dining areas, and lounge spaces for informal working, collaborating, and networking. That range of flexible spaces, usually without assigned desks, lends the majority of spaces with a very startup-like feel.

Although coworking spaces have a community feel to them, many also offer a coworking visa that allows members to use other coworking spaces around the world at no cost. In large cities where there are several coworking spaces available, each space tends to develop a unique culture and a unique focus. Some attract entrepreneurs and startups, while others attract writers and journalists, or technology freelancers like web and graphic designers along with IT consultants. In smaller cities, coworking communities tend to include a more diverse group of members spanning a range of professions. Virtually all coworking spaces offer a day pass and outreach events that lets prospective members try out the space and meet its regular members.

Flexible corporate space

Coworking spaces aren't alone when it comes to flexible workspace that includes formal and informal areas. Most evoke a Silicon Valley startup feel because the movement has borrowed from the trends pioneered by tech companies and Internet powerhouses like Google.

Now that trend is beginning to become more widely accepted outside the tech and startup cultures. Many companies are experimenting with flexible office space for workers that come into the office five days a week as well as for those that travel frequently or work from home (or another remote location) on a regular basis.

During my recent conversation with Brandy Fulton, vice president of HR at Citrix, I got to hear about some of the flexible office spaces that the company has built for its engineering team. Instead of forming a barrier to collaboration or productivity, the spaces encouraged team members to work in comfortable and informal spaces when collaborating while also offering more isolated "quiet" space for when they needed to put their heads down and focus completing projects or solving problems.

Other companies are taking their own approaches to developing flexible working and sharing environments, typically with a mobile-first strategy. Some, like SAP and Starbucks, are even incorporating downright consumer spaces that include features based on Apple's Genius Bar concept.

It's all about being mobile and flexible

We're living in a time where mobile technologies and cloud services aren't simply impacting the tools that we use to work. They're enabling us to reconceive the very idea of work, what it looks like, where it happens, and how we network and collaborate. The result is a new range of workplaces that can be fixed and permanent or as transient as the contents of our backpacks, messenger bags, or briefcases.

As it gets easier to connect with or carry the tools we need, we're entering a time where the next BYO acronym may very well be BYOW -- bring your own workplace.  

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