Nomatik coworking is a “disruptive bypass” (1) that brings together the interests and needs of the growing population of independent professionals with companies prepared to embrace open structures and open innovation. Nomatik is an online/offline coworking platform that connects (online) professionals around shared interests and needs so that they can connect (offline) to work together on commercial and/or social projects.
The social contract of work has been fundamentally changed over the past decade. An already growing trend (500,000 solo businesses formed per year (2)), discussed initially by Dan Pink in his Fast Company article and book, Free Agent Nation (3), was greatly accelerated in the wake of the Great Recession. While today ~35% of workers in the American economy are ‘freelancers,’ it is estimated that by 2020 this number will be 40% (4). Concurrently, firms, in their recovery from the Great Recession, are shedding fixed assets and capabilities in favor of flex-workers, cloud solutions, and super-efficient processes. What gets lost in the recalibration is a reliable and adaptable capacity to innovate.
While value in yesterday’s employment social contract was grounded primarily in tenure and security, in today’s abundance of intellectual resources, value is being redefined around the principles of co-creation, purposeful work, portfolio careers, autonomy, and meaningful communities. Many firms pay lip service to the evolution of collaborative consumption and the sharing economy, but few consider what that means in terms of managing their own human resources. As is evidenced by the explosive growth of the coworking movement (from 1 space in 2006 to over 3,500 today, and estimated to be 13,000 by 2018, (5)), as well as by the explosive growth in the number of freelancers (in the US and Europe), many talented knowledge professionals are voluntarily opting out of the corporate track altogether. Even if symbolic (in numbers) at this point, this represents a potential exodus of top talent into new forms of more human-centered and flexible career arrangements.
Firms that remain shut off from or resistant to these new forms of organizing and working will be handicapped as they interact with the zeitgeist of what Fast Company’s Robert Safian calls Gen Flux (6). This is particularly true with respect to the maturation of Gen Y (Millennials, b. 1980-2000), who at 70 million strong will be a dominant force in the economy for some time. Millennials are driving the technology, communities, and startups of the sharing economy, and companies that want to attract bright technologists and creatives in the future will need to reach out to and connect with them in new and creative ways.
Nomatik is a concept and solution generated at Conjunctured Coworking , in partnership with Tony Bacigalupo at New Work City. Conjunctured was the first coworking space in Austin, Texas, and we have built a thriving community over the past six years. Tony Bacigalupo was one of the first coworking pioneers in New York City, having built a coworking community in the city long before he opened New Work City. We have recently connected with the Dutch company, Seats2Meet, from whom we have licensed a community management software platform (The Serendipity Machine) to help us scale our virtual-physical coworking community. Their “real-time, place-based” network of people and places in Europe has created a thriving community of thousands of members who connect with each other in over 70 locations around shared interests, passions, and projects. The ‘Serendipity Machine’ now sits behind and drives Nomatik. (http://serendipitymachine.com)
Whether one is planning on working in your local coffee shop, coworking space, or hotel lobby, the serendipity machine enables people to find each other to meet up and work together. Nomatik has licensed its own serendipity machine, which we are currently test-driving. (http://serendipitymachine.com/nomatik)
The serendipity machine sits as a layer, or “mesh,” (7) between both independent professionals and corporate employees, on the one hand, and physical locations of various types, on the other. At a serendipitous meeting at this year’s annual coworking conference (GCUC Kansas City 2014), the Nomatik team met and aligned with the Seats2Meet team. The serendipity machine software includes much though not all of the functionality that we seek out of our platform. We will be customizing, iterating, and talking with users to evolve Nomatik’s use of the serendipity machine over the coming months.
People/Skills Cloud/ Activity Streams
There are three filters through which people, whether Independent-Independent or Independent- Corporate, can connect with one another: people available, knowledge/skills cloud, and activity streams. First you sign up and create a profile. On a given work day, you check-in to a given location, and indicate to other members where you are, what you are working on, what your skills are, and how long you are going to be there. If you are simply looking to work around other people, you may not be as focused on the skills cloud or activity streams present at that location. On the other hand, if you are seeking specific help or insights for an ongoing project, you might seek out a location where relevant people and activity are gathered. It is important to note that the Serendipity Machine is already up and running in 6 countries, and that the types of interactions I am describing here are real and ongoing. A few hypothetical scenarios help illustrate the types of connections that the platform facilitates.
Amy is a freelance graphic and web designer who builds simple, clean user interfaces for small business clients. She has built numerous sites on Wordpress, which is easy to customize. She has a client, though, who is building a membership-based organization that will exceed the database functionality of Wordpress, and has decided that the website should sit on Drupal. Amy has never worked in Drupal, but does not want to turn down the project as she believes in the cause and the project might also convert to a recurring revenue stream. She goes to the Nomatik serendipity machine, enters her location, and looks to see what workspaces are nearby and who is working there. She finds a Drupal developer working at a coffee shop in her neighborhood, and she checks in online and opens a chat to see if she can meet up in person with that person (offline). The two meet up, and Amy hires him as a subcontractor on the project. She contacts the client to say that she has a team ready to tackle the project. She gets to work on the front end design process, while her new project-partner compiles requirements from the client and begins constructing the database architecture.
Mark works for a large real estate company in Chicago. His employer is a 75 year old company and is one of the largest residential real estate companies in the Chicagoland area. With a reputation for listing mostly high-end houses in the northern and western suburbs, the company’s brand is quite blue-blood and old-school. People familiar with Chicago’s real estate market, except for those who shop in the seven figure housing market, pay little attention to the company’s listings because they are for the most part beyond reach.
However, as the city’s young, professional population grows significantly inside the loop, the company sees an opportunity to get into the ‘urban loft’ market as property prices in the loop increase. They know that the parent company is not the brand to break into this new and growing market. To work around the limitations of their existing branding, the company seeks to create an altogether new brand, one associated with the young, cool vibe that is evolving downtown. Mark, a young Baby Boomer who lives downtown, is given the challenge of creating a new company that is focused exclusively on finding and selling loft apartments inside the loop.
Mark decides to enlist the strategic and design support from those types of young professionals who might also be clients of the new company. Mark signs up at Nomatik, unlocks the serendipity machine, and begins looking into the skills clouds for people nearby who specialize in branding, identity work, logo design, communication strategy, etc. He locates Marie, an experienced communication strategist working at a Starbucks near his office. When he arrives there he checks in, opens a chat, and asks if she is available to talk about a project. After explaining the scope of the project to her, Marie tells Mark that she specializes in broad communication strategies more so than in identity and branding, per se, but that she can project manage the project with subcontractors. She explains to Mark that there are numerous contacts within the Nomatik community that she can turn to for help.
The next day, Marie checks into her favorite coffee shop and searches to see if any of her Nomatik friends are plugged in and working nearby. After finding a couple of people that she feels might be a good fit, she opens a chat with them and explains the scope of the project and inquires if they have bandwidth over the next three months? They set a meeting for the following Monday, which results in an agreement and a division of labor to tackle Mark’s project. Marie pings Mark to inform him that she has put together a team that can tackle the project within his budget. He replies, saying that he will find her on Nomatik sometime later in the week when they can meet up again and talk about the timeline of the project.
In the second scenario, a large firm is able to tap into the talent that is operating throughout the city within the Nomatik community. It also demonstrates how freelancers connect with each other and share opportunities within the freelancer community. This is a clear demonstration of how companies that are willing to work within an ‘open operating system’ can tap into an organic community of talent that is out there and ready work on a project-to-project basis.
Corporate Coworking Solution
In partnership with the Swedish office furniture company Kinnarps, Nomatik also aims to design and build coworking spaces within companies. This is a challenging task, for a variety of reasons, which will be discussed later in the document. However, there are numerous similar (though not exact) examples of companies experimenting with coworking, and we are hopeful that the serendipity machine platform that we are now using will help us penetrate a willing corporate client and allow us to experiment with them. For the many firms out there that are embracing remote/tele- work, Nomatik is an ideal platform for connecting onsite and offsite workers as well as connecting company employees with freelancers working within the Nomatik community. At this stage in the process “corporate coworking” is a stretch project, but one that we feel has huge and transformative potential. This too is discussed later in the document.
Our discussion of the powerful impact of open coworking should start with activities that are ongoing in the space at Conjunctured. We have three fairly well-known and fast-growing companies who have employees working in the space: Red Hat, Airbnd, and Lyft.
Red Hat, the world leader in open-source software solutions, sponsors the memberships of one of their design teams here at Conjunctured. The four-person team is a fixture in our coworking community. They have been members for several years, and are here M-F every week.
Recently they held a global team meeting in one of our meeting spaces for a full week. Their colleagues from Europe and South America gathered with the Austin team for the week to work physically together. This made real and tangible the online/offline mash-up that Conjunctured regularly facilitates and that has inspired Nomatik. Numerous Red Hat employees work remotely and virtually, and team meetings like the one held at Conjunctured provide opportunities for colleagues to meet physically, face-to-face. These mash-ups deepen the social dimensions of work, enabling bursts of collaboration and friendship to intermingle with online working relationships. Marissa Mayer’s recent elimination of remote working at Yahoo! seems to be motivated by a similar search for physical connectivity, collaboration, and cultural cohesion.
The case of Red Hat demonstrates to us that some companies are already using the coworking infrastructure for their own specific purposes. A next step in the case of Red Hat would be opening its own space- a corporate coworking space- as a gathering place for its globally distributed teams.
Airbnb’s Austin-based community manager works out of Conjunctured and has been a member for the past two years. She too has become a fixture of the Conjunctured community. In addition to working in the space, she regularly hosts social events here after hours, where Airbnb members (or ‘hosts,’ those who live in Austin and rent out their homes and apartments through the site) gather to connect with the company and with each other.
Similar to the Red Hat case, the social events hosted by Airbnb allow them to establish tangible relationships with members of the larger Airbnb community. Again, this is an online/offline mash-up that bridges the two types of experiences.
This year at SXSW, Airbnb rented out the entire house to host a large party for its hosts and users who were in Austin for SXSW Interactive. The Airbnb party was an opportunity for members of the wider (global) Airbnb community to meet each other and forge real relationships where only online relationships existed before. The party was a natural fit for the company given their history of working and meeting in the space over the past several years.
Within the past two weeks two employees of Lyft, the San Francisco-based ride sharing company, have become members at Conjunctured. Similar to workers from Airbnb and Red Hat, Lyft keeps its costs down as it expands by sponsoring employees to work at coworking spaces (relatively inexpensive) rather than leasing individual offices (quite expensive) in each new city. More than this, Lyft employees work within the community it hopes to recruit both as drives and users of its service.
Lyft’s participation in the coworking world underscores the congruence of coworking within the sharing/collaborative economies, in general. Of course, a large, legacy company can’t and won’t operate like Lyft or Airbnb. However, as Millennials become more and more central to the world of work, companies (big and small) would be wise to incorporate some elements of the open-social economy into their everyday practices. Nomatik is an extensible coworking platform that provides a disruptive bypass to accomplish just that.
These companies grew out of the new economy, so it is unfair to compare them to the many legacy companies seeking to make substantive structural and cultural change. That said, there are firms out there that are beginning to experiment with new forms of working that parallel the coworking movement, and their long-term impact on helping re-define the social contract of work should be acknowledged.
Experiments in Corporate Coworking
A recent Fast Company article on the growth of coworking suggests that there are three models of coworking in place today. The first of these is “traditional coworking,” that is, coworking spaces that operate on a membership model where mostly freelancers and some telecommuters work on their own things together. The second of these is what they call the company-to-company model, where two or more companies share a space for their employees to work. And finally, the third model they identify is what they call the ‘private-to-public ‘model, where companies have open spaces in which they invite outsiders (non-employees) to come inside and cowork with employees. Zappos’ Downtown Project in Las Vegas is a vast experiment in private-public coworking, the most ambitious such undertaking in the world. AT&T is also experimenting with a similar private-public model (8). Nomatik for the enterprise is a private-public coworking model. There are many obvious reasons why companies will fear and resist private-public coworking, and these will be addressed in a later section of this document.
In her discussion of the design thinking experiment undertaken at Citrix, Catherine Courage talks at length about the importance of physical spaces- their design studios- in bringing people together to interact and collaborate in ways not possible when workers are tied to fixed work stations (9). This confirms the importance of interaction and collaboration that we in the coworking world have come to understand quite profoundly. Rather than moving between a fixed work station, on the one hand, and a conference/meeting room, on the other, workers are presented a variety of spaces from which they can choose according to the work they are engaged in at the time. In Europe this is known as Activity Based Work, where employees (including the CEO and other senior managers) have no private offices or fixed stations, but rather choose from among a series of neighborhoods in which to work on a given day. Veldhoen + Company, the pioneer in Activity Based Work design, reports that their clients experience a profound democratizing effect where hierarchies that are usually inscribed in office design are literally removed. People from all levels of the organization freely interact and work together in the shared spaces. This is similar to the flow of coworking spaces, and ABW has been inspirational in helping us develop our vision for Nomatik.
Early Adopters: Coca Cola, Sprint, State Farm
Three firms have recently embraced coworking in their own unique ways. In Atlanta, Coke has created a coworking space within its headquarters. It is a private space open only to Coke employees. According to April Redmond Echols of Coca Cola, who oversees the facility, Coke employees have been slow to embrace the concept. This is due, she says, in part to the fact that, unlike ABW workplaces, Coke employees do have a fixed desk, and, in part, to the fact that Coke still works within narrowly defined silos. A few months into their experiment, they had to develop “programming” in order to entice people into the space. The Coke case shows that even in firms that are ready to experiment with new ways of working, more substantive cultural change is necessary in order for the full potential of corporate coworking to be realized.
At Sprint’s accelerator in downtown Kansas City, they have invited local startups to take up residence in the company’s semi-private coworking space. To the extent that Sprint welcomes in outside companies, this is an example of a semi-private coworking space, open to those who have been vetted and who are recipients of funding. Sprint’s space is not open coworking, per se, but is a hybrid space that shows how some companies are tiptoeing into coworking.
And finally, State Farm runs a private-to-public space in Chicago that is open to outsiders. Presumably as a way to bring in potential customers, State Farm has nonetheless opened its doors to outsiders (non-SF employees) and lets them come in and work in their space. This is one of the first fully open, private-public coworking spaces out there. To what extent the company actively interacts with outsiders in pursuit of new ideas and innovations is unclear.
We anticipate that many companies will not be comfortable with the openness of the serendipity machine. The idea that a company’s employees might be working with and sharing ideas with an unknown group of people will inevitably make some companies nervous. At the same, this openness is the central value proposition of Nomatik, and of coworking in general. While not intentionally trying to be too scratchy, companies that are not open to having their people interacting with and learning from outsiders are likely not ready to make the journey to Economy 3.0 anyway (see Ronald van den Hoff’s Society 3.0)(10).
Our business model addresses that chasm. We are inviting freelancers and small businesses (with fewer than 10 employees) to become members for free, to create and active user community in Austiin, New York, San Francisco, and Chicago. Once we have a strong and growing community, we are confident that companies will take notice and want access to the serendipity.
Resistance to private-public coworking will be quick and loud. “What about network security?” “We can’t have strangers wandering around campus.” “If our workers are coming and going from home, to our coworking space, to their office, how do we know they are actually working?” “This sounds like total chaos?”
We know, though, that highly innovative firms operate in certain Theory Y ways. They give employees a long leash, they empower their people to generate new ideas and encourage them to carry those ideas to commercialization. It is very difficult, however, to get traditional managers to embrace the liberating workplace policies of a Semco, or a W.L. Gore, or your local coworkng space. Ultimately the difference has to be demonstrated financially, as does Semco and W.L. Gore.
In order to get a firm to embrace the Nomatik experiment and begin the move towards an ABW/Corporate Coworking model of managing people and space, some up-front assurances need to be made. In terms of network security, Nomatik needs to be its own independent network that does not interfere with the host-company’s network. That is, non-employee members of Nomatik will not have access to the host company’s network, and a solid firewall has to be built between the two. It is only reasonable that firms will want to protect data and internal and sensitive communications. Despite the close proximity of the workers (working on two separate networks), such a firewall can easily work. Furthermore, the fact is that if someone really wants to hack a company network, they don’t need to be physically close by in order to do that. So, if it is managed intentionally from the outset, company security can maintained.
Designing and experimenting with an on-site, private-public coworking space will be a significant challenge for facilities managers. In an already complex and changing technological environment, facilities managers have their plates full. However, several leading facilities management professionals are already moving in this direction, demonstrating that embracing mobility and flexibility within the building (and not simply telecommuting), is possible. In fact, as more companies embrace cloud technologies and mobile working solutions, facilities managers are set to become more key players in the management of both workflow and human resources than ever before.
Resistance will also come from HR. With non-employees coming in and out of the coworking space and interacting directly with company employees, it might appear that HR’s role as talent gatekeepers is being undermined. However, beginning with the community manager, HR should in fact take a lead role in managing the flow of people and activities in the space. Like their facilities management counterparts, the prospect of corporate coworking changes but potentially increases the impact of HR managers. For years HR has had its hands tied with respect to hiring criteria, and finds itself in most firms at the bottom of the corporate totem pole. If HR personnel become regular users of Nomatik and build strong relationships with coworking members, they can contribute more strategically by bringing in top talent on a project-by-project basis while the company saves resources on benefits.
The other point of resistance will be cultural. When people are coming and going and working in different spaces with different people, a general sense of order and security can feel compromised. This is largely a generational marker. In ABW environments, for example, the experiment runs even deeper, where the CEO and other top managers forgo their private offices altogether. While that seems to work for Veldhoen’s clients in Europe and Australia, Nomatik does not reach that far, yet. Nomatik asks for a single, discrete, managed experiment, as a method for interacting with outside talent with the goal of spiking energy and innovation in the firm. Perhaps over time the entire company might be converted to a full ABW/Corporate Coworking environment.
There is no guarantee that freelancers will necessarily embrace Nomatik. However, as our collective experience from the coworking movement suggests, many freelancers do cite isolation and loneliness as important drivers that lead them to seek out coworking spaces. Whether because they cannot yet afford a full membership in a coworking space or because there isn’t a coworking space in their local community, Nomatik lowers the barrier to entry and provides easy access to connect with other like-minded people in your area. Ultimately, like their corporate coworking counterparts, freelancers will need to experience tangible value in their Nomatik membership for it to be truly useful. This value might be in getting a lead on a new project, or it might be a new friendship cemented over after-work drinks.
- Local Jellies: Nomatik is starting local. Next week we begin hosting Jellies (work meetups) at coffee shops in Austin. We are inviting freelancers and companies to attend, to introduce them to Nomatik and to each other. We want to create a local community of users, and learn from them how we need to tweak and evolve the serendipity machine. We want to get as many users connected as quickly as possible.
- Customize the software: Seat2Meet’s serendipity machine is in use throughout Europe and parts of Asia. We want to map it onto the coworking world here in North America to build an extensible platform that connects freelancers with each other and with corporate workers. To this end, we will need to customize, modify, and add features to the serendipity machine. Specifically, there are three features that we are currently working on. First, there needs to be some way for members to share stuff- pictures, videos, music, doodles, etc. We also want to include a purely social, ‘after hours’ feature so that people can connect after work over drinks and dinner. Finally, we want to integrate some sort of process whereby members can post their portfolios for others’ consideration. We are not talking about networkee, resume-ee, LinkedIn types of information, but images and videos of actual work that has been done recently. Work, not words.
- Pilot Corporate Coworking with Kinnarps: Kinnarps USA has recently launched the company’s Activity Based Work product- Next Office- in North America. We are currently looking for an experiment-minded company to run a pilot with Next Office as the physical space with Nomatik as the community management overlay. Our goal is to measure employee engagement before and during the experiment as a way to show the company that open coworking impacts employee energy and company culture.
- Flagship Space: As Austin continues to evolve as a go-to city in the sharing economy, we want to expand into a new, larger, flagship coworking space that invites companies as well as our core community. This too is in partnership with Kinnarps, as they are looking to have a North American showroom here in Austin. Given the right location, we’d like to have a flagship Nomatik space, designed with Kinnarps’ Next Office furniture, and managed by the serendipity machine.
- The Ardor Hotel: (www.ardorhotel.com) About a year ago Conjunctured was approached by a group in Austin who was looking to put together a boutique, eco hotel in downtown Austin. Inspired by the Ace Hotel in New York, they want the central plaza area of the hotel to be a Conjunctured coworking location. This week the group committed to a site, and the project is now underway. Given the development of the Nomatik vision since our original conversations with the group, we now want the coworking space at the Ardor to be a Nomatik space, also managed via the serendipity machine. Interestingly, since we became involved with the Ardor, we have also pitched the Nomatik concept to another hotel in the planning process in Baja, Mexico.
The entire Nomatik project is born from the broader coworking community. Specifically, Tony Bacigalupo (of New Work City), and my business partner at Conjunctured (David Walker), have been instrumental in crafting the vision. Specifically, Tony was the first among us to see the importance of opening up coworking beyond coworking spaces. He has been organizing coworking meet-ups in various parts of NYC- the Met, a wine bar, for example. There are many freelancers and tele-commuters who crave social interaction, and he has been a visionary in facilitating this interaction beyond his own community at New Work City.
Most recently, at the GCUC event in Kansas City (May 1-3, 2014), we met and aligned our efforts with the team from Seats2Meet. Ronald van den Hoff and Vincent Ariens are up to much the same thing as we are at Conjunctured/Nomatik, and we are now using their serendipity machine as the framework for building an online/offline coworking community in North America.
(1). The Serendipity Machine: A Disruptive Business Model for Society 3.0, by Sebasion Olma, Creative Commons, 2012, p. 54. (https://www.seats2meet.com/downloads/The_Serendipity_Machine.pdf)
(2.) Intuit Future of Small Business 2020 Report. (http://about.intuit.com/futureofsmallbusiness/)
(3.) “Free Agent Nation,” Fast Company, Dan Pink, Dec. 31, 1997. (http://www.fastcompany.com/33851/free-agent-nation)
(4). Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment Outlook: 2010-2020. http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2012/01/art4full.pdf
(5.) Steve King Keynote, GCUC 2014. Emergent Research and Small Biz Research Labs. And Deskmag 4th Annual Global Coworking Survey. (http://deskmag.com)
(6.) “This is Generation Flux,” Fast Company, Jan. 9, 2012, Robert Safian. (http://www.fastcompany.com/1802732/generation-flux-meet-pioneers-new-and-chaotic-frontier-business)
(7.) Sebastion Olma, The Serendipity Machine.
(8). Fast Company. “Coworking Spaces From Grind to Grid70 Help Employees Work Beyond the Cube,” http://www.fastcompany.com/3004915/coworking-nextspace . Greg Lindsay, Feb. 11, 2013.
(9). TED Talk, “Igniting Creativity to Transform Corporate Culture,” Catherine Courage. . TEDxKyoto, 2012, http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Igniting-creativity-to-transf-2;search%3Atag%3A%22japan%22
(10.) Society 3.0: Mastering the Global Transition on our way to Society 3.0. Ronald van den Hoff, Create Space Independent Publishing Platform, 2014. (http://society30.com)