Over the last decade or so, mobile technology improvements, evolving job demands and vast increases in the ranks of self-employed and freelance workers have drastically redefined the modern work environment.
During this time, these related trends have led many Americans to reevaluate their careers and the processes by which they complete their work.
For some people, this has meant creating an office in their home, a place where they can avoid distractions and be productive without the need to commute.
Other workers have significantly adjusted their hours, as they drop by the office for a few hours a day or a couple of days a week but spend the rest of their time working from home or another remote location.
While these solutions work for some professionals, a growing number of Americans have been looking for an even better alternative to the traditional nine-to-five system. One solution that has been gaining popularity recently is co-working.
What is co-working?
Finding the right balance between laid-back comfort and an environment conducive to productivity can be tough, although many professionals feel that co-working finds the perfect sweet spot. This recent trend has many forms, but in essence it involves a group of disparate workers using a space - often a public one - as a kind of makeshift office environment where they can complete their assignments, utilize office equipment and collaborate with people they otherwise wouldn't.
Typically, these setups provide high-speed internet, spacious work areas and other office tools for workers. Some co-working spaces are located in commercial enterprises like restaurants and coffee shops, while others are situated in private facilities and require membership fees. Still others are found in traditional offices with room to spare.
Either way, these environments offer a viable way for professionals to complete their work away from the office, and the popularity of co-working is undeniably growing. According to The Economist, co-working spaces have proliferated recently and are popping up in everywhere from major metros to much smaller communities. According to the source, the number of co-working spaces grew from about 400 in 2010 to nearly 800 by the beginning of 2012.
How are co-working spaces evolving?
Over that time, the philosophy behind co-working has changed in several ways. Continued improvements to technologies such as cloud computing and the growing prevalence of freelance workers have helped reshape and hone co-working environments. The emphasis on collaboration has grown, The Economist reports, and the amount of provided office equipment has increased.
In fact, co-working spaces are quickly catching up to their more traditional counterparts. Blazing internet, laserjet printers and conference lines have helped these environments meet the needs of a modern workforce, and they are poised to continue improving in the coming months.
How to get the most out of co-working
For freelancers and self-employed professionals, co-working offers a great way to get the benefits of a comprehensive office without actually being part of one. However, this is only true if these individuals know how to get the most from the setup. Outfitting yourself with the right tools is instrumental to maintaining productivity and realizing your potential in this modern work environment.
Cloud-based services are one great way to ensure that a co-working space can be just as effective as an office. A co-working arrangement only works if professionals are able to communicate effectively with partners, clients and managers. Tools such as online and cloud-based document-sharing programs are vital to get the most out of co-working.
Many co-working spaces don't have fax machines, which can make it difficult for professionals who need to stay in touch. However, internet fax allows these workers to send and receive faxes from anywhere with an internet connection. This way, a co-working space can truly become an effective work environment.