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Coworking and Company Culture

Coworking and Company Culture

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Marc Andreessen once famously said that ‘software is eating the world,’ and that if your business can’t be boiled down to a simple (software) solution it probably doesn’t have much of a chance. Or at least, in his world of venture investing, if your startup isn’t predicated on an elegant piece of software, then your business will be challenged. While some people took offense to Andreessen’s sweeping comment, I think it is even more profound than people might think.

Take, for example, the corporate culture consulting industry. Since the early 1980’s management consultants have made small fortunes helping large firms ‘engineer’ their cultures to be “stronger.” By stronger, we all understand that what is actually meant here is greater profitability and higher share prices. Enron had a strong culture, but that didn’t turn out so well. However, in light of the fact that some 70% of all corporate change programs actually fail, it is worth questioning what the actual value of culture consulting is and why so many existing efforts fail? And, to what extent will culture itself be boiled down to a piece of software?

However, in light of the fact that some 70% of all corporate change programs actually fail, it is worth questioning what the actual value of culture consulting is and why so many existing efforts fail?

For us at OpenWork Agency, this is where design and design thinking are so important. Typically, culture consultancies use typologies to classify companies within one type of company or another, and then help them transition to a new ‘type’ of culture. The whole process remains in the realm of values, beliefs, and behaviors, which tend not to ever change because very little else in the company changes. That is, words are cheap and easy.

Coworking as Design Intervention

In our estimation, what is needed are tangible, material interventions in the flow of peoples’s day-to-day work. By shifting people to the open and fluid mode of work that is coworking, the day to day interactions of employees themselves are changed. Without talking about culture, per se, the elements of coworking- communication, learning, etc- and thus culture itself is changed over time. But only slowly and organically. This is a critical difference.

By shifting people to the open and fluid mode of work that is coworking, the day to day interactions of employees themselves are changed. Without talking about culture, per se, the elements of coworking- communication, learning, etc- and thus culture itself is changed over time.

Thus, we have recently launched a new culture change initiative premised on coworking. We might be fifteen minutes early, but we know what impact coworking has on people, how they work, and on the social interactions between people who cowork together. Of course the proof will be in the pudding, but we are quite confident that as more companies embrace coworking (as many, such as Microsoft, IBM, HSBC, Dell, Samsung, Amazon, Merck, GE, just to name a few, have already done), those companies will in fact change, culturally, over time.

There are no magic bullets, we understand that. Company policies will have to shift accordingly, and will have to allow for the choice and flexibility that is at the heart of coworking. Without this accompanying level of change, coworking will be as ineffective an approach as previous generations of change programs. And finally, to return to Andreessen’s earlier point, the coworking-as-change-management-platform is grounded in a technology platform that allows employees to collaborate effectively and managers to monitor and understand what is going on in real time.

However, software won’t ever replace the value of human interaction and the importance of that for building community and culture. Thus, in the end, with respect to the workplace, Andreessen’s maxim was only partially true.

However, software won’t ever replace the value of human interaction and the importance of that for building community and culture.

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