In my current book project (tentatively called “After Corporate Culture”), I am trying to understand the long-term impact that fluid and mobile working is having on company culture. For quite some time, of course, many firms have allowed, either officially or unofficially, employees to work from home or off-site at least some of the time. However, as more and more firms embrace fully-alternative workplace solutions such as coworking, something new is happening.

The project starts with a couple of simple questions:

  1. What happens to a sense of company community, shared identity, and common practices among employees of companies who no longer work at the company (i.e. on the company campus)? Disconnected from the day to day interactions, informal communications and routines, to what extent does a connection to a common culture begin to dissipate?
  2. The corollary and equally important questions is: How do the interactions and experiences of corporate coworkers (defined as employees of firms who actually work on a daily basis at a coworking space such as WeWork rather than at the ‘company’ office) reflect back on and impact the mother-ship culture back at HQ?

Only long-term research and observation will be able to answer these questions, but I think the questions are worth asking. But why?

Earnings & Omelettes

The first and quick answer is that, at last count, ~15% of the S&P 500 companies now have some number of employees who work out of coworking spaces. That is, coworking is no longer just a cool thing for kids and startups. It is for grown-ups too, and it is happening in real numbers.

The second, and more complicated answer is that by scrambling people who work for different firms into work omelettes, there is fresh potential to perhaps alter the DNA of the companies whose employees are participating in the mashup. To the extent that, sadly, so many public companies have their people locked into the executioners’ cycle of quarterly earnings management, it is hard to see what conventional tweak or tool can possibly intervene in any meaningful way.

At OpenWork, we believe that the long-term potential of coworking goes far beyond workplace strategy and revenue per square foot. While the real estate industry has been the most enthusiastic of the late adopters, we anticipate that large firms (and their HR functions) will make up the late majority of participants over the long haul.

Emergent Culture Inventory

Going forward, we are looking at ways to understand and map emergent cultures in companies and coworking spaces where the omelettes are being made. We would be foolish to assume that the cultural experiences of such knowledge workers will remain the same as their more sedentary and domesticated counterparts. Sending employees out ‘into the wild’ is scary for some firms, but the knock-on effect of that is now a thing.

The Emergent Culture Inventory (ECI) tool is a simple, real-time diagnostic platform that captures key words and phrases that employees use to describe their experiences, levels of motivation, engagement, and productivity. Rather than asking questions that presume that companies fall within a certain “type” of culture, the ECI works from the bottom up and lets the employees tell us what is going on and what it means to them. Monitoring and mapping these experiences over time will eventually tell us what coworking really means for companies that embrace it.

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn by OpenWork Agency Partner, Drew Jones, PhD.