About 40 years ago, I lived in a co-op (cooperative student housing) at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. My home was aptly called Xanadu, a former sorority house on Washtenaw Avenue.
Wanna-be hippies (like me) roamed and sprawled in the spacious common areas, pitching in to cook, clean, debate politics and trends, and throw wild and weird festivals.
Then, I entered the business world and open spaces and cooperation were rapidly replaced in the 1980s by private offices with doors that closed (and often slammed), corporate politics (rather than intelligent debates), backstabbing (rather than the gentle spearing of bean burgers from communal platters), and corporate offsites (rather than toga parties).
However, I recently returned to Xanadu (in a manner of speaking). I am part of WeWork, a national network of co-working offices. I do not have to cook or bake for 60 people (but I gladly would, if asked). My co-workers range from their 20s to their 60s...from start-ups to established companies. We sit (and maybe even sprawl) in chairs, couches, and chaises and drink beer and play trivia, pinball, and Scrabble. We have private phone booths, for when we need "alone time" (just like in Xanadu). Music plays all the time and the water cooler has lemons in it. It's totally groovy, man.
My company's staff and summer interns have a ready-made community and learn about other types of businesses without leaving their floor. (We even have a modelling agency on our floor...beats sharing space with marketers, business analysts, lawyers, and accountants. The hallway conversations are often quite entertaining.)
Co-working spaces abound these days. The website Deskmag is dedicated to co-working communities. (The term co-working was coined in 1999 and the number of spaces grew to over 2,000 last year, according to this timeline.)
Although I sometimes hear my peers grumble about open space, I don't particularly care that I don't have a giant dark wood desk, conference table, and couch of my own. I carry my computer with me and my files are in the cloud. What would I do with a big ol' desk anyway? I just need enough room for my tablet and my smartphone. Oh yes...and maybe one tiny drawer for a bed sheet, mascara, and lip gloss. A little 1980s vanity still lives on in this former "suit" turned late-life entrepreneur and co-worker. One never knows when the toga party will make its return!
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