What happened to the cube-farm?

If you would have told me in college that at 42 I would be creating and curating a coworking community, I not only would not have believed you, I wouldn’t have known what the heck you were talking about. Like most students, I had a fairly narrow view of career possibilities. That was, until I left my hometown for the “big city” for graduate school. While also working in a corporate interiors firm, I took on research dealing with the future of collaborative work spaces, investigated personal work space needs, and created educational (design studio) environments based on these. My horizons were broadened by this and multiple trips to NeoCON, the international commercial furnishings conference and market.

Excited about the innovations in commercial furnishings, I was disheartened to find that, in the mid-90s, corporate design was still extremely hierarchical and the cube-farm and windows lined with private offices ruled. At one point, our firm had over 100 branch offices for our main client going at one time all over the country. We created intense and regimented building and design standards to be able to keep up with the pace of expansion and consistently meet the corporation’s expectations. I was blessed to have so much faith put in me as a young designer but became restless by what I saw as the restricted nature of the design profession.

However, as technology and workstyles changed, so did we. Working with my mentor, I was lucky to work on a project for Arthur Anderson, one of the first early adopters of the concept of “hoteling”. This new design concept allowed companies to reduce their overall real estate footprint while accommodating the same number of employees (or more). These types of agile and alternative work environments were corporation’s and designer’s ways of doing more with less (square feet) and responding to changes in worker mobility.

(one of my most cherished possessions … a groundbreaking text about alternative work environments that my coworkers gave me as a going-away present in 2001)

Simultaneously, government sectors began feeling financial constriction and were given directives to streamline their footprint and work on enhancing productivity. Working in the capital city, I took on a long term space utilization study and design proposal for all state properties in our area. I can only compare the experience to a huge 3D puzzle. We helped the state by creating a plan that would facilitate collaboration between and within dozens of organizations, enhance productivity, and reduce their dependence on private landlords.

After checking all of my educational, experience and examination boxes, I began a career in higher ed. Being a professor was an amazing way to get to delve into various areas of interest in design, business, and career development. I was able to not only teach students about technologies and industry practices, but also keep myself on top of advancements in corporate interiors, furnishings, and work styles by continually updating curriculum to meet the evolving world of my clients. This developed into many real world community collaborations and service learning opportunities, allowing students (and myself) to be exposed to advancements in corporate work environments such as the rise of coworking communities.

So when I found this article (“Financial Pressures and Technology Lead to Coworking”) from Coworkaholic.com, I just had to share it. It puts into plain English (and some mind-scrambling stats) what I saw happening 20+ years ago as a fresh-faced design newbie.

Financial Pressures and Technology Leads to Coworking

If you have a short attention span and like to get to the meat of things, scroll down to “Too big too fail, damn right” after the graft picture and go from there.

I hope you enjoy!