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Thu November 14, 2013
All Tech Considered

How The Sharing Economy Is Changing The Places We Work

Originally published on Tue December 17, 2013 2:43 pm

This week, we've been reporting on the sharing economy — a term that describes the couch-surfing, car-sharing and community-garden-growing world where so many people are using their existing talents, space or tools. You'll find the stories on this blog and aggregated at this link, and we would love to hear your questions about the topic. Just email, leave a comment or tweet.

The sharing economy is powering a rise of new entrepreneurs who need a different kind of office space. Co-working spaces that foster certain communities, like Galvanize, in Denver, cater to that changing culture of work. When you walk into it — the first thing you'll see is a well-stocked bar. The second is a coffee shop.

" 'Cause coffee fires entrepreneurship, if you will," says Chris Onan, one of the three co-founders of Galvanize.

The 30,000-square-foot space is converted from an old bank note building, and a year after opening it's home to more than 140 tech companies that range from having one person work here occasionally, to teams of 30 that rent semi-permanent suite spaces.

The front, where you find the cafe, is open to the public. The nerve center of the space is an atrium of open workspace, which costs a few hundred dollars a month for membership. The outer rim of the bullpen is lined with glass-enclosed studios where midstage startups rent space next to one another but don't get tied to long-term leases.

"I'm not gonna rent a space for five years. Who knows where I'm gonna be in five years?" says Samantha Holloway, who heads GoSpotCheck, one of the companies who snagged a glass suite.

As the sharing (or peer) economy became big, more people shunned traditional offices and started their own enterprises, and those enterprises needed space and resources. That's what happened with Holloway.

"We were just a couple of us in a garage beforehand," she says. "We had graduated from my basement to a garage; we were in that garage for about a year. And then we were growing as a team, we were finding the right product market fit, and we needed a better environment to work."

This kind of work environment is now cropping up in cities around the world. Galvanize is not exclusively a co-working space, but a hub for tech-specific companies, since the vision was to create a community for entrepreneurs in the same field. It's also a school for designers and developers. It's the brainchild of Jim Deters.

"I do think the rise of facilities like this [arose] to support these solo-prenuers that don't just want to work in a coffee shop or hotel lobby, or get tired of sitting at home by themselves in their jammies," Deters says. "They want to come and work in inspiring environments to make connections and be part of a community to share ideas and transfer ideas."

It was the ideas for technology platforms that make so much of the peer economy possible. So it's fitting that the people founding technology companies led the way to this newer kind of work style.

"I like to talk about the importance of building the connective tissue or the relationships between people in these sort of share-a-beer moment, or share-a-coffee moment, because that's what makes us human, right?" Deters says. "We like to break bread together, we like to socialize together, and work and life are not different for this generation. Work is not just work for these people. It is their life."

"These people" — millennials — are the sons and daughters of baby boomers and now number at least 75 million. By many counts, they outnumber boomers. Denise Cheng, a peer economy researcher with the MIT Center for Civic Media, points out a key reason millennials went full bore into the sharing economy: out of necessity.

"They actually don't have a lot of the same opportunities because right around the time they were born was when a lot of corporate structures started to change, and those benefits started to go away," Cheng says. "I think that one really big thing about the millennial generation is that we are going to have so many different careers over a lifetime. And that fluidity also translates into what our work structure looks like."

That fluidity is working out well — not just for Galvanize's young tech founders — but for employees of existing and established businesses that work out of the space, which include the car service Uber, file-sharing company Box and online audio company Pandora. Pandora's small sales team rents desks overlooking Galvanize's floor of freelancers.

"It was just two of us; we wanted to be part of something greater, with more a vibe to it," says Pandora's Robin May.

The vibe is what the future of work feels like for lots of young entrepreneurs. A place without walls, all kinds of freedom and fueled by coffee and beer.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This week we've been reporting on the sharing economy. That's a term describing the couch-surfing, car sharing, and community garden growing world where so many people are pooling their talents and tools. So no surprise, these new entrepreneurs want a different kind of office space. NPR's Elise Hu has this story of how the sharing economy is changing the way we work.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: When you walk into Galvanize, a co-working space and hub for tech companies in Denver, the first thing you'll see is a well stocked bar. The second is a coffee shop.

CHRIS ONAN: Coffee fires entrepreneurship, if you will.

HU: That's Chris Onan. He's one of the three guys who co-founded Galvanize last year. Today about 140 tech companies share this 30,000 square foot space, converted from an old currency printing building. It's all high ceilings, exposed brick and seemingly endless skylights.

ONAN: So this area's open to the public. Anybody can come in here and get a great cup of coffee, an awesome bagel, or a beer in the afternoon.

HU: Past the coffee bar and you'll find the real nerve center of Galvanize, an open floor for freelancers to work or come and go as they please. It costs them a few hundred dollars a month for membership to share the workspace here.

ONAN: That's why the sharing trend is interesting, right? You just don't know who you're going to run into on any given day.

HU: On the day of this visit the founder of MapQuest is cooking up something new in one of the glass-enclosed studio spaces that line the main co-working floor. Growing startups that want semi-private offices for their teams rent the glass suites.

SAMANTHA HOLLOWAY: We've actually been in this space since it opened.

HU: Samantha Holloway heads GoSpotCheck, one of the companies that sought out a suite here because Galvanize lets companies scale their spaces up or down, depending on their needs. And it doesn't do long-term leases.

HOLLOWAY: I'm not going to rent a space for five years. Who knows where I'm going to be in five years?

HU: What happened when the sharing or peer economy took off was more people shunned traditional offices and started their own enterprises. But those enterprises needed space and resources, as Holloway explains.

HOLLOWAY: We were just a couple of us in a garage beforehand. We had graduated from my basement to a garage and we were in that garage for about a year. And then we were growing as a team. We were actually finding the right product market fit, and we needed a better environment to work.

HU: The vision for this kind of work environment in Colorado's capital came from co-founder Jim Deters.

JIM DETERS: They want to come and work in inspiring environments to make connections, and be part of a community to share ideas and transfer ideas.

HU: It was ideas for tech platforms to rent your couch like Airbnb or picking up a ride, Lyft with a Y, that make so much of the sharing economy possible. So it's sort of fitting that the people founding technology companies led the way to this newer kind of work style.

DETERS: I like to talk about the importance of building the connective tissue or the relationships between people, in these sort of share a beer moment, right, or share a coffee moment, because that's what makes us human, right? We like to break bread together, we like to socialize together. And work and life are not different for this generation, right? This work for these people is not just work - it is their life.

HU: These people he's referring to are the sons and daughters of baby boomers, Millennials, which now number at least 75 million.

Peer economy researcher Denise Cheng, from the MIT Center for Civic Media, points out a key reason Millennials went full bore into the sharing economy: Necessity.

DENISE CHENG: They actually don't have a lot of the same opportunities, because right around the time they were born was when a lot of corporate structures started to change, and those benefits started to go away. I think that one really big thing about the Millennial generation is that we are going to have so many different careers over a life time. And that fluidity also translates into what our work structure looks like.

HU: That fluidity is working out well, not just for Galvanizes' young tech founders, but for employees of established businesses that work out of here. They include the car service Uber, file sharing company Box, and online audio company, Pandora. Pandora sales guy Robin May rents a small desk area overlooking Galvanize's floor of freelancers.

ROBIN MAY: It was just two of us and we wanted to be part of a bigger - something greater, you know, with more a vibe to it.

HU: The vibe here is what the future of work feels like, for a lot of young entrepreneurs. A place without walls, all kinds of freedom, and fueled by coffee and beer.

Elise Hu, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.