1 April 2015
Today, we are very lucky to have a guest post from our Senior Intern, Daniel Pearson! Here he recounts his observations of the recent massive explosion of serviced office spaces aimed specifically at those working in the creative industries:
(Where do) We Work?
Over the past 30 years here in the UK the world of work has changed beyond recognition. It is far less secure. The old certainties of a ‘job for life’ followed by a decent pension have been replaced by a world where extreme job insecurity is the norm. We do not expect to work for the same company for ever, and many of us even expect to change careers.
Out of this uncertainty, alternative models of employment have flourished. Many hundreds of thousands of people now choose to work as freelancers / as self-employed / or entrepreneurs in industries where permanent employment was once the norm. In return for the greater insecurity, workers take enhanced flexibility, and enjoy a greater sense of control over their lives and careers. Many chose to work from home, away from what they perceive as dull or stuffy corporate environments.
In recent weeks, I have become aware of a new breed of business, offering high-touch rented office space to budding freelancers and entrepreneurs. These places are very curious to me, because inside they seem designed to create the very strong feeling of being employed by a large corporation, but for people who have chosen not to work in corporations. As such, they and those who work in them, are a complete mystery to me.
Consider, for example “We Work” (wework.com). Inside these serviced offices, everything from mugs to complimentary mouthwash is branded with the creepy mantra that ‘We’ – those who work and hence belong there – ‘love our work’. This is ‘alpha plus’ corporate. The reception desk feels similar to a financial institution. One of the work rooms is even named ‘Better Together’, hinting at a ‘togetherness’ that – in an office full of largely self employed people – isn’t really there. Being in this office is clearly supposed to make me feel that I am employed by a corporation based there – even though in fact it employes no one. Consider www.deskcamping.com. This site, heavily targetted at ‘Creatives’ (many of whom would not readily admit to wanting aspects of the corporate world), advertises office / studio space, which it helpfully assesses with frothy icons that denote the ‘office vibe’. Several offices advertise they have ‘Planters’, who turn out to be no more than people who sit at the same desk every day. Many also have ‘regular work drinks’, as well as ‘Brewers’, which turns out to be people who drink tea and coffee together. Some have even witnessed the odd office romance. In short, just like any old corporate office.
So, why do some – and judging from the explosion of these services, so many - people who are self employed want to spend their time in a corporate environment – and pay for the pleasure?
These serviced offices with their heavy corporate feel targeted at the self employed are really rather sinister. With all their branded mouthwash, standardised mugs and empty insinuations of togetherness, I think they are trying to lull their occupants into thinking that they work in a more stable working world, where there is greater certainty than there is. And they charge a hefty premium for the illusion. (Wouldn't it be odd if students, having handed over their £9k annual tuition fee, wanted to attend a university that did its best to pretend it was free?).
I work in a large corporation, and inside my offices the posters, the TV screens and even the mugs reinforce that I in some way belong there. While many of my colleagues and I tolerate this (albeit in return for a salary), and strive to have greater choice and control over where and when we work, all over the city, it seems thousands of freelancers, self employed workers and creative entrepreneurs are seeking a greater corporate experience, and are even willing to pay for it.
Do increasing numbers of creatives, entrepreneurs and the self employed somehow - just a little bit - crave the unfashionable certainties of office life? Perhaps they do - just as more office bound workers such as myself are left cold by the thought of ‘planters’, ‘brewers’, branded mouthwash and inspirationally named meeting rooms, and want nothing more than to work from where and when we want.
Wherever you work tomorrow, I wish you well.