Futurist Tom Frey: When I first brought up the idea of coworking taking over colleges, it seemed like an absurd notion. But there is a secret reason that very few people are grasping.
At first glance, the highly structured ivory towers of academia seem to be on the opposite end of the spectrum from the unstructured anything-goes world of coworking. But the more I thought about it, it seems inevitable that the two are on a collision course.
In fact, it’s already happening, but not in the ways you may imagine.
Geekdom, a San Antonio-based coworking hub launched in 2012, has piloted an educational program called SparkEd where over 1,500 young people have enrolled in their workshops and “weekend camps.”
In Baltimore, the team behind Betamore has positioned itself as a coworking campus for entrepreneurs and their technology. Its purpose is to invigorate the Baltimore ecosystem with a unique curriculum that is open to the community.
The Posner Center in Denver is a network of over 200 companies focused on the international development of agriculture, education, energy, health, infrastructure, microfinance, and various other fields. As a mission oriented coworking facility, they are very selective in who they choose to work with, and education and training courses are an every day occurrence.
No, there are no coworking locations currently offering a four-year bachelor degree, but that’s exactly the point. The status that colleges think they’re conveying is not the same status that today’s young people care to receive.
In the emerging gig economy where 36% of all work is already being done by freelancers, Millennials no longer feel they have the luxury of blowing 4-5 years and a boatload of money learning abstract concepts when they can take a 3-4 month coding bootcamp and learn while doing actual work that they’re being paid for.
The Recent Coworking Surge
So what is it about coworking, defined as membership-based workspaces where diverse groups of freelancers, remote workers, and other independent professionals work together in a shared, communal setting, so effective?
An estimated 20,000 coworking facilities currently dot the American landscape, and over 1,700 have signed their allegiance to the Coworking Manifesto, an online document that spells out the theory, philosophy, and working strategy of this new movement.
Here are ten stats explaining why coworking has become so insanely popular:
- 40% of the workers will be freelancers, temps, independent contractors and solopreneurs by 2020.
- 70% reported they felt healthier than they did working in a traditional office setting.
- 64% of coworkers are better able to complete tasks on time.
- 68% said they were able to focus better while co-working.
- 92% are satisfied with their co-working space.
- 91% have better interactions with others after co-working.
- 60% are more relaxed at home since co-working.
- 78% of coworkers are under 40.
- 90% said they felt more confident when working.
- 50% report higher incomes.
The Business of “You”
How many schools are currently prepping students to be “freelancer-ready?” In a word – none. It’s simply not happening.
Instead, the hard transition from student grunt to skilled worker is occurring in radically new ways – through friends, through trial and error, and through existing project workers.
Mentorship is quickly becoming the new classroom.
When LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman says, “You need to think and act like you’re running a start-up,” he’s referring to your own career.
Every new free agent that enters the project-to-project job world quickly realizes that their growing lists of questions simply don’t have textbook answers. They have to find their own answers, and the quickest way is through peer groups and mentors.
Living in a country with the highest educated waitresses and bartenders in the world, an increasingly vocal underground feels they’ve been lied to. Academic credentials no longer live up to the promise implied with every new student loan that’s being applied for.
That’s one of the reasons coworking is becoming so trendy; they’re looking for a better network.
Finding a New Path to Success
Anyone growing up has a rough idea of what they think success should look like.
For teenagers, their heroes are people who have launched their own video games, started a band, filmed a rockumentary, created a mobile app, written a graphic novel, or won a major video game tournament. To them, the accolades and notoriety that come with this kind of experience far outweighs the tedium involved in credentialing new skills.
For Millennials, nothing resonates quite like being involved in an authentic accomplishment-based learning experience where meaningful work is making a meaningful impact.
Experience trumps diplomas every day of the weeks.
A Tech Industry that Doesn’t Care About Diplomas
Many of today’s tech gurus have been self-taught. Bill Gates, Tom Hanks, Madonna, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Dell, Paul Allen, Ben Stiller, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Sean Combs are some of the smartest and most influential people in the world, none of whom graduated from college.
When applying for a coding job, company interviewers are far more interested in a person’s capabilities than their time spent in academia. In fact a computer science degree will often work against them as it conveys far more theory and far less actual coding.
In the fast moving tech world where innovations are typically 7-10 years ahead of academia’s talent pool, those who can demonstrate jerry-rigged accomplishments and resourceful curiosity become the most sought after.
Emerging fields like augmented reality designers, virtual reality educators, user experience architects, artificial intelligence testers, search engine optimizers, and online reputation managers are all part of a growing lists of jobs that have no university pathway to get there.
Much like becoming a rock star, game designer, professional athlete, race car driver, or movie star, landing a dream job has never been about taking the safe route, especially since there’s virtually no such thing as a safe route anymore.
Competing for Fun
Even though colleges get in trouble for promoting the fun side of campus life, it becomes a major part of every incoming student’s decision
Coworking facilities are also competing for the “fun” crowd, with many offering free beer, free food, ping pong, arcade games, air hockey, foosball, exercise rooms, indoor theaters, bocce ball, and more.
Will we see coworking sports teams competing against other coworking sports teams anytime soon? Yes, but it will probably be in non-traditional sports like ping pong, Arduino hackathons, and video game tournaments instead of football, baseball, and hockey.
The Secret Reason Why Coworking will Replace Colleges
We are moving into a very fluid society and traditional tenant-landlord relationships simply don’t work very well.
Signing a ten-year lease in a world being framed around exponential change measured in days rather than years is a quantum leap of faith most companies would rather not take.
Real estate has become a millstone around every fast-moving company’s neck.
For this reason coworking spaces have been quickly filling up with small corporate teams, telecommuters, and remote project groups, each of whom place a far greater emphasis on flexibility than cost and stability.
Colleges are being caught up in similar dynamics.
Since most colleges have large real estate holdings, they’ve also had to deal with rapidly escalating maintenance, janitorial, security, and facility overhead costs.
The inflexible cost of operations is running headlong into a world where shifting attitudes, lifestyles, and career goals are not only more common, they’re becoming the norm.
This means colleges in the future will not only have to deal with rapid ebbs and flows in student populations and staffing, but campus operations as well.
That’s why a host of hybrid coworking style experiments will begin to permeate campus life. Flexibility is key, and the rigid decision-making processes involved in most universities simply won’t work.
Colleges are in a scaling-down mode, many fighting to survive, while coworking is in a massive scaling up mode with big time investment money paving the way for rapid expansion.
In this rapidly escalating battle for talent, coworking is becoming cooler, trendier, less expensive, and far more fun than spending countless grueling hours in a classroom memorizing troves of terminology and squishy theories while watching the tuition meter in the front of the room click another notch higher with every word uttered from the professor’s mouth.
Will we see coworking universities in the future that offer college credits for doing freelance work? Yes, I believe this will happen very soon.
There are very few things in human existence that will remain untouched by today’s entrepreneurial teams scouring the world looking for new opportunities, and colleges have become a prime target.
Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything