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Loosecubes, ‘The Airbnb For Shared Office Space’ Shutting Down

Loosecubes, the community marketplace for shared workspace, sent out an email today saying it is shutting down this Friday, 16 November. Very little detail was provided.

I looked back into the company’s recent history, and they had secured $7.8M in series A funding back in June from NEA, Revolution Ventures, Accel, and Battery Ventures. These are very serious players. The firm had earlier raised $1.2M.

I don’t get it. The concept for Loosecubes seems solid, or I might say the market for co-working seems solid. 

But a fast shutdown of this sort means that the investor lost faith in the concept and/or the team, and decided to shut down and claw back any remaining funds.

I will email a few folks to try to get the back story.

The Architecture Of Cooperation

The world of business is being re-contoured by the new realities, like ubiquitous connectivity, genius phones, Air/iPad, and the rethinking of ‘offices’.

Alison Arieff, Rethinking the Office Workspace, Part Two

Herman Miller is still selling cubicles, to be sure, but can also read the writing on the wall (or on the dry-erase board, as the case may be). While they’re not quitting the desk and chair business anytime soon, the company has recognized that the work we do and the spaces we conduct it in have shifted radically — and we all need to adapt at every level. As Ben Watson, the executive creative director of Herman Miller, explains, “Ten years ago, 80 to 90 percent of an organization’s budget would be spent on individual workspaces. Now, it’s 65 to 70 percent and is scaling down to 50 percent real fast.”

Watson continues, “Today, 70 percent of work in North America happens with two or more people. It’s no longer about the individual worker. So we need to understand the way collaborative work happens, we need to create microenvironments — a mix of them, in fact, so you want to be at your office more than you want to be at home or at Starbucks.”

Herman Miller employs a proprietary technology that can track, on a smartphone, actual usage of existing office space. At the end of a determined period, software reveals to a company that, say, the boardroom was used for only eight hours one week, the CEO’s office sat idle for all but one day as she was traveling, and the conference rooms were all overbooked. This information allows for better planning but, as Watson stresses, “There’s no panacea. It’s more about diversity than one great new idea. You need a multitude of different work settings, you need very few boardrooms for 16. [We’re focusing on creating] products to create collaborative spaces.”

Campbell McKellar takes this line of thinking even further. She’s the founder of Loosecubes, a business predicated in part on the belief that the traditional office is on the path to extinction. The evidence is there to support her business plan: According to The Freelancers Union, there are 42 million freelancers and contract workers in the United States. In fact, by the end of the decade, it’s predicted that 40 percent of the U.S. workforce will be on contract. Already, over 60 percent of American companies allow their employees to work remotely some of the time. Implicit in this are changing expectations of job security and company loyalty but also a far greater amount of autonomy.

McKellar knows that tradeoff well. After a stint at Goldman Sachs (“The opposite of freedom. No working remotely. You don’t leave”), she hit on the idea for Loosecubes, sort of an Air BnB for desks, a little over a year ago. The company is now the world’s largest community marketplace for shared workspace, with almost 1,700 spaces in 350 cities and 47 countries around the globe.

Here’s how it works: you’re a freelancer, or a business traveler, or a small startup, and you’re tired of working in your basement. Loosecubes’ site will connect you to business owners who have an extra desk or conference room (or couch) to rent by the day or month, whichever is most convenient. Many companies even offer desks for free, so keen are they on the idea that collaboration breeds creativity and innovation.

A woman after my own heart, McKellar was inspired by hours spent at the library, and the varied work environments it allowed for. “One of the things that was so important was that I could change my work environment depending on what I needed to do,” she says. There was a tiny carrel for deep concentration, a light-filled room for reading, a lounge for socializing. So she was surprised that “when you leave college and enter the workforce where you’re expected to do a much broader group of tasks you’re expected to do them all in this one homogenous working environment. You have no control.”

As McKellar sees it, the people poised for success are those most capable of forging their own path. “The office is necessary but it’s up to the individual to choose their right environment,” she says. “Competitive advantage comes from individuals and it comes from individuals connected in some way. We meet some randomly who tell us about their life experience and then … who knows?”

McKellar is talking about the architecture of cooperation that underlies the new world of work.

The now old architecture of work was based on process-centric, collaborative work: I mean that all the people involved in some business process — for example, new customer acquisition for a consumer products company — would work exclusively on that process, and everyone’s work was defined by the process. In principle, each member of the consumer acquisition team would spend 100% of their time on that process, and all the members would be co-located (in cubicles or offices) so that the process could be as efficient as possible. Considerations of what would be best for the individual would be deemed irrelevant. Collaboration was the byword, and web tools were designed around symmetrical projects, where members derive their rights by being ‘invited’ — assigned — to project-based work contexts.

The new architecture of work is now emerging, after decades of transition. White collar work became knowledge work which has now become creative work. The transition from process to networks is not just a recasting, not just a different style of communication. The work is styled as information sharing through social relationships, and where ‘following’ takes the place of ‘invitation’. People coordinate efforts, but work on a wide variety of activities, which are not necessarily co-aligned with others’ work, and which are not necessarily even known in a general way. A new degree of privacy and autonomy animates cooperative work, in comparison to collaborative work. Individuals cooperating hand off information or take on tasks in a fashion that is like businesses cooperating: they see the benefit in cooperating, and don’t have to share a common core set of strategic goals to do so: they don’t need the alignment of goals that defines old style business employment.

Today’s work media tools support a spectrum from tight collaboration to loose cooperation, with broad architectural features, with the most conservative being those marketed to large corporations, in general. In these, the more social characteristics — like following and activity streams — sometimes seem like an afterthought, grafted onto an old school ‘knowledge work’ collaboration model of project contexts, tasks, and documents. The more liberal are built on activity streams and social connections (like following), and bottom-up contexts, like tag-based ‘groupings’ of people.

A grouping is, for example, all the folks that follow a particular tag within a hypothetical social app, like all the people in a music-oriented business that are following the ‘dubstep’ tag. It may seem to be equivalent to defining a group called ‘dubstep’ and inviting people to join it, and participate ‘there’. But the differences between the two are stark in practice. Anyone can follow the tag, no invitations are needed, and chance interaction is increased (so long as the tool allows members of the grouping to discover each other).

In a similar way, the world of freelancing and coworking is different in a similar way from these sorts of association in different flavors of social tools. The physical architecture of work space for free lancers is the reuse of other spaces — like coffee shops and living rooms — which are not purpose built like offices and cubicles. Coworking spaces can be like study halls, or hotel lobbies, or any of a dozen other physical motifs, repurposed.

Obviously, some groups of people are going to be collaborators: working exclusively on one thing with others that are similarly 100% committed. But this is increasingly a boundary case that fewer people will be defined by, and therefore, it will cease to be the dominant motif of physical and social architecture going forward.

And, by the way, libraries may be headed for a dramatic repurposing, too, as coworking spaces. As libraries begin to add digital books as replacements for the physical ones, they will require less space for the ‘stacks’. Communities might benefit by dedicating more space to low-cost coworking in their libraries, in order to keep them relevant in a new era, and not as just a pattern for coworking spaces to reuse.

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