A consultant who works from home wants to host a meeting somewhere with a professional atmosphere. A marketing VP traveling abroad wants a place to work other than the hotel lobby or a Starbucks. A software engineer wants a quiet spot to resolve office problems while on vacation.
Workspace-finding applications, such as Desktime, LiquidSpace, Loosecubes, and OpenDesks, are cropping up to help people in situations like these find good places to get things done. Some apps also help office owners fill extra space with people who have established a reputation for reliability.
Typically, a service can be accessed via either a website or a mobile reservation and payment app. These contain a catalog of temporary office spaces—some in dedicated shared work buildings, work-friendly coffee shops, and business centers, and others within the offices of startups or corporations that have unneeded space. Loosecubes, for example, offers about 1,800 spaces in 52 countries.
The apps aim to take advantage of the trend toward increasingly mobile workers. These days it’s not just freelancers, consultants, and the self-employed who go hunting for wireless signals with a laptop bag slung over one shoulder. Forty percent of IBM’s workforce works outside IBM real estate. The U.S. General Services Administration announced at the end of July that it will renovate its Washington, D.C., office building to accommodate about three times as many employees, mostly by eliminating private spaces and instituting a system whereby employees schedule desk space when they plan to come in to the office.
More than 10 million people in the United States are entirely mobile workers, with no permanent office space outside the home, estimates Chris DiFonzo, founder and CEO of OpenDesks. Adding in those who are mobile at least three times a month puts the number above 40 million.
For a time, many of these mobile workers parked themselves in coffee shops, but, DiFonzo says, “the café era is over.” For one thing, coffee shops nationwide have taken steps to discourage people from squatting for hours over tables and outlets. Workers might be better off finding new workspaces anyway, says Anthony Marinos of Loosecubes. “I don’t know if anyone ever liked working at coffee shops,” he says. “What do you do when you have to go to the bathroom? Do you pack up all your things every time? How often do you have to buy drinks?”
Marinos argues that shared office space not only is more practical but also can provide valuable social opportunities. For example, he says, instead of requesting informational interviews, perhaps recent college grads could spend a few days working in the offices of companies that interest them, where they would have a chance to make natural social connections with potential employers. Loosecubes itself opens its office to mobile workers, and recently partnered with a graphic designer it found that way.