However, to attract offices, apps have to offer a variety of amenities. “The extra spaces are still an outlier,” says DiFonzo, explaining that there’s still a lot of education and outreach to be done to persuade most companies to share their space with mobile workers.
While sharing space can bring in extra money for an office, many companies aren’t prepared for the headaches of managing mobile workers, says Sam Rosen, who runs Desktime. Apps need to help companies schedule their spaces, ask people for rent, and perform other vital tasks.
Mark Gilbreath, CEO of LiquidSpace, has taken this principle a step further. “Letting all manner of people use a space is a nonstarter in our minds,” he says. “Creating some form of trust mechanism is a critical requirement.”
LiquidSpace is designed to build up a set of credentials (a “passport”) for each user. Users must apply to a space for a “visa” to get access, or even to see if a spot is available. The system also waits until users have been approved and have arrived to release sensitive information such as door-access codes and Internet passwords.
Of course, the apps have to serve users’ needs as well. DiFonzo says that OpenDesks users divide into two groups: those who like to plan ahead and reserve spaces as they would in a hotel, and those who want something on the spot. He and other companies are building in mobile and social features to help users in both situations.
Most app developers believe that sharing office space can help businesses become more responsible and sustainable. “It’s about more than empty space,” says Rosen. “It’s about taking the space that we have and using it better.”
However, they agree that if this new way of working is to gain mainstream acceptance, it has to be convenient, inexpensive, and useful. Gilbreath, of LiquidSpace, says that workplace-finding apps need to give users a real-time solution when they need one: “I’m at the corner of Market and Third Street right now. I need to work for the next hour. Where can I work right now?”