Photo of a cubicle farm

The emerging “sharing economy” consists of businesses dedicated to changing the very way in which we live. Tools to improve efficiency, lower cost, and encourage collaborative consumption now serve as the driving force of these companies, creating a whole new kind of economy.

Arguably, the most significant progress thus far has been made in the workplace.

The work environment is undergoing significant change. We used to be a nation of office workers. We committed our lives to single companies, and went to work in the same location every day.

Things have changed. We’re now a group of 1 billion mobile workers, and growing. Mobile workers are catalyzing major changes in how we do business.

Mobile and cloud computing technologies have made roaming connectivity and real-time collaboration not only possible, but commonplace. There is a steady and continuing shift toward shared workplaces, both public and private.

Most importantly, we have a collective mandate for sustainability and efficiency, both environmental and economic. We have laid the foundation of a new sharing economy.

Not A Temporary Change

The New York Times recently reported that the percentage of temporary workers hired in the private sector has increased drastically, with many companies now organizing around short-to medium-term projects that can be doled out to temporary or contract workers.

Progressive companies realize they will benefit from offering employees flexibility with where they work. Plus, more companies want their workers closer to their customers in order to serve them better. This results in having more workers outside the corporate facility.

And it’s mutual. Today’s employees demand that business practices adapt to their way of living and doing, blurring the lines between home and work. Mobile workers don’t want to work in their car, or an endless string of coffee shops.

We want access to quiet offices, connectivity, and the ability to have productive meetings, as we want and when we want.

The very idea of location itself is evolving in the minds of today’s workers. We don’t necessarily think of a workplace as a fixed, physical location. Instead, many companies today are born virtual, with no physical headquarters.

One Place Does Not Fit All

In parallel, there is an increasing supply of office space available to solve the needs of mobile workers. The challenge is most people don’t know how to find the space, or access it.  There is plenty of capacity — it’s just a matter of matching needs to ability, in real-time.

Marketwatch recently published an article titled: “Say Goodbye to the Office Cubicle.” It pointed to rising corporate office vacancy rates, as high as 30% in central districts.

Those vacancies shouldn’t be understood as a lack of demand for office space. Workers still need space. Employers still need space. The space just needs to be more flexible, especially in terms of where it is available, as much as when.

For many organizations, the traditional 5-7 year lease is, frankly, daunting. The commitment seems too long and the cost too high. But these companies still need space and resources to scale their businesses.

What we want — and need, frankly — is a more fluid and flexible approach to corporate real estate that is on-demand, at our service and placeless.

But in order for such an approach to be sustainable, and accommodate new work styles, both sides of the equation must receive mutual gain – those with excess capacity, and those in need of a place to work. Each side receiving even further gain with the introduction of new marketplaces, transaction service providers, vacancy locators, middleware and more.

To say the least, mobile work behaviors are creating a giant market opportunity and many ambitious companies have already started seizing the opportunity to fill the needs created by it.

There’s A Marketplace For That

At the highest level, technology has enabled new, powerful marketplaces to be created that match needs of customers with availability of valuable assets, of which office space is just one example.

We are learning how to share and how to rent things. There are now marketplaces for all sorts of sharing – cars, chores, lessons, goods, space and more.  AirBnB, which has amassed a $1B valuation, has created a marketplace for lodging, leveraging unused space in homes.

Peer-to-peer networks that match supply to demand have established a new norm for getting things that we want and want done. We already have more ready access to the sharing economy than you probably realize. This is similar to the way Ebay ushered in the birth of P2P online marketplaces for exchanging consumer goods.

Mark Zuckerberg famously said that everything that can be social, will be social. I think that everything that can be shared, will be shared.

Big changes are afoot, in how companies are started, how they are managed, and how they are operated. Seeing the hidden opportunities all around us is quickly becoming core competence for employers and employees alike.

Excess capacity of many kinds has sat on the sideline for too long, and we’re only just starting to understand how to leverage it in new ways.

Our culture is starting to reinforce notions of capacity sharing and mutual economic gain as normative, even mainstream behavior, even despite some high-profile mishaps. We can expect even more innovation in the months and years to come.

Photo of Tod Francis, Shasta VenturesTod Francis is a managing director at Shasta Ventures and has 25 years of experience working with consumer-driven companies. At Shasta, Tod is an investor in LiquidSpace and his investment focus is on technology-enabled companies serving consumers.

Top photo: Pell Studio/Shutterstock

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