Cubed: coworking – the secret future of the workplace is already here

“We should be more astonished than we are…” said Nikil Saval, author of Cubed: the secret history of the workplace. “People that don’t have to go to an office are paying to”. He is, of course, talking about coworking.

Having researched and written about the secret history of the office, from the Burolandschaft, literally ‘office landscape’ of the 1950s, to the modern technology startup amusement park, complete with a slide, putting green, and indoor garden, Nikil has seen just about every type of office and documented the impact of each on its employees.

NikilSavalHe started his talk at the Rotman School of Management back in Apr with a description of an office rage incident captured for posterity by closed circuit and smartphone camera. It is one of many on the internet demonstrates the impact that the modern office environment can have on modern-day workers. Throwing large CRT computer monitors, taking baseball bats to a variety of peripherals and attacking cubicle walls with almost superhuman strength. We’ve seen the demise of a printer Office Space.

stapler-in-jelloMost of us have been there. We’ve worked in office environments that have sucked the energy out of our souls, where co-workers have annoyed us to the point that we want to poke out their eyes. We can relate to scenes from the comedy series The Office and, although very few of us are likely to have had our stapler encased in Jello, many of us have thought about doing it (or something similar) to our colleagues’ desk equipment at one point or another.

Nikil explains that, having worked in a variety of different offices while working in publishing and financial services, he became fascinated about how the modern workplace came to be. He explains that nobody knows where the concept for the modern office came from – he’s read white papers, marketing literature and studied the designers behind the first office systems, like Action Office [versions 1 and 2]. He says that while it is unclear where it came from, one thing is clear – that human beings were not designed to live in cubicles. Nor is the modern open plan startup office necessarily a perfect environment for productive work.

And so, the modern coworking space. Coworking is, perhaps, the elusive third way. It is an office that isn’t an office. It is a place where people can come to work but where serendipitous encounters, the objective behind the modern workplace, are part of its fabric. It is why people who don’t need to go to an office pay to go to an office. The coworking movement is growing, particularly in Toronto, to the point that some companies are using them as the basis for their corporate headquarters. To illustrate coworking, Nikil uses Grid70, an initiative in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where four companies have created a shared coworking space to promote collaborative thinking and create new thinking.

It’s unfortunate that he didn’t reference any local Toronto coworking spaces while he was here, as we are all the secret future of the office.


Look for Angela Bepple’s review of Cubed on the Camaraderie blog in a few weeks!


This is a guest blog post by Lyndon Johnson, Founder of Think Different[ly].