Coworking-1When I first brought up the idea of coworking taking over colleges, it seemed like an absurd notion. But there is a secret reason that very few people are grasping.

At first glance, the highly structured ivory towers of academia seem to be on the opposite end of the spectrum from the unstructured anything-goes world of coworking. But the more I thought about it, it seems inevitable that the two are on a collision course.

In fact, it’s already happening, but not in the ways you may imagine.

Geekdom, a San Antonio-based coworking hub launched in 2012, has piloted an educational program called SparkEd where over 1,500 young people have enrolled in their workshops and “weekend camps.”

In Baltimore, the team behind Betamore has positioned itself as a coworking campus for entrepreneurs and their technology. Its purpose is to invigorate the Baltimore ecosystem with a unique curriculum that is open to the community.

The Posner Center in Denver is a network of over 200 companies focused on the international development of agriculture, education, energy, health, infrastructure, microfinance, and various other fields. As a mission oriented coworking facility, they are very selective in who they choose to work with, and education and training courses are an every day occurrence.

Our work at DaVinci Institute is also a prime example with our 11-13 week DaVinci Coder courses for learning new programming languages in a coworking environment.

No, there are no coworking locations currently offering a four-year bachelor degree, but that’s exactly the point. The status that colleges think they’re conveying is not the same status that today’s young people care to receive.

In the emerging gig economy where 36% of all work is already being done by freelancers, Millennials no longer feel they have the luxury of blowing 4-5 years and a boatload of money learning abstract concepts when they can take a 3-4 month coding bootcamp and learn while doing actual work that they’re being paid for.

Recent DaVinci Coders workshop at the DaVinci Institute
Recent DaVinci Coders workshop at the DaVinci Institute

The Recent Coworking Surge

So what is it about coworking, defined as membership-based workspaces where diverse groups of freelancers, remote workers, and other independent professionals work together in a shared, communal setting, so effective?

An estimated 20,000 coworking facilities currently dot the American landscape, and over 1,700 have signed their allegiance to the Coworking Manifesto, an online document that spells out the theory, philosophy, and working strategy of this new movement.

Here are ten stats explaining why coworking has become so insanely popular:

  1. 40% of the workers will be freelancers, temps, independent contractors and solopreneurs by 2020.
  2. 70% reported they felt healthier than they did working in a traditional office setting.
  3. 64% of coworkers are better able to complete tasks on time.
  4. 68% said they were able to focus better while co-working.
  5. 92% are satisfied with their co-working space.
  6. 91% have better interactions with others after co-working.
  7. 60% are more relaxed at home since co-working.
  8. 78% of coworkers are under 40.
  9. 90% said they felt more confident when working.
  10. 50% report higher incomes.
Flexible space for flexible projects, events, and traning
Flexible space for flexible projects, events, and traning

The Business of “You”

How many schools are currently prepping students to be “freelancer-ready?” In a word – none. It’s simply not happening.

Instead, the hard transition from student grunt to skilled worker is occurring in radically new ways – through friends, through trial and error, and through existing project workers.

Mentorship is quickly becoming the new classroom.

When LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman says, “You need to think and act like you’re running a start-up,” he’s referring to your own career.

Every new free agent that enters the project-to-project job world quickly realizes that their growing lists of questions simply don’t have textbook answers. They have to find their own answers, and the quickest way is through peer groups and mentors.

Living in a country with the highest educated waitresses and bartenders in the world, an increasingly vocal underground feels they’ve been lied to. Academic credentials no longer live up to the promise implied with every new student loan that’s being applied for.

That’s one of the reasons coworking is becoming so trendy; they’re looking for a better network.

The business of "you" is being defined by your own social circles
The business of “you” is being defined by your own social circles

Finding a New Path to Success

Anyone growing up has a rough idea of what they think success should look like.

For teenagers, their heroes are people who have launched their own video games, started a band, filmed a rockumentary, created a mobile app, written a graphic novel, or won a major video game tournament. To them, the accolades and notoriety that come with this kind of experience far outweighs the tedium involved in credentialing new skills.

For Millennials, nothing resonates quite like being involved in an authentic accomplishment-based learning experience where meaningful work is making a meaningful impact.

Experience trumps diplomas every day of the weeks.

Geeking out is an everyday occurrence
Geeking out is an everyday occurrence

A Tech Industry that Doesn’t Care About Diplomas

Many of today’s tech gurus have been self-taught. Bill Gates, Tom Hanks, Madonna, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Dell, Paul Allen, Ben Stiller, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Sean Combs are some of the smartest and most influential people in the world, none of whom graduated from college.

When applying for a coding job, company interviewers are far more interested in a person’s capabilities than their time spent in academia. In fact a computer science degree will often work against them as it conveys far more theory and far less actual coding.

In the fast moving tech world where innovations are typically 7-10 years ahead of academia’s talent pool, those who can demonstrate jerry-rigged accomplishments and resourceful curiosity become the most sought after.

Emerging fields like augmented reality designers, virtual reality educators, user experience architects, artificial intelligence testers, search engine optimizers, and online reputation managers are all part of a growing lists of jobs that have no university pathway to get there.

Much like becoming a rock star, game designer, professional athlete, race car driver, or movie star, landing a dream job has never been about taking the safe route, especially since there’s virtually no such thing as a safe route anymore.

Game rooms are common in coworking spaces
Game rooms are common in coworking spaces

Competing for Fun

Even though colleges get in trouble for promoting the fun side of campus life, it becomes a major part of every incoming student’s decision

Coworking facilities are also competing for the “fun” crowd, with many offering free beer, free food, ping pong, arcade games, air hockey, foosball, exercise rooms, indoor theaters, bocce ball, and more.

Will we see coworking sports teams competing against other coworking sports teams anytime soon? Yes, but it will probably be in non-traditional sports like ping pong, Arduino hackathons, and video game tournaments instead of football, baseball, and hockey.

Traditional tenant-landlord relationships simply don’t work very well in today's fluid society
Traditional tenant-landlord relationships simply don’t work very well in today’s fluid society

The Secret Reason Why Coworking will Replace Colleges

We are moving into a very fluid society and traditional tenant-landlord relationships simply don’t work very well.

Signing a ten-year lease in a world being framed around exponential change measured in days rather than years is a quantum leap of faith most companies would rather not take.

Real estate has become a millstone around every fast-moving company’s neck.

For this reason coworking spaces have been quickly filling up with small corporate teams, telecommuters, and remote project groups, each of whom place a far greater emphasis on flexibility than cost and stability.

Colleges are being caught up in similar dynamics.

Since most colleges have large real estate holdings, they’ve also had to deal with rapidly escalating maintenance, janitorial, security, and facility overhead costs.

The inflexible cost of operations is running headlong into a world where shifting attitudes, lifestyles, and career goals are not only more common, they’re becoming the norm.

This means colleges in the future will not only have to deal with rapid ebbs and flows in student populations and staffing, but campus operations as well.

That’s why a host of hybrid coworking style experiments will begin to permeate campus life. Flexibility is key, and the rigid decision-making processes involved in most universities simply won’t work.

Final Thoughts

Colleges are in a scaling-down mode, many fighting to survive, while coworking is in a massive scaling up mode with big time investment money paving the way for rapid expansion.

In this rapidly escalating battle for talent, coworking is becoming cooler, trendier, less expensive, and far more fun than spending countless grueling hours in a classroom memorizing troves of terminology and squishy theories while watching the tuition meter in the front of the room click another notch higher with every word uttered from the professor’s mouth.

Will we see coworking universities in the future that offer college credits for doing freelance work? Yes, I believe this will happen very soon.

There are very few things in human existence that will remain untouched by today’s entrepreneurial teams scouring the world looking for new opportunities, and colleges have become a prime target.

By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything


9 Responses to “Will Coworking Replace Colleges?”

Comments List

  1. <a href='' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Cameron Cowan</a>

    I agree with you but your reasoning is wrong. The University was never created to be a skills factory. That always took place elsewhere. The University is suitable for the rounding out of an individual and their overall education in arts, science, philosophy, and critical thinking. I'm sorry but co-working isn't going to replace that process. Experience might trump degrees but those degrees formulate how you think. I'm constantly appalled at the low level of educational acumen that is present in the fields that you're describing. What's even more funny is that they are coming to me (someone who did well in Academia before going his own way) to learn about literature, art, and philosophy. The desire is there, it just has to be presented in the right way which is why I do what I do. Quit trying to kill the University, let the University transcend to fulfill it's true purpose.
    • FuturistSpeaker

      Hi Cameron, Thanks for weighing in on this. Contrary to what some may believe, I would love to help universities survive. But I don't think that's possible in their current form. I also don't think this is an either-or situation. A blended college-coworking hybrid could leverage the best of both worlds. Futurist Thomas Frey
  2. <a href='' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>MicheleElys</a>

    Tom, Excellent article with more than theorized examples, one's that are proving themselves as you open your new location DaVinci group. I wish you great success in this location as you expand the horizons for many to come. Look forward to seeing the institute in the near future. Co-working is more satisfying for all workers, whether entrepreneurial or small to large business. Being collaborative, I found myself naturally transforming my work and life in style synergetically (its a word now:) working and forming new office with some colleagues whose work influences our fields, augmenting the peripheral sides where we touch each other in knowledge and yet work slightly different in the health field. This is a share of knowledge and expertise, conjoined. Yet as we all maneuver together progression in thought expands our abilities in the services each person offers to clients. Not only have I joined in co-sharing office space, we are sharing educational backgrounds in producing seminars on neuroscience, anatomy, behavioral, psychological, and other health field expertise involving the human anatomy. Furthering this venue, we expand sharing our networks with each other. The idea of co-working seems to have grown further in most all classes - meetings - and groups I attend. The old patterns of "competition" evaporates, instead we grow together in knowledge while furthering our exposure to other groups. Our workplaces have changed in - viewing how people are found for positions is one venue we may look at through Liz Ryans blog and articles via the Human Workplace. Our views must change. And thankfully, replacing competition with cooperation-collective embellishment of wealth to share. Wealth is no longer viewed as finite. 1. we fell into a computer era that almost created hermitage settings, 2. people walk around in their zones of cell phones and PC, not mingling 3. many regular jobs have increased the normal 40 cursory hours to 55 and 60, where was personal time, where was the creative time in our much needed social respect? 4. it appeared all to be narcissistic and yet the longing for the human touch began to appear feasible with online connections. However, it does not work for the masses 5. co-working brings the computer -cell phone era back to a human face to face existence while broadening social acumen - culture - and sharing of knowledge. It's a win win for everyone. Time for our academia institutions to seize the moment and change up! Thank you for this article and the links. Humans are social creatures who continually need creative mindsets to explore deeper more vast regions in keeping up with technology, and the expansion of life. This wondrous period in life, resembling a "Star Trek" generation in the 21century modal. EXCITING to be part of and expand along side. Cheers MicheleElys
  3. <a href='' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>John Vivadelli</a>

    Organizations once protected themselves with hard, impermeable boundaries. Employees were "in" and everyone else was "out". Buildings had hard, impermeable walls, keeping employees "in" and everyone else "out". Then we had outsourcing, then crowdsourcing, now CoWorking. Each step represents a further, fundamental transformation of the boundaries that exist between both organizations and the buildings in which they operate. What once existed as solid delineations are becoming semi-permeable membranes that allow much easier movement of both the virtual and physical worlds across these once firm, fixed walls. Every car is a taxi, Every house is a hotel, Every tenant is a landlord.
  4. <a href='http://Website' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Karl Horst</a>

    "For teenagers, their heroes are people who have launched their own video games, started a band, filmed a rockumentary, created a mobile app, written a graphic novel, or won a major video game tournament. To them, the accolades and notoriety that come with this kind of experience far outweighs the tedium involved in credentialing new skills." Please be clear that these are the "heroes" of American youth. Here in Germany, where a university degree actually means something, we still favor people who have actually accomplished something, not just virtual accomplishments. Winning a video game tournament is paramount to winning a three legged race; it's nice, but what has it really accomplished other than you feel good about yourself. Really? But that shouldn't be a surprize to anyone considering Americans are all about feeling good, rather than actually accomplishing anything of real value. Sure, Facebook is worth billions, but like so many internet websites, the actual tangible value is zero. We have lived without Facebook for thousands of years, and the world would be no worse off without it. However medicine, clean water and alternate energy are things we can't live without. So good luck learning the skills you need to do those sorts of things without a real university education. Perhaps your universities wouldn't be such a failure if they actually taught subjects that mattered, like hard science and math. Not useless degrees in creative writing, communications and web design. While German engineering students are actually learning a skill they can market, your new generation of bloggers will remain in their parents basements trying to pay off their student loans. Good luck with that.
    • FuturistSpeaker

      Hi Karl, Thanks for your comments but I couldn't disagree with you more. Thankfully most of the world does not see things from your perspective. The same argument about video games could be made about all professional sports. The survival of the wisest has surpassed the survival of the fittest a long time ago. Your top-down approach to how the world should work has gotten us, and Germany in particular, into trouble far too many times in the past. Most universities are a great example of this, but many see the handwriting on the wall and are experimenting, trying to improve. Yes, there will always be better ways of doing things, but starting a discussion with "I'm right and you're wrong" rarely accomplishes anything. Futurist Thomas Frey
  5. <a href='http://Website' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Karl Horst</a>

    Hallo Thomas, Here's a simple statement - without hardware, software can not exist. Right or wrong? The truth of the matter is none of what you propose is possible without hard science and engineering. Software, and all the apps in the world, can't exist without advancements in computer hardware. And hardware is based on mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and material science. It's just that simple. Today's iPhone has more computing power than the computers used in the Apollo command module, but it was advancements in hardware, not software, that made the iPhone possible. It goes without saying that nearly all of the technology that we take for granted in every day life was generated from either university and/or corporate research. Very little actually came out of someone's garage. Yes, we all know Jobs and Wozniak built the first Apple computer in their garage. But they used an integrated computer chip (invented by Texas Instruments) which is based on the transistor (invented by Bell Labs). And did you seriously compare Steve Jobs to Matt Damon? That's like comparing Jack Kirby to Madonna! The bottom line is simple; without hardware (based on electrical, mechanical and material engineering) software can't exist. Period. And advancements in those disciplines are not possible without an education in hard subjects like advanced math and physics. I'm curious - based on your concept of coworking education, what's your plan for expanding the future computer hardware which, as we all know, is the foundation for all software development? As for your comment about Germany being in trouble, our students enjoy free university education and employment for our graduates is higher than in the US. Student loan debt in the US is around $1.2 trillion. In Germany, it's about zero. And I agree fully with your comment on video games and sports. I would love to hear your argument for why a college football coach should be paid over $2 million while a tenured professor in physics barely makes $85k. If there's a country with an education problem, it's the US, not Germany. My advice is for your students to spend more time in the physics lab rather than sitting around Starbucks blogging nonsense. Grüsse, Karl
  6. <a href='' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Don</a>

    Coworking spaces are innovators. In turn, they draw innovators to their doors. For example, shared workplaces like coworking and executive suites have been early adoptors of digital receptionist, as evidence by this article: I anticipate the share office environment will continue to explode in terms of number of locations and popularity.
  7. Gemma Reeves

    Coworking has indeed grown during the past years. However, I believe that the conventional commercial spaces (yes, that includes universities) will continue to survive at least for a few more decades. Unless the virtual space really takes over everything. In fact, I came across this post that discusses the different pros and cons between conventional serviced offices and coworking.

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