'Hands down, remote work IS the future of work’ says Mike La Rosa as one of the most prominent Coworkaholics, and he shares his vision on the future of work with Rimuuters.
1- Please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your work.
Well, folks call me the “Coworkaholic”. Since 2013, I’ve been studying, researching, and consulting on various types of flexible workspace concepts. In that time, I’ve been to over 600 coworking/flex workspaces in 42+ countries. My partners and I have designed and implemented a coworking space in a hotel, we’ve launched a coworking program for a world-famous comedy club, and have advised companies such as Nike, Bank of America, and Procter & Gamble on implementing flexible workspace solutions. The nickname Coworkaholic is also the name of my travel blog - where I share the best tips and tricks on how to travel and cowork the world (for almost free) using credit card points and frequent flyer miles. Prior to the COVID-19, I had recently stepped away from being an independent consultant because I had been lured to the corporate world with a big, fat paycheck. I was working on some really exciting R&D projects for one of the world’s largest real estate companies. Unfortunately, a pandemic that forces people to flee from offices, led me to be lost in a corporate re-org maze of competing egos and interests. Simply put, by advocating for clients to pivot to Workspace on Demand, rather than locking them into 5-10 year leases, it was bad for a heavily impacted bottom line. It woke me up and reminded me that often when it comes to big business, the focus is usually on what’s best for them, not their clients. That’s when the crew at Running Remote asked me to come aboard and leverage my experience in remote work, flexible workspace, and content creation to become their Head of Content.
2- Why did you choose to be an advocate for remote work? Did a memorable incident steer your decision, and would you like to tell Rimuuters about it?
Honestly, it was the natural progression of my professional life. When I first left “Corporate America”, I just assumed I’d be fine working from home. Because I was a Store Manager for Starbucks prior to taking a cubicle job, I avoided going to coffee shops. They’re too loud and distracting and I don’t like having to ask a total stranger to watch my stuff while I use the restroom. The problem was that I couldn’t focus and stay motivated to work at home either. I was either worried about chores or feeling lonely and isolated. Prior to COVID-19 lockdowns, I’d say that “Coworking Saved My Life” because I struggled with depression. I’m passionate about ensuring remote workers have the tools and resources they need to be their most productive. And that usually includes having a proper workspace. What’s so frustrating about the Coronavirus pandemic (for me) is that there are so many people who are having to work from home that doesn’t have space or bandwidth to do their best work. While remote working will now become more mainstream, once it’s safe to use shared workspaces, I am a firm believer more people than ever will turn to them. Whether it’s to get faster/better internet than they can get at home, avoiding roommates, or simply because they are tired of living/working in a small apartment.
3- You have studied and visited over 600 flex workspace locations in 42 countries. What makes a coworking space excellent for remote workers?
It’s honestly what is best for that specific person. There are SO many different types of spaces, each with their own design, aesthetic and unique amenities - not to mention the actual geographical location. For me, I need to have a blend of easy access to quiet space for phone calls, an open workspace with some people energy for when I am chugging through tasks, a sense of community that doesn’t feel too overbearing, and most of all a safe environment where I can leave my things to go to the restroom or have a lunch break and not worry about stuff disappearing. I’ve never found a coworking space I hated, but there have been somewhere I would say I probably wouldn’t return. Some smaller spaces are so focused on the community that you get the sense you’re being guilted for working rather than participating in events you might not be interested in, or worse going home at the end of the day instead of staying for their board game nights. My recommendation is that you need to test out a couple of different spaces to find out what works best for you. And if your first experience isn’t the best, not just give up. Try others. Just like most folks have a preference for their favorite hotel chain, coffee chain, airline, pizza chain, etc - you’ll see different spaces fit best for different people.
4- As remote working is becoming more common among companies, how do you think it will impact the future of work? Do you think the freelance economy will grow faster in the future?
Hands down, remote work IS the future of work. It’s breaking down the old fashioned mentality that you can only get work done when chained to a desk. So many executives (especially those that traveled frequently) would all work from home or remotely but then insist that their employees be in offices from 9-5, M-F. When I worked in those environments back in the day I don’t think I was as productive as I am now that I’m working at various times. I get more done with a distributed team around the world by working from 6a-10a and then again from 7pm-11pm because I have a far better work/life balance.
I don’t think the freelance economy is going to grow faster simply because of remote working. It’s a complicated chicken and egg situation. A lot of companies are cutting headcount and so those who are laid off are almost forced to become freelancers because the job market is so awful right now. There’s also a lot of folks that are simply so over the bullshit of being a corporate “cog in the wheel”. A lot of people are leaving their jobs because they feel locked into the old M-F 9-5 or feel trapped in the corporate bureaucracy where they can’t really control or have an impact on anything.
5- How do you see the future of coworking spaces? What are your expectations or predictions?
I was laughed on a stage at a conference about five years ago for saying “the future of coworking is hotels and the future of hotels is coworking”. But now, I feel totally vindicated. Two years ago I consulted for Marriott and helped them develop a strategy to incorporate coworking services into all their Sheraton properties. And, I use the word “services” intentionally. When I worked on that project I knew they were ahead of the curve, but still could have remained an outlier. Now, every hotel brand has a workspace package, where they are promoting new ways to use all that empty space they have. The future of coworking is “Space as a Service” - it’s truly the new SaaS. Even large multinational corporations want to empower their employees to have access to “on-demand” space. But the difference between empty space and “on-demand” often has to do with additional services, such as booking catering, managing access (to protect proprietary/confidential work), cleaning (providing a healthy and safe space) or AV needs such as dongles, projectors, video conferencing equipment, etc.
We’re seeing a lot of large companies shutting down their own office space - keeping only a main center and following a “hub and spoke” model. Many of them aren’t laying off any of those workers, they just want to be untethered from the large overhead of a 5-10 year lease. We’re going to see employees only utilizing their own company’s offices if it’s specifically for collaboration or brainstorming or if their work product requires access to specific hardware, tools, or security protocols on closed networks. Most of the workforce will only need to access that space 1-2 days a week, typically in downtown districts, while supplementing the rest of the time with a blend of working from home or coworking space that’s far closer to their home the other 3-4 days a week.
Ridesharing, Airbnb, and overall mobile ordering have created an expectation of a “one-stop-shop”. I want to be able to find the space that I need, book it/pay for it, and access it all in one app. Most large commercial real estate is in for a rude awakening. An industry colleague put it best when saying that buildings are offering an old school cell phone that simply makes calls where customers are demanding a smartphone.
6- Are there any tools you find indispensable as you work remotely? Could you name some?
I can’t live without the Nextstand Laptop Stand. Honestly, it’s the best money I’ve ever spent. Even now that I’m working primarily at home and not while traveling 250+ days a year. It helps with “tech neck”, is super affordable, and folds up to take little or no room in your bag. I don’t know how folks can get through a day of working while looking down on a laptop. A second monitor is also a must-have for me. I love that Apple now supports “Sidecar” which turns any tablet into a second monitor. I used to have to travel with a USB portable monitor - they still are nice, but now with a larger iPad Pro, it’s one less thing for me to carry. Noise-canceling headphones are also a must-have, as well as a good battery pack.