onsdag 8 mars 2017

Strangers are welcome: hosting pop-up offices in the Hoffice network

Last week I submitted an extended abstract to the upcoming 4th International Workshop on the Sharing Economy that will be held in Lund this summer (June 15-16). The abstract/proposed paper is based on Emma Lundin's master's thesis, "Designing Sharing Platforms - A study of the Hoffice coworking network" which she defended back in June last year. I was both the principal and the advisor of the thesis and it was a neat study. We already back then discussed the possibility of reshaping Emma's thesis into a research paper and this is it.

The workshop is organized by The International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics (IIIEE) at Lund University together with the Department of Urban Planning and Environment at KTH. I ought to know the people at KTH, but the conference website is not big on names of people involved in organizing the workshop. After having submitted our extended abstract, we now lean back and wait for the better part of a month:

"All submissions will be subjected to a peer review by the Scientific Committee. The authors will be informed about the acceptance decision by 1 April, 2017."

If our proposed paper is accepted, we will then have two months to write up the paper (4000-6000 words) "although this is not mandatory". What that means is that even should our proposed paper be accepted and then written up (which we have every intention of doing), presenting it at the workshop will not constitute it being "published". The website does however state that "We are planning to edit a book and/or a special issue of the Journal of Cleaner Production on Sharing Economy". If our proposal is accepted, that's for sure what we will go for. Here's the extended abstract (900 words):

Strangers are welcome: hosting pop-up offices in the Hoffice network

Daniel Pargman1, 2 & Emma Lundin1

1) KTH Royal Institute of Technology, School of Computer Science and Communication, Department of Media Technology and Interaction Design, Stockholm, Sweden.
2) KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Center for Sustainable Communications, Stockholm, Sweden

The term “sharing economy” (and related terms, e.g. “collaborative consumption”, “platform cooperativism” etc.) allows for new forms of organisation that are mediated or enabled by the large-scale use of a panoply of digital technologies. The costs in time, effort and money for organising has decreased to such an extent that some things that were impossible before are possible now and some things that were hard before have become easy now. These trends were noted already a decade ago (Shirky 2008) and have grown stronger ever since.

Digital systems have enabled the coordination of peer-to-peer sharing of goods and services also between strangers through commercial, nonprofit or community-based online platforms. With growing concerns about climate change and wasteful habits of overconsumption, collaborative consumption has created the potential for consuming less. These systems also harbour the potential not just for bringing strangers together but also for transforming strangers into acquaintances or even friends. The sharing economy thus has potential implications for economic, ecological as well as social sustainability. By sharing under-utilized assets (our homes, tools, vehicles etc.), we can spend less, use our resources more efficiently and strengthen social bonds and communities.

Coworking is a style of working together in a shared environment and it fits particular groups better than others, e.g freelancers, entrepreneurs, students and the self-employed. As with the sharing economy in general, coworking spaces also harbor the potential for various gains, e.g. the potential to save costs (economic sustainability) and resources (ecological sustainability) as well as the promise of having colleagues (of sorts) and being part of a workplace (social sustainability). While there are many commercial services that offer co-working spaces such as Workaround, WeWork or Spacehop, we will here present the results of a study of Hoffice - a non-profit grassroots network for hosting and offering pop-up one-day offices/events in the homes of network members.  

Hoffice was started in Stockholm at the end of 2013 and it is based on offering the possibility of working for free in other people’s homes. Hoffice helps people arrange impromptu “home offices” where hosts share their kitchen table and other workspaces resources (internet connection, microwave oven and not the least their company!) with people who can “book” a seat for the day. The purpose of these work events is to create free workspaces as well as social, structured and disciplined work environments that allows individuals to benefit from others’ support and intelligence. While Hoffice groups nowadays exist in many different cities and countries, the Stockholm group is the largest and most active group with almost 2000 members and multiple Hoffice events being organised each week.

In order to organise Hoffice events, many resources must come together of which some are more obvious than other. There must of course be a sufficient number of members, suitable dwellings and a digital (online) platform that supports the coordination of the activities in question. Other, more intangible resources must also exist such as trust in strangers, goodwill to open up your home to others and a belief in the Hoffice idea itself. It is hard to know what the greatest bottlenecks are, but one thing that is crucial for making Hoffice work is the presence of enough people who have the resources and the will to open up their homes to others by hosting Hoffice events.

This paper describes the results of a study of people in the Hoffice network who have hosted Hoffice events in their homes. We were primarily interested in two things: 1) key values as well as drivers and barriers for hosting Hoffice events and 2) the connection between motivational drivers and barriers in relation to the possibilities and the limitations of the online platform that Hoffice uses to coordinate activities. While our study concretely resulted in a proposal for the functionality of a future online platform (e.g. a prototype of a new system), we here concentrate on presenting the results of the first part of the study, e.g. on drivers, tensions and barriers between host’s intentions and the functionality of the current online platform (e.g. a Facebook group).

Six semi-structured interviews with host who had organised multiple Hoffice events (ranging from 2 to 34) between 2014 and 2015 were conducted to gain qualitative answers to questions that were divided into three different sections; BackgroundAbout Hoffice, and Online platform. Participant observations were performed (i.e. participating in Hoffice events) to better understand the structure of an Hoffice event, and to gain a better understanding of the hosts’ drivers and needs in relation to the functionality of the online platform. 

Results from our study indicate that communication between people both online and in person is important when people engage in collaborative consumptions. The structure - and the limitations - of the functionality of the Facebook group also has a great impact on how members of the Hoffice network organise, communicate and disseminate information. It is furthermore not hard to imagine that some of the limitations of the current online platform has an impact on people’s willingness to host Hoffice events. One obvious strength and limitation is the fact that many people in Sweden already have a Facebook account, but that Hoffice users currently are forced to have Facebook accounts in order to partake in Hoffice events and in the Hoffice network. We end the paper by discussing characteristics of the Hoffice coworking platform that makes it differ significantly from other for-profit solutions.

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