Who Needs an Office Building in the Sharing Economy?

Office workers spend about a third of their time at their desks. The rest of the time, that work space is idle. That's wasteful. It wastes the rent paid on those square feet of space. It wastes the energy spent heating, cooling, lighting and powering it. Does that employee even need to commute to the office to do her job? If not, that's even more wasted time, space and energy.

Idle office spaces are perishable goods. They spoil on the shelf and we throw them away. Such inefficiency is not long for this century. The solution is "collaborative consumption." To start us off, a mobile app called LiquidSpace is teaming up with forward-thinking local governments to find a better way for our increasingly digitized businesses and institutions to share more and waste less.

Space as a Service

LiquidSpace is a free iOS and Android app that lets building owners list available spaces for remote workers to use. They can charge for the time if they wish. Remote workers can find and book workspace using the app.

"For us, the postcard from the future is more happy, productive people working in fewer buildings," says LiquidSpace CEO Mark Gilbreath. He refers to idle office space as "perishable," a great buzz word for the wastefulness of our economy's current arrangement.

LiquidSpace started with privately owned spaces, but the next big push is to get government buildings on board. It's launching pilot projects in San Francisco, Palo Alto and Santa Cruz, California, and there are huge potential wins for all sides if this idea takes off.

Zero Waste by 2020

LiquidSpace syncs nicely with the San Francisco Department of the Environment's campaign to achieve zero waste in the city by 2020. Director Melanie Nutter explains that this effort began with reducing obvious forms of wasteful consumption, pollution and carbon emissions. But more recently, the department realized it could reach its target by "focusing not just on buying less but on sharing more."

The pilot program in San Francisco will allow Department of the Environment employees to opt into using LiquidSpace. The department has outgrown its current building, so employees are often scrambling for space to meet. LiquidSpace will hopefully relieve this pressure and make shared space more efficient internally. When the department moves into a new building soon, it will make space in its EcoCenter building publicly available for remote workers.

"The idea is that Department of the Environment can be a test department for the city at large," Nutter says. "We'll give our findings to the mayor's office, as well as to this new Sharing Economy Working Group that was just formed last week, so the city at large can consider this kind of system for all departments."

Ending the Torturous Commute

Palo Alto partnered with LiquidSpace in January to list its study rooms on LiquidSpace. The city's goal is to save its high-tech workforce the time, effort and energy of commuting and keep people closer to home while working.

Likewise, in Santa Cruz, around 30% of the workforce makes what Gilbreath calls "a rather torturous commute into the valley on a daily basis." By deploying LiquidSpace in 10 Santa Cruz public library buildings, the city and its workers will be more efficient. Santa Cruz has also decided to monetize the arrangement and charge to rent the space, providing a new revenue stream for the city's libraries.

To date, LiquidSpace lists 16 government buildings offering 27 workspaces to both government employees and citizens; 14 of the buildings are California public libraries. The gained efficiency can be measured in time, space and money. This leads to both economic growth and reduced environmental impact. Nobody loses from the arrangement, and LiquidSpace hopes to prove so with these public partnerships.

After all, the U.S. government owns 772 million square feet of office space (as of 2010). Think of the potential economic and environmental gains from sharing those buildings.

Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock