Companies have long used what I call the "Goldilocks principle" to move product. Say, for instance, I want a snack -- something a little worse (less healthy) than a piece of fruit or a rice cake, but nowhere nearly as bad as a "death muffin." Enter Nabisco, which cleverly created an entire line of midget versions of its popular snacks called 100 Calorie Packs. (Sure you can get the same effect by limiting yourself to one full-size Oreo rather than a handful, but who has that kind of self-restraint?)
It may seem odd to apply this idea to work, but it appears to be driving a trend called co-working.
This seemingly began, more or less spontaneously, with folks lugging laptops on business trips. More than a few times, I've faced off with fellow travelers over scarce electrical outlets so I could plug in and get some work done on a long layover. Noting this, many airports began offering Wi-Fi Internet access, sometimes at no charge.
More recently folks began taking their laptops to spots equipped not only with free Wi-Fi, but also with comfy seating and free-flowing coffee (Starbucks, Panera, et al). Like the airports, this was likely first done out of necessity, with road warriors looking for places to (productively) kill time between business appointments.
Yet they've been joined by people who don't have to work there, but want to -- telecommuters craving a little more human contact than the odd UPS delivery person, for example. (Isolation from co-workers was one of the top three dislikes cited in a recent Lexmark survey of folks who at least occasionally work from home.)
Noting that he likes to work at Borders, blogger Phil Windley says the appeal is "being able to work without the isolation that just working from home can bring or the structure that a standard office entails."
Co-working is beginning to happen on a more organized basis, at places like this shared communal workspace in Berkeley, Calif. As related in Web Worker Daily, tenants pay for access to space equipped with desks, whiteboards and other office accoutrements. It also has space appropriate for special events and client meetings. Search "co-working" on Google and you get a page of results highlighting similar spaces in North Carolina, New York, Boston and Philadelphia.