Linda Poon is an assistant editor at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
Spacehop, which works like Airbnb, allows people to rent out their pad to freelancers as co-working spaces.
Browsing on Spacehop’s website is a lot like scrolling through Airbnb listings. Photos abound of cozy living rooms, spacious dining areas, glistening bathrooms, and amazing views. Some homes are modern chic while others give off an old-fashioned bed-and-breakfast vibe. But the homeowners on the London-based website aren’t trying to entice tourists; rather, they’re hoping to attract freelance workers who need temporary office space.
The site, which launched earlier this month, is the latest to join a handful of companies connecting independent workers with homeowners whose spare rooms or entire houses sit empty during the day. The workers, or “hoppers,” can rent spaces for themselves or their team for a little as 8 pounds (a little more than $11) per person per day. Many of the spaces also advertise amenities like complimentary coffee and snacks.
There’s also a perk for homeowners who stand to benefit from a second income, says Spacehop cofounder Matt Beatty told The Irish News. The site allows hosts to set their own rates and to flesh out details with hoppers before accepting or denying any requests. Having a roomful of strangers in your house may not sound ideal to everybody, but to give homeowners a sense of security, Spacehop requires identification verification for all its users and offers insurance for theft, property damage, and lost keys.
Currently, the site only has a handful of property listings, mostly in central London. But cofounder Luke Eastwood tells CityLab there are more than a hundred homes waiting for approval. Beatty said they hope to attract as many as 2,000 workers and “a growing property portfolio” by 2017. Eventually, they hope to expand into other major European cities and North America.
The companies OfficeRiders and SpareChair provide essentially the same service in Paris and New York, respectively. And as CityLab reported last year, Hoffice touts a similar concept in Stockholm. It gathers about a dozen freelance workers and puts them in a stranger’s home, and splits the day into 45-minute sessions with short breaks throughout. Eastwood says Spacehop differs in that all the founders have been freelancers—hence the tagline, “built for freelancers by freelancers”—so they have an understanding of what people expect from such a site.
The rise of these companies reflects a changing labor force that’s leaning more toward independent work. More than 53 million Americans—a third of U.S. workers—currently work outside the traditional 9-to-5 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A 2010 study by Emergent Research, a group that studies small businesses, estimates that freelancers will make up more than 40 percent of the country’s workforce by 2020.
With that shift comes the appeal of co-working spaces, which found a growing audience in the mid-2000s. It began, as The Atlantic describes, with freelancers lending extra garage space to their friends, and with independent workers leasing office space together to cut down on cost.
Many people who work from home or a coffee shop miss having a work community, says Gretchen Spreitzer, a business professor at University of Michigan who studies organizational behavior and isn’t involved with Spacehop. “They miss having kind of a social side to the workplace, where people have others they can bounce an idea off."
But there’s a catch: Renting an office space can cost hundreds or even thousands a month, which is a pricey investment if you only need a space a few days a week. That’s the problem Spacehop is, in part, trying to solve by allowing people to rent space on a day-to-day basis. Renting just one desk in a conventional office can cost between 350 to 400 pounds a month (about $500 to $570) in London, Beatty told The Irish News.
That flexibility could be particularly beneficial to creative types who find inspiration from working in a different setting each day, according to Spreitzer. Whether such a model will be successful depends on whether companies can guarantee safety and security for both homeowners and freelancers, she says, as well as how the work environment evolves over the next few years.
Of course, renting out office space in people’s homes won’t become something that everyone does, Spreitzer says. But, she adds, “it could be a niche player that would allow people to have a different kind of work experience.”