How a coworking space made me rethink my computing needs

coworking space

One of the questions that comes to mind about many tablets - iPads, Surfaces, Kindle Fires, etc. - is whether they can function as true desktop or notebook replacements. For most of us, these devices work best as a companion device. Recently, I found myself in a situation that made me realize that a range of notebooks also fit into this category of companion devices.

As coworking spaces have proliferated and I've tried several for short term or occasional use, I've found myself contemplating joining a couple as a full-time member and shifting my daily work schedule out of my home office. As I've written before, coworking spaces offer a lot to folks who are self-employed, particularly in creative fields, and those who are launching new businesses or startups. There's dedicated office facilities; flexible workspaces; and a range of fellow coworkers to offer advice, inspiration, or just plain everyday office conversation - things that the typical home worker or self-employed person often lacks.

The realization I had centered around my trust 11-inch MacBook Air. I've owned it for three and half years and I picked it as a laptop because it's incredibly light-weight and portable. It's great for travel, covering events, and is easy to bring along to Starbucks to work on for a couple of hours every so often.

The problem is that everything that makes it great for working on the go also makes it a poor choice as a primary computing device.

The biggest challenge is the small screen (it's also underpowered compared to other MacBook models and many PC notebooks, but most of what I do doesn't require all that much power). While it's fine to quickly write an article or review documents, the screen size poses a big challenge if you need to research material online, check email, and manage your Twitter feed using something like TweetDeck. It's almost impossible to have even that minimal range of apps open on the screen at one time. Apple's virtual desktop system, known as Spaces, helps a bit, but the simple truth is that it functions best when used for only one or two dedicated tasks.

Much of the time, doing a lot of work tasks on it feels somewhat like working on an iPad with a keyboard case - it works, but it's far from ideal.

The truth is that the 11-inch form factor isn't just found in the MacBook Air. Most Chromebooks feature a similar screen size and form factor. So do many PC notebooks, particularly ultrabooks, a category of PCs designed to mimic the MacBook Air's combination of portability, design, and functionality. Many hybrid PC/tablet devices also sport a similar form factor. None of these is quite as challenging as the tiny netbooks that were all the rage a few years back, but none of them is ideal for serving as your primary computer.

The challenge, of course, is that I never intended for this to be my primary computing device. When I bought it, I didn't expect I'd eventually be working in a flexible work environment where I would need a laptop. I simply saw it as a supplement to my desktop. In a coworking space, or any flexible workspace, there are rarely assigned desks where one can install a desktop.

This led me to the realization that if flexible workspaces are going to become the norm (and I suspect that they will in many organizations), then the choice of computing tools needs to reflect the realities of those spaces. Devices need to be capable of serving both mobile and desktop needs. For me, that means a bigger screen (and maybe a bit more power). For some, more power might be the greater need. For others, maybe a docking station is the solution.

Much like the choice that flexible workspaces and coworking environments offer in terms of finding the ideal work environment for an individual, task, or project, our model of computing in these environments needs to be considered by our needs and preferences as individuals, the tasks we expect to accomplish, and the projects on which we work. With a growing diversity of options - full size notebooks, minimal laptops focused on portability, tablets, hybrid devices, phablets and larger smartphones, and even wearables - it becomes important to understand needs, environments, and to make smart decisions to truly take advantage of the shifting realities of work in the 21st century.

This story, "How a coworking space made me rethink my computing needs" was originally published by CITEworld.

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