What do you get when America's great commercial real estate buildup collides with America's great corporate downsizing? A lot of vacant office space. Now it's time to put those empty buildings back to work.
That's the aim of a new free iPhone app called LiquidSpace, which launched in San Francisco this spring after debuting at the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas.
LiquidSpace is designed to help mobile workers find a spot where they can temporarily plug in and get work done more effectively than in the back of a cab, a loud convention center hall or the narrow space between other airline passengers' elbows. Using the location-aware LiquidSpace app, users find available workspaces nearby that meet timing needs and other requirements they specify. Spaces on the app are classified as "public" (libraries, Starbucks, etc.), "priced" (buildings that rent office space by the hour or house shared-workspace firms) and "private" (companies with empty offices they're willing to share with partners or customers who happen to be in the neighborhood).
Building owners don't have to let just anyone in the door who knows how to use an iPhone app. They issue virtual visas that allow them to control who gets access and when, as well as whether or not they get to return. (Note to LiquidSpace users: Do not treat workspaces like Charlie Sheen treats hotel rooms.)
At SXSW, LiquidSpace tested its concept by teaming with small-business furniture supplier Turnstone to set up temporary workspaces around a town overflowing with attendees. Paula Cavagnaro, senior director of marketing for consumer intelligence firm Motista and associate director of nonprofit WeOwnTV, used a couple of the SXSW spaces.
"I was able to post our blogs, approve some creative in process, check-in with my team in San Francisco and have a strategic meeting in the social, public space they had set up," she says. "It was a perfect way to stay connected and still feel a part of the excitement of SXSW."
LiquidSpace co-founder Mark Gilbreath and co-founder Doug Marinaro started the effort after noticing the trend toward work force mobilization running parallel to a real estate implosion that left large amounts of office space empty. While some temporary workspaces are free, LiquidSpace's own liquidity relies on taking a piece of revenue from companies that lease their excess for a fee.
"What we saw during the econo-mic meltdown was a lot of underutilized space," Gilbreath says. "Meanwhile, work is becoming more mobile and collaborative. If companies with too much space are having to make difficult decisions [about what to do], LiquidSpace lets them take the fixed expense of real estate and turn it into a variable expense."
Dan O'Shea is a Chicago-based writer who has been covering telecom, mobile and other high-tech topics for nearly 20 years.