Notes on “What is Coworking?” (Part 3): Recruitment

Coworking Notes, Part 3 of 6.  Recruitment: a “curated” space?

In this series of posts I am sketching the variations that can be seen in communities in coworking spaces. I discussed the variability in the overall community, and some of the “rules” that can be seen in their self-descriptive web pages.

These communities are, by design, quite fluid, with individuals and small groups joining and departing all the time. Whatever kind of community inhabits the coworking space, it will need to recruit new “members” continuously. If the new recruits do not “fit in”, the community will fall apart or transform into a different culture. As in the case of the “rules”, recruiting is one of the most significant functions of the operators of the space.

Each coworking space advertises who it is interested in recruiting, through descriptions of the space (e.g., as “badass” or “grown up”) and references to alumni of the space (usually in terms of companies started and, in one case, in terms of film credits). Spaces also advertise their events, including talks, workshops, and parties. This all amounts to a description, explicit or implicit, of “who we are”, and who we want to join us.

But how does one join a coworking space? At a minimum, one rents a slot or other access rights, just as any other commercial rental. However, the coworking community demands that people participate, or at least behave appropriately. And there are a lot of variables. Boistrous gangs of programmers will not be a happy addition to a room full of novelists. A mother with infants will not fit with a prototyping machine shop. Some projects require confidentiality over “synergy”. And so on.

In the sample of coworking spaces, there is clearly a spectrum of strategies employed by the operators of coworking spaces. This ranges from “everybody welcome” to strictly “curated”, with most spaces following some combination of these extremes. In addition, larger spaces may have several tiers of space, with some areas more strictly “curated” and others open to walk ins.

Some spaces have a very open culture, especially if they cater to many short term, nomadic workers. With events such as pop ups and desks available by the day, they welcome walk-ins. In this case, there probably is a core of longer term members and/or operators who lead the community. This is sometimes visible in the web pages (“About Us” and the public history of the space).

Other spaces are more strictly “curated” (though not all use this word). The use of the term “curated” is an interesting reference to museum or, perhaps, a zoo. The operators have a strategic (or artistic?) vision of the community they would like, and they “collect” specimens to fill out their “collection”. This process is enforced through application and review. In some cases, certain members (long time, high paying tenants) may participate in the filtering.

The filtering is sometimes explicitly stated, as in the case of a space that caters to writers who must apply and get onto the waiting list. Other spaces give hints that they are interested in incubating startups in exchange for a slice of the action. (No novelists need apply to the second case!)

Other spaces suggest even more interesting criteria that are in play. A space that describes itself as “spa-inspired coworking space for female entrepreneurs” surely must “curate” its membership! As does a “a grown-up space for grown-up folks”.

For that matter, a coworking space that is designed to be “badass”, dynamic, and otherwise software startup-y surely must “curate” its members somehow. Perhaps the selection is less formal, or mainly by self-selection of applicants.

Clearly, it would be interesting to study these practices first hand and historically. We cannot rely on the public web pages alone, because much of the process is private, and may even be implicit.

In addition to intake, we should also look at how members leave the community. How long to members stay, and why do they leave?

More tomorrow.


This is a working note describes ideas I’m developing that will need further research. It is based on preliminary examination of we sources, though I have not given citations here. The dataset will be explained and published at a later date.

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