Yet another angle on the question, “What is Coworking?”: for some, it is more than a movement, it is a lifestyle.
Lori Kane gives us a personal account of her living the coworking idea in her self-published book “Reimagination Station: Creating a Game-Changing In-Home Coworking Space”, and associated blog, facebook, and other posts.
Far, far from the world of cheap office space or high pressure start up incubators, Kane created a free coworking space in her own home.
Way less venture capital hoo-haw, way more baking cookies.
For Kane, coworking is an extension of living as part of a local community. “Private space reimagined as community space.” (p.72) The walk ins are primarily neighbors (and soon to be friends), and the space becomes deeply connected to on the ground community activities of many sorts.
With a background in academia (studying “self organizing groups”) and at MIcrosoft, Kane was struck by a widely experienced observation of coworking spaces. In 2012 she visited a coworking space located in a very diverse SF, and “it hit me immediately: almost everyone in the space was young and white” (and mostly male). This was “not at all what the walk through the diverse neighborhood primed me to expect.” (p.9) She resolved to do better in her own Seattle neighborhood.
The book is organized as a long series of short personal essays (“hints”), which are as much about how to foster community as they are about “work”. (Example: “If you do just one thing: Say “Welcome! I’m so glad you’re here!””) In fact, from the book itself, it is completely unclear what, if any “work” was ever done in this space.
One of my first questions about any coworking space always is, “what is the business model?” (Honestly, I’m not criticizing, I’m really curious.) In this case, there isn’t much of one that I can see, any more than there is a “sustainability plan” for having neighbors over, or talking over the back fence, or living in a neighborhood. This is not a business, it is participatory theater. AKA, “life”.
Kane herself is aware of this, and embraces it. “I’ve been feeling lately that “free community coworking space” isn’t adequate language for what we are here. Work isn’t at the heart of who we are. Not really. … It dawned on me that what we are is a friendship incubator. This is what matters most to me. Why the hell have we not been leading with that?!”
This version of coworking is not for everyone, and that’s OK. Kane and friends are plugged in to the neighborhood and to the Seattle Collaborative Space Alliance (SCSA) and will happily steer people toward other spaces that are a better fit.
From a broader perspective, this space is a throw back to village life. As I have commented elsewhere that maker spaces can be viewed as an echo of earlier multi-generational workshop traditions (think Renaissance artist’s workshop).
Kane notes a similar historical echo in her space, commenting that “Women all over the planet host work out of their homes every day. Turning a home into a community work space isn’t new.” (P. 95) I agree. I think this style of in-home work space recreates the “village”, where we all have work to do near home, and it is nicer and better to do it together.
In both of these cases, we are creating a digitally augmented version of a very successful social organization from past ages. Fortunately, in the twentyfirst, we are way more inclusive (a recently coined term!) and we are happy to leave out the indentured service part of the program.
This is all about “community”. In 2013, after speaking about some experience from booting up our local Fab Lab, an audience member interested is starting such a space asked “very briefly can you tell me the three most important things needed to set up a local fab lab/makerspace/hackerspace?” My unhesitating answer was, “community, community, community”.
Kane and all her friends are walking this “community, community, community” walk in a fearless way I’ve never personally even approached. Whether this is “coworking” or fits for your particular needs today, it is the right idea. You go, guys!
What is their sustainability plan? Keep making more friends. How long can you keep doing this? As long as people are people..
It’s definitely worth reading Kane’s book and blog, though be prepared for a high level of autobiography and self-analysis. (She’s now a self-identified “poet”, and words are her tools. Expect words.)
- Lori Kane, Reimagination Stations: Creating a Game-Changing In-Home Coworking Space, Lori Kane, 2015.