No More Sink Full of Mugs by Tony Bacigalupo
Tony Bacigalupo is one of the founders and key leaders of the New Work City coworking space, one of the earliest and most influential cowork spaces. As “mayor” of New Work City, he was deeply involved in their conscious efforts to create and sustain the community that defined the space.
“Mugs” is a short, self-published book written while NWC was still going strong, It is an effort to capture some of the principles and lessons learned about how to build and nurture a coworking community. Lessons from a Sensei: pay attention, Bob!
First, this is explicitly not an academic treatise, “I feel like I can give you far more than your money’s worth without having to prove myself with a lot of theory and research.“ (p.12) That said, there is a lot of thoughtful comment about he “elusive task” of “[b]uilding and maintaining a healthy culture in a shared.” (p. 9)
I note for the record that there is definitely an opportunity and need for academic research on coworking.
Bacigalupo talks a lot about “culture”, in a very pragmatic vein. His goal is to “steer your culture in the right direction”, and the bulk of the book is eight principles and twelve “simple systems” that “made potentially difficult things easier” and “fostered a sense of trust and created space for healthier culture.” (p.11) I will briefly list these, you should read the book.
His basic principles (Chapter 1) are:
- Treat people like human beings.
- Value relationships over transactions.
- Make everything visibly and obviously accessible.
- Empower people to handle things themselves wherever possible.
- Trust by default.
- Remind people to use their conscience.
- Practice relentless positivity.
- Avoid hard rules.
Notice the number of times the word “people” appears, as well as “trust” and “relationships”.
A flavor of what he is shooting for is given in Chapter 2, “12 Simple Systems for Happy, Empowered Communities”
- We celebrate when people clear the sink.
- We let members be in charge of the coffee.
- We give everyone a way to connect with each other though an online discussion group.
- We’re intentional but not overly pushy about onboarding new members.
- We hold a monthly Welcome Aboard Member Meeting (WAMM)
- We let the members start and stop their own memberships.
- We make our business hours malleable.
- We rely on our culture and our values when we encounter people who we fear may not be a good fit.
- We don’t charge extra for printing—or anything else.
- We let members book our large conference room online.
- We let members book smaller meeting rooms in the space.
- We offer members a way to help run the place.
Note that these “systems” are all stated in terms of “We”.
The 12 systems are very pragmatic, some at the level of sign up sheets and other details. Naturally, these may or may not be useful for any given situation, but they certainly give you a flavor of what worked in NWC.
Overall, this little book is a useful snapshot from one of the leading practitioners in the coworking “movement”.
First of all, we see again the mantra that coworking is all about “community, community, community”. Without a community, it’s just office space.
But more important, Bacigalupo’s coworking spaces deliberately work to create and foster communities (“vibrant communities”, says Cat Johnson). This is now called “curating” the space community, suggesting a skilled and esthetic hand bringing together and caring for a collection of people. Bacigalupo himself eschews such a title, and says that he leaves the curation to the community itself. That reflects his approach to community building, preferring not to treat people as curated objects.
We also get a sense of the kind of community Bacigalupo is thinking of. To be fair, he’s not stiffly doctrinaire about it, I’m sure he’d be happy with most bottom up, democratic communities that represent their members needs and hopes.
It is clear, though, that Bacigalupo is thinking about urban settings, filled with freelancers, contractors, and tiny startups, mostly in information heavy industries. The infrastructure of the NWC includes networks and printers, but not laboratories and workshops, for instance.
The “amenities” are telling, too. They resemble the facilities and nods to the vibe of a software startup. Meeting rooms, kitchen commons, and Friday social hours (with alcohol). I didn’t see anything about large screen TV, football pools, or parties at the sports bar across the street.
This is a caricature of the NWC community, but it has been an influential model for many coworking spaces, and for many, it is the prototypical picture of what coworking is all about.
Anyone looking for a magic formula for creating a vibrant community may be disappointed by Bacigalupo’s book. Most of the “systems” are neither new nor secret. The secret is to really do the things you know are right, consistently and persistently. Of course, I suspect that Tony is really good at listening to, paying attention to, and persuading people; and I bet his respect comes through in every conversation.
For an aspiring community “curator” who needs more that “Mugs”, Bacigalupo collaborated with another notable curator, Susan Dorsch of Office Nomads, to create “Cotivation”, which provides a complete program to train and operate a “cotivation” self-help group to boost the community spirit of any working space. This program propagates many of the attitudes and concepts described in “Mugs”, along with some specific exercises that, among other things, directly targets the “isolation” of remote workers
All in all, “No More Sink Full of Mugs“ is an interesting book that gives us insight into the thinking of one of the erly founders of coworking, and one of the people who has helped invent the concept of actively fostering specific kinds of community as part of coworking spaces.
- Tony Bacigalupo, No More Sink Full of Mugs. 2015, No More Sink Full of Mugs: New York. https://sellfy.com/p/IBtB/
Sunday Book Review