In my exploration of the question “what is coworking?”, I frequently wonder about sustainability or business models. How can these communities pay the bills? How are the costs spread? For that matter, what are the costs to run various spaces?
These questions are at the heart of many aspects of the “new way of work”, for instance at the Platform Cooperativism conference this week.
One place to start on these questions is an old (from 2011!) article by Beth Buczynski, “Coworking as a Business: Which Model Is Best?” Buczynsk certainly “gets it” that (a) coworking spaces are about “community” and (b) no one model is necessarily best for all.
Many would say that since the welfare of the community is the central goal of a cowork space, they should organize as a non-profit. A non-profit is generally “mission driven”, and will not strive to grow or accumulate resources. Costs and overheads can be low, though it may be difficult to maintain full time staffing at low funding levels.
Of course, coworking spaces are often associated with “incubators” of various types, attracting a community interested in making profits. This model surely can work, though sustaining the community will require different policies and actions than a purely non-profit organization. For example, incubators must be very careful about sharing intellectual property, which may impact the types of collaboration that happen.
Buczynsk suggests intermediate models, which she calls a “not-just-for-profit” approach. This might play out in a suite of services (e.g., events and community activities) that earn income, while at the same time fostering the community. In retrospect, I think we are seeing this kind of development. (e.g., Cotivation, “community managers”, etc.)