“What is Coworking?” Tools In the Hands of the Workers

An interesting case study of coworking, down Wellington, NZ, way. Enspiral is a coworking space “for entrepreneurs, startups, freelancers, and charities with an ethical focus.” But the coworking space is just one of an array of interlocking enterprises, that constitute “a virtual and physical network of companies and professionals working together to create a thriving society,” under the auspices of the Enspiral Foundation. The enterprises include business services (e.g., accounting and legal consulting), a software consultancy, and several software products supporting their ethical theme.

In the case of Enspiral, it is easy to see coworking as part of a version of “the sharing economy”, as one cog in their ethical machinery. This is less clear for many other coworking spaces (e.g., NextSpace). The difference is in the community.

Enspiral is quite conscious and reflective about social organization. Anna Bergren Miller recounts a fairly detailed history of Enspiral’s organization. Enspiral is  “legally a limited liability company, acts as a cooperative”. The coworking space and other enterprises collect fees and agree to “voluntary revenue sharing and mutual support agreements with Enspiral Foundation”, as do individual members (who may be freelance professionals).

There are no salaried employees, and projects are mostly organized by a “market” that matches skills to needs. Different projects are done differently.

It sounds kind of chaotic, and certainly required “patience and faith” to get this far.

“What is Coworking?”

Enspiral is an example of a cowork space that is one of a suite of cooperative businesses, providing a part of the needed infrastructure for the community.

In other words, cowork spaces are part of the general “tools in the hands of the workers” movement that includes makerspaces and ‘open source X’ projects, as well as community development projects and ‘local source Y’ efforts.

I note that the space itself is very similar to many other cowork spaces, and offers social events (Friday drinks, lunches, etc.). This is part of the growing evidence that the “tools” of the twenty first century proletariat includes break areas, social hours, baked goods, and other “amenities”.

It appears that Enspiral’s community is highly organized, and is key to a pretty well thought out sustainability plan.

It is clear that Enspiral is aimed at software-tech style businesses, and has a fairly clear ideological mission. It’s impossible to be sure from this distance, but the cowork space itself seems to be suited to young, childless workers (though quite a few women). However, the overall enterprise includes hundreds of freelancers, many doubles working from home, and some are surely parents and care takers.

It is interesting to see founder Joshua Vial comment that “Not every company can be Enspiral”. This enterprise appears quite successful, but is not necessarily easily replicable. Obviously, you could replicate the space itself, but that would not replicate the community which is the basis for their success.

It’s not just “about community”, the cowork space is almost an afterthought, given the community.

Enspiral is certainly walking the walk, and we see that, down in Wellington, the revolution is not played out in marches or speeches, but in professional services and meetings. And the revolutionary software isn’t about exotic AI, it is about boring project management. It’s not so romantic, but it is way more believable.

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