by Angel Kwiatkowski and Beth Buczynski
One of the interesting developments from the coworking “movement” and moment has been the emergence of a cadre of confident, practical leaders, who take up the task of creating and sustaining coworking communities. These folks have invented various job titles, including “community manager”, “community wrangler”, or ”Mayor of New Work City”.
These folks employ a pragmatic mixture of techniques used by office managers, HR departments, event planners, community organizers, new age psychology, and even group therapists, to recruit and support a “vibrant” community in a coworking space. Furthermore, many of them are eager to share their approach with anyone who might want to create a coworking space.
At the Cohere Coworking space (Fort Collins, CO), they call their role “Space Catalyst”, and the goal is “Building Community. (Actually, the catalysts at Cohere call themselves “Madame”.) Angel Kwiatkowski and Beth Buczynski produced an ebook in 2011 that explains their approach, (Coworking: Building Community as a Space Catalyst )
“We want this book to be a useful, hands-on and thought- provoking resource for coworking space catalysts, based on the proven principle of “community first, space second.” (, p. 9)
The world needs such “catalysts”, they say, because “just finding a room with desks and internet won’t cut it.” Coworking needs a community, and they believe this means that “Someone MUST step forward”, to prepare “the space so that no attention needs to be paid to the environment, and instead attention can be paid to each other and the work.” (p. 12)
Kwiatkowski and Buczynski suggest that the “principles” found at Coworking.com are a starting point for a coworking community. These five values are “Collaboration, Openness, Community, Accessibility and Sustainability”, which, K&B say are “open to individual interpretation”.
K&B describe how to “assemble” your community. They recommend working out from “what you know”, i.e., your own network. They note that the pool of potential coworkers can be found in three “places”, Places (e.g., coffee shops), Events (e.g., a local Tedx), and Online. A community catalyst will need to be present and active in all these locales (with a smile, they say).
In fact, “Catalysts that envision themselves being a daily fixture in the community will have the ability and patience to help people get through barriers, overcome roadblocks, and examine the larger context of what they’re doing in the world.” (p. 14) This is the goal and purpose of the catalyst, and this is what draws people to the community.
K&B have some simple ideas of how to tell if the coworking community is “working” or not. If the space is full, with lots of regulars, people are chipping in to help, and apologizing in advance for absence, then these are good signs. Low attendance, dropping out, or “your only attendees are people that just want a quiet place to take phone calls”, then its not clicking.
For that matter, it should be obvious.
“One day, you’ll stop talking about coworking to everyone you meet and just listen for a minute. You’ll realize that everyone surrounding you–the community you’re now a part of–is talking about how great coworking is. Not just repeating your words, but in their own words, with their own ideas. At that point, you can’t turn back. It’s time to build a permanent home.”
Alex Hillman Co-Founder Independents Hall, Philadelphia, PA (quoted in , p. 34)
The same authors have a second ebook, which recounts “tales of community”, testimony from 30 some coworkers.  In this book, K&B describe coworking and its benefits.
“Coworking is a state of mind, a community, and more importantly a revolutionary element of the larger collaborative consumption movement.” (, p. 6), and they want to help you, the coworker, figure out “how to get the most out of this new style of working”
They sketch the benefits, which include flexibility, social support, and professional networking. The social support may provide positive feedback, problem solving, and creative inspiration.
K&B have an interesting section about “How to Choose The Right Coworking Space”, in the likely event that there may be more than one space in your area. “Does It Have Soul?” “Look for clues about the coworking vibe that circulates through the decor, the furniture placement, and worker personalities.” (p. 20) “watch for too much emphasis on socializing and not enough on collaborative work.” And, you are looking for “Good People”, for “your tribe” (whatever that means for you).
K&B have some sensible words about the size of the coworking community. While a coworking space operator naturally needs and wants a large membership, this isn’t desirable for being a community. They suggest that most people prefer a community of 20 or so, certainly less than 50. This makes sense: that is the scale where everyone can know everyone, and you can realistically talk to everyone every day. A larger group will, I’m sure, fragment into intimate cliques of this size. This “density” is a key not only to social solidarity, it seems to be related to the creative “serendipity” that coworking can foster.
They give some tips for new coworkers, which reveal their ideas about how it works. They tell us that earphones are not just for listening and noise masking, they are a social signal: no earphones = I want to talk, one earphone in = I’m available, both earphones in = I’m working.
They also talk about a public “to do list” on a whiteboard. I’ve seen variations of this idea in a lot of coworking spaces, including Seats2Meet (a digital dashboard), H+Office (shared at the beginning and end of the day), and Cotivation (weekly sessions). This mechanism is motivating (“cotivating?”), and helps the independent worker feel accountable to the group.
K&B also advocate active engagement, asking and answering questions, and paying attention to fellow coworkers in person and on line. In short, collaborate with each other to “cultivate a vibrant coworking community” (p. 36) This includes asking for help, ask what others are working on, goof off at times,
The rest of the book is a collection of personal testaments by 30 coworkers, telling what they like about coworking and how it has affected them. Written in 2010 and 2011, most of the people had been coworking for a relatively short time. It would be interesting to follow up with these folks now, more than five years later. Have they been coworking all this time? How has coworking changed over time? What do they think now?
Together these books are a solid contribution to understanding coworking and the role of “community catalyst”. “Catalysts” K&B are examples of this aspect of the “new way of work”, self organized workspaces, and collaborative communities of independent workers.
It is interesting to see the convergence of practice that has emerged from many independent implementations of this idea of coworking spaces. This is even more remarkable to note the eclectic mix of techniques from so many sources—business management, social science, and pop psychology. These ideas are being remixed into a pragmatic program centering on building “vibrant” communities. I’m not terribly surprised that the result is something that makes people happy.
- Angel Kwiatkowski and Beth Buczynsk, Coworking: Building Community as a Space Catalyst. 2011, Cohere Coworking: Ft. Collins. http://coherecommunity.com/shop/coworking-building-community-as-a-space-catalyst
- Angel Kwiatkowski and Beth Buczynski, Coworking: How freelancers escape the coffee shop office and tales of community from independents around the world. 2011, Cohere: Fort Collins. http://coherecommunity.com/shop/coworkers
Sunday Book Reviews