Melissa Mesku writes in New Worker Magazine about the importance of “community” in coworking. A veteran and inveterate coworker, she recounts two coworking experiences from the past.
One of them was a nicely furnished space, with a very “professional” design. Attracted at first by the décor and convenience, she realized that she never got to know any of her coworkers. The space was, in her artful words, “seamless and dry”.
Looking for something more, she found another coworking space, “a rather ramshackle building up an ugly flight of stairs”. But here she felt at home and welcome. She worked in this new space for years until it closed. She was happy there, but in retrospect sees that it suffered from “the ambivalence of an institution that is both a community and a business”.
She no longer coworks at either of these spaces, “the first space wasn’t right for me and the other place is gone.” Comparing these two “failures”, she comments,
“Could investing in fancy furniture and upgraded systems have turned things around? On their own, of course not. Would key cards have saved them? Not a chance. Likewise, great design was not enough to turn that first coworking space into a homegrown community. But there is a middle ground. Every coworking space lives or dies by finding that middle ground.”
By “middle ground” she means that “it’s far less about appearances and far more about communicating the truth about what you are.” This she says, is “the key to building the right community and having the right people access it”.
Mesku’s note is a nice description of the importance of “community” in coworking, contrasting the elegant but “dry” space with the “ramshackle” (but apparently ‘juicier’) one. This personal testimony is certainly in line with my own views in the current “coworking as part of the service office industry” controversy, aired at the GCUC 2016 and subsequently by Johnson and others. Office space without “authentic community” isn’t good coworking.
Mesku certainly wasn’t satisfied with a “seamless and dry” temporary office with, she prefered a messy and ultimately imperfect community.
And, most of all, she seems to confirm my own comment that “you can’t fake what you don’t got”. Regardless of what operators might wish to be true, or say is true, the nature of the community will always be pretty obvious. For those coworkers like Mesku who value belonging to a community, a “seamless and dry” office will never really compete with real coworking communities.
I would also say that this diversity of spaces is fine. Workers will find environments they like. That is the great strength of coworking.
- Melissa Mesku, (2016) Community: the key thing. New Worker Magazine, http://newworker.co/mag/what-your-key-says-about-your-coworking-space/
What is Coworking?