In recent years, coworking has come to be associated with a very corporate mind set, seen as part of “the hospitality industry” or the “Service Office Industry”. The rapacious, debt-fueled expansion of WeWork has become the most visible face of Coworking.
But the truth is that coworking can be, has been, and still is organized in many different ways . Coworking operations are organized as for profit, non-profits, not-entirely-for-profit. Coworking spaces are organized as independent businesses, as franchises, and embedded in other organizations. Coworking is even done in living rooms and other informal settings. (For more on this, see perhaps Chapter 4 of “What is Coworking?” .)
In fact, the current highly corporate vibe belies the peer-to-peer, community development spirit of early coworking, clearly reflected in the Coworking Manifesto . The “Coworking Movement”, loosely inspired by open source software, is about workers banding together to reinvent the future of work, improve cities, and bootstrap a new, sustainable economy.
“We are reshaping the economy and the society through social entrepreneurship and innovation. Our communities are coming together to rebuild more human scale, networked, and sustainable economies to build a better world.
“We are the world coworking movement!” (from )
This vision is hard to discern in something like WeWork, which “offers companies of all sizes the opportunity to reimagine employees’ days through refreshing design, engaging community, and benefits for all.” (quoted from WeWork website).
Regardless of conferences or corporartions, coworking still is whatever workers want to make it.
This summer Ruby Irene Pratka writes for Sharable about coworking spaces that “positively impact local communities” . Not just low cost, on-demand workspace, these organizations connect with their local community “by launching scholarship programs, offering space for local groups, and hosting public lectures.”
Her list is:
- AllGoodWork — New York City, New York
- Co+hoots — Phoenix, Arizona
- The Coven — Minneapolis, Minnesota
- The Beahive— Beacon, New York
- Spacecubed— Perth, Western Australia
- 312 Main— Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
These examples are mostly, but not all, non-profits, and they have quite a variety of participants. It is telling that in the write up most of them view their coworkers as a “typical” coworking community, though they are pretty diverse in many dimensions, reflecting their different locations. (The major exception is The Coven in Minneapolis, which is self-described a community of women and non-binary identified workers—their work is probably “typical”, if not the demographics.)
The common thread is that all of these organizations have a major focus on having a positive impact on their local area. This means different things to each, but obviously goes far beyond “reimagining employees’ days”, to reimagining a better world outside the doors.
Besides the potential good for the world that these collaborations may do, there is also an important benefit from having these contemporary workers visible and engaged with their city, especially with local kids. Kids need to know about what working is like, and to be inspired by adult examples. If coworking is where the future of work is happening, then kids (and everyone) need to know people who are doing it.
This commitment to community impact is also an asset for the both the coworking organization, and for the workers. The workers are invited to participate in a narrative about work and life, and take up a larger purpose as part of a like-minded community. Going to the office is much more than just showing up, it’s helping make the world better. (I’ll also speculate that when you are worried about helping other people, you are a lot less likely to be depressed.)
(For more on these ideas, see perhaps Chapter 7 and 8 of “What is Coworking?”, the book.)
- coworking.org. Coworking Manifesto: The Future of Work. 2012, http://coworkingmanifesto.com/.
- Robert E. McGrath, What is Coworking” A look at the multifaceted places where the gig economy happens and workers are happy to find community. (in preparation), self, 2017. https://whatiscoworkingthebook.com/
- Ruby Irene Pratka (2018) These 6 groups are showing how coworking spaces can positively impact local communities. Sharable, https://www.shareable.net/blog/these-6-groups-are-showing-how-coworking-spaces-can-positively-impact-local-communities
What is Coworking?
Hey, hey! My new book “What is Coworking?” is (finally) available at online stores.