Category Archives: The Gig Ecoonomy

Sara Horowitz on “The Future of Workers” [repost]

[This was posted earlier here.]

I have long said that, if we’re going to talk about “The Future of Work”, I want to talk about “The Future of Workers”.

This is why I have been so interested in Platform Cooperativism, Coworking, and why I eagerly joined the Freelancers Union.

This month Sensei Sara Horowitz asks, “Is the future of work stuck in the past?” [1]  As a founder of the Freelancers Union, she has long been involved with futurist punditry on this topic for many years, and she expresses dissatisfaction with discussions that “focus on the impact on businesses rather than individual workers”.

The perspectives (let alone the interests) of actual workers are absent.

“In fact, “The Future of Work” takeaways are often radically disconnected from the needs of American workers.”

Eternal optimist Horowitz is happy to note that workers mostly don’t know and don’t care about these pontifications. She sees workers “charting their own course, building that new workplace in real time and creating the social organizations they need”.

Horowitz has her own agenda, of course.  As any good social scientist (such as me) or union organizer (such as SH) will tell you, “Workers are social creatures” (all people are social creatures), so it is a mistake to talk about gig workers as if they are isolated units, one person companies.  For Horowitz, the implication is that it is important to organizing workers for economic and political power, and, these days, she is busy creating worker owned insurance and other social safety nets.

““Future of Work” enthusiasts should focus their attention and energy on the institutions that organize workers”

Of course, labor unions are the (lost) past for most workers, so this is hardly a ground breaking prescription.  And I’m not as optimistic about the feasibility of organizing workers in the way SH talks about.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud to be a member of the FU,  I just don’t think it is likely to gain enough power to matter.

(However, coming up with decent insurance and other benefits will be a huge plus for ordinary workers. So, you go girl!, on that front.)

I am considerably more optimistic about other kinds of worker driven “organizing”, especially coworking spaces.  Independent workers may not be able to wield a lot of political or economic power, but we definitely can create and control our own work places, and our own communities of co-workers.  This is a huge win for workers, indeed, potentially life saving.

But IMO, the secret to success for a coworking community is local, in person interaction, which is not a large-scale thing.  Everybody can belong to a coworking community, but it will be a zillion small, independent groups, not one large group.  So, coworking is very important and beneficial, but it is not really an “institution that organizes workers” in the way SH is thinking.

Obviously, we can expect both coworking and the FU to continue in the future, both serving the needs of future workers.  These two movements are different ways to address the needs of individual workers, and both are powerful because they are social.


  1. Sara Horowitz, Is the future of work stuck in the past?, in Freelancers Union Blog, February 6, 2020. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2020/02/06/is-the-future-of-work-stuck-in-the-past/

 

(For much more on the Future of Work, see the book “What is Coworking?”)

What is Coworking?

“Broad City” Portrays Freelance Life? [repost]

[This was posted earlier here]

For the record, following a post wondering “Where are all the freelance characters on TV?”, the Freelancers Union* posted an earlier item that tells us that one place to look is the TV show, Broad City [1].  The article, signed by “Trupo” (which is an insurance company partly owned by the FU), discusses the fictional life of the characters.  (Caveat:  I haven’t watched more than a few minutes of this show myself.)

“The characters don’t explicitly say they are freelancers, but they continue to work side jobs throughout the shows five seasons.”

These two working women live the real life of a freelancer: many gigs, mostly very short term. Intermittent income, no benefits, little security.

The show plays these challenges for comedy, of course.  The point is that this is slice-of-life comedy, representing the real experience of a lot of workers living in New York City.

The FU concludes, “hopefully this is just the beginning of a more accurate representation of the growing norm of non-traditional work.”

I don’t know how “normative” or “non-traditional” gig working is, will, or should be. But it’s certainly good to see some realistic fiction about working lives.

As I commented earlier, why not a fictional life set in a coworking space?  I have described coworking (and by implication freelancing) as “participatory theater”, in which workers create their own story of the Future of Work.  That sounds like a decent scenario for scripted theater.


  1. Trupo, What Broad City got right about financial insecurity and episodic income, in Freelancers Union Blog, January 31, 2020. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2020/01/31/what-the-show-broad-city-got-right-about-episodic-income/

*Note:  I am a proud member of the FU.


(For much more on the Future of Work, see the book “What is Coworking?”)

What is Coworking?

Payne on How to be a Happy And Successful Remote Worker [repost]

[This was posted earlier here.]

The “Future of Work” is often touted as a gig economy, and for many jobs, a remote gig economy.  Almost any work that centers on the Internet can be done anywhere. Growing legions of remote workers prove that this is not only feasible, but very productive [1].   And many workers prefer to “phone it in” via the Internet.

(Remote working is not necessarily freelancing or gig working.  Many conventional employers allow some workers to work from home, and there are many geographically distributed collaborations.  On the other hand, many gig workers are expected to provide their own infrastructure and workplace, so they may well work from home.  So, remote working is a very important aspect for most gig workers.)

(I’ll also note that remote working and distant collaboration has been happening since we invented the Internet.  It’s kind of the whole point of the Internet.  So much of this is not really new or unprecedented, except it has become ubiquitous.)

By now it is clear that remote working has its challenges.  Indeed, the isolation of remote working is the key problem that coworking is designed to solve.  Besides finding a coworking community, what should remote workers try to do?

This month, Kevin Payne suggests “7 tips for being a happy and successful remote worker” [3].  He is writing for the Freelancers Union, but the “tips” apply to workers no matter what their contractual arrangements.

What are his tips?

1) Set boundaries
2) Designate a dedicated working area
3) Change things up
4) Make a schedule (and stick to it)
5) Know your priorities
6) Invest in the right tools
7) Don’t forget yourself

The first tip is actually the crux of the matter.  When you work at home, there is no physical separation between “work” and “not work”, and more importantly, between “work” and “home/family/everything else”.  Whatever may be wrong with conventional workplaces—and there are plenty of things to complain about—they definitely are psychologically and physically separated from “home”.

The other tips are mainly about how to set and keep these boundaries.  An important part of this is psychological, hence “know your priorities”.  This also involves at least two sets of priorities—work and not-work—and also two distinct sets of activities.  Hence “a dedicated work area”, a schedule, and the right tools.

These are good tips, for any worker, remote or not.  And there is no one right way to do it, so find your own way.

But even if you have a great gig and a great home office and manage to balance your life with work, you still are working alone.  People are not meant to be alone all the time, and sooner or later most people are unhappy without colleagues and human contact.

This is, of course, one of the big reasons why people join a coworking community.  Coworking is a “respite from our isolation” (a la Klaas, 2014 [2]).  Indeed, Payne suggests joining a coworking space.

“Some remote workers and freelancers work in coffee shops, while others sign up for coworking spaces.”

I will go farther, to point out that the coworking space actually solves many of these other problems.  There is a boundary, it is a dedicated space, it has the right tools—including like-minded workers to actually talk to.

In short, a coworking space is just the thing for remote workers.

So, Bob’s top “tip” for remote working is “find a local coworking community”.  You’ll be happier, healthier, and probably successful.


  1. Scott Berkun, The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work, San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 2013.
  2. Zachary R. Klaas, Coworking & Connectivity in Berlin. University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, 2014. https://www.academia.edu/11486279/Coworking_Connectivity
  3. Kevin Payne, 7 tips for being a happy and successful remote worker, in Coworkers Union Blog, January 17, 2020. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2020/01/17/7-tips-for-being-a-happy-and-successful-remote-worker/

(For much more on the Future of Work, see the book “What is Coworking?”)

What is Coworking?

Liz Enochs on Coop Accelerators

Creating a coop is hard.  You need vision and leadership and money and legal paper work.  And, by definition, you need enough people who want to be owners, and are willing to do their bit.

The good news is, there is no one right way to do it.

The bad news is, there are many possible ways to do it, and you have to actually do one of them well.

It’s small wonder that there aren’t more cooperative businesses. Even if you have a great idea and the right people, who knows how to do it?  How do you learn how to do it?

Liz Enochs writes this summer about a number of initiatives to help people learn how to do it.  Taking a page from the for-profit book, these “accelerators” and “incubators” are “supercharging a worker-owned economy” [1].

Hmm. What does this mean?

Enochs points to a number of examples.  They all share the overall goal of increasing the number of worker- and user-owned enterprises.  Unlike for-profit incubators, both the accelerators and the enterprises are cooperative, and not-(primarily)-for-profit.  Like for-profit incubators, there is generally a network and ecosystem of allied coops to help new enterprises.

And, like for-profit incubators, there is an element of pay-it-forward:  investing in the fledgling enterprises, and receiving a return later when they are successful.

There is a large educational component, probably more than in conventional business incubators.  This reflects the complexity of cooperative business models, including the patchwork of legal frameworks, and the varieties of goals and organizational styles.

For-profit incubators have the game down to a cookie cutter templates—and the goal is to get rich and sell out.  Some of these coop incubators have their own cookie cutter templates (e.g., The Next System), as well as advising on legal and financial designs.

Equally important, coop incubators feature training and mentoring, similar to for profit incubators.  The Green Workers Cooperatives offers an “academy” which is described as “a lean MBA in five months”.  Start.coop offers training, mentors, and standardized “platform services”.

So what could be wrong with this picture?

First of all, are we interested in cooperatives, i.e., ownership, or are we interested in enterprises, i.e., making money for the owners?

To me, the important thing about a cooperative is to serve a (generally local) community, and, by definition, for the community to define the service. The enterprise needs to be economically sustainable, but not necessarily hugely profitable, and definitely not bigger than needed.  The first and often only question is, how to keep charges low enough to serve everyone who needs it, and still generate enough income to make ends meet.

Some of the incubators discussed by Enochs seem to be closely following the example of business accelerators, which seems to me to be poorly aimed for this fundamental balancing act.  I see programs about marketing, investment, and “scaling up” (i.e., rapid, wide growth).   (And Rogue Co-ops has a competition, which makes no sense to me.)

These tools will certainly grow an enterprise, bring in more income, and possibly get more members.  But I have to wonder if they endanger the entire notion of a community of owners, and marginalize the original purpose of the coop.

Among other things, valuing starting something new and growing fast over creating a long-term sustainable life for the owners and customers isn’t necessarily the right approach.  Remember that conventional incubators teach that failure is success, most new enterprises go broke, and successful ones sell out to big money.  Coops should be about resiliency, long term goals, and not selling out to big money.

So, these incubators / accelerators / whatever appear to be promoting and enabling the establishment of new cooperatives.  That’s great.  And given the challenges of creating and running a coop, catalysts and mentors are definitely needed.

On the other hand, just as in conventional business accelerators, they are also promulgating an entrepreneurial culture.  And that may or may not be consistent with your views of the spirit of cooperatives.

So I don’t really know about this.


  1. Liz Enochs (2019) How co-op accelerators and incubators are supercharging a worker-owned economy. Sharable, https://www.shareable.net/how-co-op-accelerators-and-incubators-are-supercharging-a-worker-owned-economy/

 

What is Coworking? It Can Be For Seniors [repost]

[This was posted earlier here]

This summer Gemma Church discusses Coworking Spaces for Seniors.  What does this mean?

She notes surveys that show that older coworkers are more likely to be consultants and other professionals, while a large proportion of younger coworkers are in “tech” (which I assume means software and web design).

It also seems that younger workers are more likely to be employees of a large corporation, which older workers own their business.

Presumably, independent workers of all ages benefit from opportunities for networking and collaborations.

However, it also seems clear that not all coworking communities are congenial for older workers.

Anna Meyer reports on the Senior Planet chain, a non-profit that offers specialized training, etc [2].  It seems to be aimed to be compensatory, teaching digital tech and business techniques to geezers.

Their motto is “aging with attitude”, and the “attitude” appears to be about “people who were born long before the digital revolution” who want to “stay engaged and active” (including something called “senior style”, whatever that is.)

Senior Planet is also described “a safe place”, where rampant ageism and associated “microaggressions” do not prevail.  (Hey kids, we invented “inclusion”, and have fought for decades now, you think we don’t notice?)

This entire concept also seems that this is making the best of a bad lot, when more people are unable to retire and are forced to work longer.

Personally, I think this “seniors only” approach misses a huge opportunity for coworking:  multigenerational community.  There are many potential advantages for everyone to a coworking community that includes parents with kids, and also “grandparents”, as well as hotshot twenty somethings.

My favorite example might be Canoe Coworking, designed as an indigenous community.  As such, it includes a space for elders who are there both to advise and to be cared for.  Now you’re talking.


  1. Gemma Church, Coworking Spaces for Seniors, in CommercialCafe. 2019. https://www.commercialcafe.com/blog/coworking-spaces-seniors/
  2. Anna Meyer, See inside a coworking space for seniors, in Fast Company. 2019. https://www.fastcompany.com/90344172/see-inside-a-coworking-space-for-seniors

 

(For much more on what makes coworking tick, see the book “What is Coworking?”)

 

What is Coworking?

The Importance of Being Tangible

In the gig economy, many workers provide services remotely and often in digital form. It is often difficult to tell what was done by humans and what was done be algorithms or bots. (Many services and products are the product of all three.)  When your work is intangible, it’s hard to be visible, let alone valued.

Michael Katz writes for the Freelancers Union about how to “appear more tangible”, as one headline put it [1].

“it’s helpful to take deliberate steps to make your work – and you – feel more tangible”

The point is, of course, not that we aren’t all real and tangible.  The point is that working digitally, it is important that other people can perceive us as a real, unique, and valuable individual.  As someone “tangible”.

His basic idea is to document who you are and what you do is as concrete way as possible.  He suggests testimonials, people talking about you.  He also suggests case studies, detailed examples of your work.

And he recommends “Lots and lots of reality”.  Here he is talking about presenting yourself personally through images and stories.  An independent professional is selling themself, so it is important to be personal.  This also distinguishes you from a faceless corporation.

None of this is rocket science, and I bet most successful independent workers do this.  But I liked the image of “trying to appear more tangible”.  That could be the entire story of digital gig workers….


  1. Michael Katz, Three things to bear in mind if you sell a service, in Freelancers Union Blog. 2019. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2019/07/24/three-suggestions-for-selling-a-service/

 

GCUC Coworking 2019 Projections [repost]

[This was posted earlier here]

It’s Global Coworking UnConference (GCUC) USA time again, and that means this year’s  round of of reports and surveys.

As I commented after attending the 2016 GCUC, this conference has mutated into mainly a trade meeting for operators of “social office” spaces, which is certainly not the whole, or even the most important aspect of coworking.  (For a fuller picture, see the book, What is Coworking?)

This focus is on clear display in the pre-conference (or pre-un-conference) release of a study of “the future of the flexible workspace industry” [1].   (This report was prepared by The Instant Group [2])

The study reports “33,072 centers” world wide, and project 14% growth. (I’m not sure what a “center” is.)  Much of the growth is expected to be in “secondary and tertiary” cities, AKA, fly-over country.  (I have advocated for this move for quite a while.)

There is also projection of strong growth outside Europe an North America.  Basically, it’s last year’s trend, so it’s going to be big in the hinterland, no?  (Not that China, Africa, or Latin America are secondary except in the minds of US and European analysts.)   Also, this reflects not only saturation, but also real estate prices.  There ain’t any such thing as affordable real estate in major cities, so even “tertiary” cities look interesting.

The most telling part of this report is what they consider to be the topic of the survey: “Flexible workspace industry”. This actually refers to a business model for real estate operations, not how workers work or anything else.   From this point of view, the growth is driven by “awareness among clients of all sizes of alternative ways to occupy office space”:  the “client” is someone who “occupies office space”.

If you wonder where the “community” or even “work” went, so do I.

The report discusses the growing interest in “hybrid” spaces, which “cater to a mix of SME businesses that want privacy, alongside start-up, freelancers”.  Conventional companies rent a block of space, but share common areas with un-affiliated  workersand other companies.  “The key for operators of these spaces will be to provide services that cater to both groups while creating a sense of community that encourages all occupiers to mix and feel part of something bigger than just themselves.”  (It’s telling that the workers are characterized as “occupiers”, no?)

I’ve heard that this arrangement is popular with workers, though I have yet to see any evidence of its effects for either the conventional employees or the independent workers.  I can see the benefits of getting outsiders to motivate, help, and “share” with your company’s employees—for free.  But  I have difficulty imagining how employees of a company can “share” with outsiders.

I think it will be interesting to see how this hybrid model actually works out.

In every survey of coworkers, the workers rate “a community of like-minded workers” high on the list of benefits.  Are these hybrid groups “like-minded”?  I doubt it.  This hybrid model does not seem very “peer-to-peer” to me—some of the workers are part of a hierarchy, and others are not.  And some are “inside” and others “outside” the companies.  And what independent worker would donate intellectual property or anything to a company that doesn’t pay her?

The report also contains the same bad news as last year: “we can expect to see increased investment into the industry, potentially leading to increased consolidation from larger scale providers, while smaller independents continue to look towards niche sectors to carve out sustainable business communities.”  Classic, community-based coworking suffers from competition from the massive build up of “flexible office space”.

As the report says, “smaller independents” will continue to exist, but not by competing on price or scale.  “Carving out a niche” simply means “crating a real, local community”, which is kind of the whole point of coworking.

The good news is that this kind of community has been the essence of coworking from the start, and is the very stuff that the giant corporate spaces are selling to their cold soulless face sucking corporate clients.  So I say, pay more attention to the community and the workers, and less to the “clients” who “occupy office space”.  You may not conquer the world or make millions, but you’re community will be happy and successful.


  1. Global Coworking Unconference Conferences (GCUC), The Future looks Juicy – What can we Expect from the Flexible Workspace Industry, in GCUC Blog. 2019. https://gcuc.co/the-future-looks-juicy-what-can-we-expect-from-the-flexible-workspace-industry/
  2. The Instant Group, Flexible Workspace Trends – 2019 and Beyond, in Instant Offices Blog. 2019. https://www.instantoffices.com/blog/featured/flex-workspace-trends-2019-beyond/

(For much more on what makes coworking tick, see the book “What is Coworking?”)

 

What is Coworking?