Tag Archives: Cat Johnson

What is Coworking? It Can Be Out In The Country [repost]

[This was posted earlier here]

Living out here in the flyover states, I have been watching how coworking might happen outside cities.

This month Sensei Cat Johnson interviewed Torill Bye Wilhelmsen about her coworking space Fjellflyt (“mountain flow”), in the Norwegian countryside [1].

In a small town (pop 3500), “there are not a lot of entrepreneurs to recruit”.  There actually was shared office space available, but Wilhelmsen wanted to create a community of coworkers, not just offices.

How did she do it?  She spent a year getting to know here neighbors.  The coworking space opened only after she created the community.

We invited people for dinner in our home, we’ve had wine and cheese evenings, we’ve gone on trips together, we’ve taken our families on outdoor adventures, we make dinner in the evenings, the adults have gone on mountain biking or kayaking trips, or other social activities.”

Now that’s what I call “community leadership”!

Her coworking space is also kind of “destination” coworking.  Located in a wonderful area of National Parks, many of her community have moved out from the city to find a nice life.  Obviously, not every rural area is as attractive to refugees from the smoke.

Her community is also focused on “creatives”, including actors, writers, designers, programmers, and, she says, one “ecological, small-scale” farmer.  With the exception of the farmer and mountain lodge business, this is not that different from many urban coworking communities, is it?

Wilhelmsen also says that her coworkers were remote working from home.  This is the classic use case for coworking:  a respite from the loneliness and isolation of working at home.  This, too, is pretty much the same as urban coworking.

Special challenges, aside from low population?  Connectivity cannot be taken for granted, and is actually an important asset for the workers.

Special advantages?  Well, most coworking communities are not recruited one by one over the dinner table, are they?

One open question is how this fits with the “native” residents and the long term health of the rural communities.

Reading between the lines of the interview, it seems that most of the interest is from “immigrants” up from the city.  The locals are involved in their own businesses, such as tourism.  I suspect that young people who want to be “creatives” probably leave town to go to the bigger city.  So, with a local coworking community, will more local kids stay home, or maybe come back home?  If so, that would be a huge benefit to the rural area.

  1. Cat Johnson, Bringing Coworking To A Norwegian Mountain Town: A Q&A With Torill Bye Wilhelmsen, in AllWork. 2019. https://allwork.space/2019/07/bringing-coworking-to-a-norwegian-mountain-town-a-qa-with-torill-bye-wilhelmsen/


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


What is Coworking?

What is Coworking? It might be at a Hotel [repost]

[This was posted earlier here.]

Many view a coworking space as a sector of the hospitality industry, and, indeed, hotels have provided temporary workspace for many years.   Now some hotels are opening “coworking spaces” [1].

Coworking is in demand, and hotels already have the space and service infrastructure to cater to the needs of flexible workers.

As Sensei Cat Johnson says, “Coworking in hotels is a thing, and it’s not going away.”

So what does coworking at a hotel mean?  And what does it have to do with coworking in general?

Jo Meunier describes a variety of business models [1].  Within a hotel, a coworking space is available as temporary workspace for guests and, potentially, for local workers.  Hotel guests are often working “alone, together”, and the coworking environment presumably makes this a bit nicer and, ideally, less isolated.  I have spent a lot of time feeling alone in hotels, so I can see the point.

For local workers, the hotel offers glitzy surroundings, if you like that kind of thing.  (Personally, I am just nauseated by the “luxury” décor of fancy hotels.)  In some cases, the coworkers may get access to the “amenities” of the hotel as part of the deal.  So, maybe you would like working at the Ritz, and getting access to the spa, room service, etc.

The space might be “branded” for the hotel.  Or, a local or global coworking operation might to operate a branded space within the hotel.  In the latter case, workers would presumably be able to connect with other workers in the area as part of a coworking community.

What about community?

Which brings us to the 64 million dollar question, “what about community?

“The big question for coworking operators is, what about community?”

If you think that coworking is all about community, community, community (as I do), you have to wonder just how the transient population of a hotel will foster a feeling of community.  After all, these workers may share nothing except that they don’t live here.  These are peers, perhaps, but not necessarily “like-minded”.  (One reason why I feel so isolated at hotels is that I really have nothing in common with most business travelers.)

Meunier notes this challenge, but notes that hotels have strong offers of customer oriented service and amenities [1].  Frankly, I don’t think these things make up for a lack of community.

It is clear to me, then, why contracting with a coworking operation might be a good way to go.  The hotel’s space can be an outcrop of a local community, which could be quite attractive especially compared to sitting along in your room.

Is This Really Coworking?

I suspect that some of these operations will be basically just short-term office rental.  Probably pretty expensive office rental, considering the venues.

Other operations might really be a corporate coworking space, with a bit of added glitz.  Not my cup of tea, but maybe good for some (well funded) workers.

I would be very surprised if much in the way of long term community develops in such a space.  In that sense, it isn’t going to be very successful coworking, however “nice” the amenities.

I guess we’ll see.

  1. Jo Meunier, Everything You Need To Know About Coworking In Hotels, in AllWork. 2019. https://allwork.space/2019/05/everything-you-need-to-know-about-coworking-in-hotels/

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


What is Coworking?

What is Coworking? Johnson says it makes you smarter [repost]

[This was posted earlier here.]

This month Sensei Cat Johnson reports that “Coworking is Making Us Smarter”. [2]

OK, I’ll bite.  Explain that to me.

First, she refers to an old survey of coworkers to presented at GCUC in 2015. As in following years, this self-report survey finds that coworkers say they are “happier” and “less lonely” (than working alone, I assume), and that coworking “keeps them sane” (whatever that means).  I have discussed these findings in the past, and there are several chapters in my 2018 book about this topic [3] . (And see my Pecha Kucha talk.)

So how does this make us “smarter”?  This once-was-a-Psych-major wants to know.

Johnson testifies, as many other coworkers have reported, that coworking improves professional skills and opportunities.

She also refers to a 2009 study reported by Ron Friedman, and colleagues [1] which shows that, as Johnson puts it, “emotions, such as motivation, are contagious.”  The study itself has a limited scope, but many studies find that emotions and lots of other behavior are strongly influenced by being part of a group, especially a group with which you identify.

I would say that a coworking community is certainly likely to generate this kind of “contagion”.  Workers are free to choose to join a community of “like minded peers”—people both friendly and attractive, and also recognized as a peer group, and hence socially relevant and worth emulating.  (Note to coworkers:  this means you should be careful about your “attitude”.  A bad attitude will spread as much as a good one.)

So, I can see that coworking makes workers happy, less isolated, and with the right community, might make you more successful and better motivated.  These are all potential benefits of coworking.

And I think that Sensei Cat means to say that (a) it is “smart” to get yourself some of that good stuff, and( b) these good things make you “smarter” by some definition of “smart”.

“By joining a coworking community, you do far more than simply expand your professional network.

“You expand your mind, intelligence and career.” (From [2])

I’m OK with this general idea, though I can’t say that the research supports the claim or not.  With my psychologists hat on, I really don’t know what “smart” (or “intelligent”) means in this context, so I have to leave it as Johnson’s hypothesis.

But, look:  workers like coworking, and participating in a coworking community probably has many social and psychological benefits. (At least some workers, some of the time.)  It really isn’t important whether it makes workers “smarter” or not, it’s probably good for workers, and certainly better than working alone all the time.

  1. Ron Friedman, Edward L. Deci, Andrew J. Elliot, Arlen C. Moller, and Henk Aarts, Motivational synchronicity: Priming motivational orientations with observations of others’ behaviors. Motivation and Emotion, 34 (1):34-38, 2010/03/01 2010. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-009-9151-3
  2. Cat Johnson, Good News! Coworking is Making Us Smarter, in Coworking Out Loud. 2019. https://catjohnson.co/coworking-makes-us-smarter/
  3. Robert E. McGrath, What is Coworking? A look at the multifaceted places where the gig economy happens and workers are happy to find community. 2018, Robert E. McGrath: Urbana. https://whatiscoworkingthebook.com/


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


What is Coworking?

What is Coworking? Ashley Procter Still Believes It Can Transform Communities [repost]

[This was posted earlier here]

This month Sensei Cat Johnson interviewed Canadian “coworking powerhouse” Ashley Proctor about “the potential of coworking to transform neighborhoods, cities, regions and beyond.”  [1]

The “future of work”, hell!  It’s the future of everything!

I have asked whether anyone still believes in the Coworking Manifesto.  Proctor and Johnson clearly do.

Sensei Ashley is very clear about what “genuine” coworking is and is not.

“A genuine coworking space has nothing to do with desks or wifi or space rental—it’s about bringing people together, and dismantling loneliness. We see people focused on building and strengthening communities, and inspiring and empowering members.”

Amen, Sister Ashley!

Proctor looks beyond coworking per se, to other just as valuable activities that “can make an impact on a local economy, and have a social impact“. What does this mean in practice?  If she isn’t specific, it’s because every case is specific.  Her own example is a repurposed building (a disused polices station) in a poor neighborhood.  In this case, improving the community means dealing with poverty right outside the door.

Other cases will be embedded in other communities, and thus have other possibilities and necessities.

Her guiding principle is “lead by example”.

It’s really just that simple, actually.

“Any coworking space can make an impact on a local economy, and have a social impact, as well. Every coworking space can be dismantling loneliness and helping people connect within their community. Whether or not that’s their focus, that’s happening in each space. Every space is empowering neighborhood residents.“

Proctor gets extra points from me with a call for collecting data to demonstrate the (alleged) benefits of coworking.  I see lots of claims, but little evidence to back them up.

Getting decent evidence isn’t easy, but, as she notes, there are (or should be) people who are very interested in these questions.  Find allies, she suggests.  (My own experience has been that there is very little interest is seriously studying these issues.  But there should be.  Keep trying.)

Unfortunately, Procto’s philosophy seems to be a minority in the overall coworking world.  Many workers and operators are focused on business development, of workers and of the workspace enterprise itself.  If “community” is defined to be “the (paying) members’ of the workspace, there is little impact on the street outside.  Coworking makes workers happy, which is good.  But Proctor would say that it can do a lot more than that.

And, of course, there are many people who are focused on furniture and layout , which I think is irrelevant to “community” of any sort, and certainly contributes nothing to any wider social impact.  Furniture doesn’t change the world, people change the world.

To be fair, there is an inherent tension between the needs of independent workers and the desire to serve the whole local community.  Workers need infrastructure, companionship, and child care, among other things.  A community needs jobs, public space, and decent places to live, among other things.  It is difficult to meet all the needs of everyone, in one operation, and not necessarily wise to try to do too many things at once.

Clearly, Sensei Proctor has her head screwed on right.  She has an inspiring vision, and seems to still be living out the “Coworking Manifesto”.

  1. Cat Johnson, The Social And Economic Impact Of Coworking: A Q&A With Ashley Proctor, in allwork. 2019. https://allwork.space/2019/03/the-social-and-economic-impact-of-coworking-a-qa-with-ashley-proctor/

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


What is Coworking?

Happiness Apps 2019

­In earlier posts I’ve looked at various “happiness apps”.  I  must admit that I have a very, very skeptical attitude toward this concept, not least because of the known psychological damage done by doing anything on the screen.

At the same time, I pay close attention to what Sensei Cat Johnson has to say.  So her recent post to Sharable caught my eye:  “15 Apps to Boost Your Happiness” [1]

(Hmm.  This list was originally published in 2015.  But this is still relevant today, and there should be a few more years of actual use by now, no?  It’s been a while since I looked at this stuff anyway, so let’s see what the state of play is in 2019.)

The array or apps on offer is familiar.  A quick skim shows the usual suspects.

Several of the apps are variations of positive thinking, making affirmative statements, and, of course, “guided meditation”.  I know that the basic techniques work, at least some of the time for some people.  Similarly, there is a “gratitude journal” and a “pay it forward” charity app.  These, too, are practices that make people happy, at least some people, some of the time.  (I would recommend combining the gratitude journal with the charity app: take time to say why you are grateful/proud/happy, and why this action expresses your good feelings.)

One of the apps basically reminds you to drink enough water.  Yes, you need to drink water.  No, you don’t need your phone to tell you to do that.  Your body knows.  And in any case, just drink water instead of caffeine or cola.

Several of the apps focus on monitoring your mood in some form. In a sense, this is cutting to the heart of the matter—trying to make yourself happier.  The thing is, these apps are basically self-reports of your mood, which is both disruptive of daily life (“stop what you are doing and tell me how happy you are, from 1 to 10”) and questionably accurate.  I’m also concerned that the flashy screen interfaces imply both more validity and more accuracy than probably warranted.

More alarming, two of the apps claim to improve sleep, and one uses a sensor to do biofeedback on your heartbeat. I suspect that there is a large dose of placebo in these apps, but to the degree that they do anything, it is scary.  Monkeying around with your physiology is not safe or smart.

For all these apps, there is a fundamental question, “Does delivering it on a mobile device work?”  As far as I know, the science is not strong on this point.

If I had to guess, I would say that there are counter balanced positives and negatives, especially for “digital natives” who live lives entangled with their mobiles.  The more you get your information and entertainment form your mobile, the more effective it might be as a channel for self-guidance.  On the other hand, the same device is delivering the very stress and distraction you are fighting, so who knows how well these apps can compete on the enemies home ground.

Does taking over your phone—blocking out all the stress and distraction—make them helpful?  Or does being on the mobile associate them strongly with the stress and distraction of that interface?  I dunno.

“Turn it off” might work even better.

One of the apps is very much more interesting.  Couple (originally “Pair”) is is an app for couples.  The idea to create a social network of size two, with many of the features of conventional social media: shared photos and messages, constant connection, etc.  Much of what it has are redundant with other social media platforms, except the distribution is tightly controlled. I.e., people are already doing this stuff with Facebook, Instagram, Skype, etc..

I certainly see the use case for long distance relationships, or even for really busy people who are effectively separated a lot of the time.  And there is a certain security in an app that, in principle, is a private digital duprass . It’s designed so it is not easy to share the intimate stuff with the whole internet, or to sneak around with someone else.

I’m not sold on many of the features, such as shared “to do” lists, and “find nearby restaurants”.  Obviously, these can be done with other apps, and maybe would be better.  I mean, if you want to find a restaurant, you probably want to look at public ratings and information anyway.

I really don’t get what their “map” is all about.  It seems to be showing the geographical location of all the users (e.g., with a line linking them across the ocean).  Why is this interesting information?  I mean, the entire point, the only point of this app is that there is only one person you care about.

There is one semi-cool feature: Thumbkiss. This interface sets up a real time link so when both of you presses your thumb to the screen, there is a special haptic “touch” (and glowing light).  This is a particularly vivid way to signify that you are thinking of each other right now.  (Some people do this kind of thing with Skype, touching the screens together.)

Thinking about this app, I have to wonder who will like this the most.  T

here are many digital natives who seem to need their whole life documents on the Internet.  It didn’t happen if there aren’t pix.  This app has the same technology, but the performance is to a very limited audience.  Showing your partner what you are having for dinner isn’t quite the same action as showing all your friends.  So do you post the same thing twice, or sometimes post only to your sweetie and sometimes to your friends, or what?

In a similar vein, it seems clear that certain kinds of online behavior—competing for attention, showing off, etc.,–would be a bad idea and probably just not work in a just -the -two-of-us network.  Sure, you want to give and get attention from each other, but not necessarily through the “look what I bought today”, or “look who I’m having coffee with” mode.

Honestly, I really don’t know what kind of things people will really use it for, and if they won’t just use other platforms.


Why would people not use this app?  As already noted, there is little here that you can’t get elsewhere.

The just-us-two is pretty much the lower limit of a social network, so who knows if it is even worth the overhead.  And, by the way, there are interesting wrinkles such as the prohibition on more than two (no threesomes, not even for children or parents). Most people have family and friends, and their sweetie is ultimately part of that overall social world.  So, does Couple simple age out as the relationship matures?

In the FAQ I found that there is a special process for breaking up! There has to be a process, because you can only join as a couple, so uncoupling means no more social network.  Sigh.  I sure wouldn’t want to have to do customer service for that part.

I’ll also note that you really shouldn’t use this when you are in the same room.  To the degree that people are using the “togetherness” features on their phone while they are together, that’s bad news for the relationship.  Put. The. Phone. Down.  Look at her.  Look at him.  Talk.  Listen. Be there now, with and for each other.

Finally, I’m completely unable to guess what the business model might be.  Just how do they make money off this product?  Most social media sells its customers to advertisers.  If Couples is doing that, then Ick!  Double Ick!  Triple Ick!

If not, then how do they make money?  And just how much money could they make anyway?

Technology I’ve got.  But I’ll never understand Internet business models.

  1. Cat Johnson (2015) 15 Apps to Boost Your Happiness. Sahrable, https://www.shareable.net/blog/15-apps-to-boost-your-happiness

New Year’s: Pause For Thought

The New Year is always a time for pause and assessment, and generally thinkin’ ‘bout things.  So let’s take a few moments to ruminate on Awe.

Sensei Cat Johnson pointed to a piece from Greater Good Magazine, “Eight Reasons Why Awe Makes Your Life Better” [1] .

As the title indicates, Summer Allen goes through a list of research findings about psychological and social benefits of experiencing “awe” – “the feeling we get in the presence of something vast that challenges our understanding of the world”.  This emotion may be triggered by a variety of natural settings or dramatic events, though I would say that the key is that it is triggered by things outside of yourself:  out of your own control and heedless of your existence.  In short, bigger than you.

1. Awe may improve your mood and make you more satisfied with your life

2. Awe may be good for your health

3. Awe may help you think more critically

4. Awe may decrease materialism

5. Awe makes you feel smaller and more humble

6. Awe can make you feel like you have more time

7. Awe can make you more generous and cooperative

8. Awe can make you feel more connected to other people and humanity (From [1])

For my money, the heart of the matter is #5, “Awe makes you feel smaller and more humble”.  This is practically the definition of what “awe” feels like, and IMO the other suggested benefits all flow from it.

The universe is huge, and there are huge things in it.  You aren’t huge. It’s probably a good idea to realize that you really are tiny to the point of insignificance.

This realization has useful corollaries. When you feel properly humble, your problems and desires are, by definition, humble ones.  “Awe may decrease materialism” (#4), “Awe may […] make you more satisfied with your life” (#1), “Awe can make you more generous and cooperative” (#7) and so on.

Allen calls “awe research” (!)  a “15-year old science”, though honestly people have known the pleasures and benefits of humbleness for as long as we have records. People have always been struck by awesome experiences, natural and artificial (e.g., see religious and mystical practices).  Still, it is good to see some careful studies that examine and validate these intuitions.

It is important to note that experiencing “awe” isn’t just about encountering something special or outstanding. Lot’s of things—pretty much anything—can be “awesome” if you receive it that way.  There are many famous anecdotes about a transcendent experience triggered by some tiny, everyday perception.

My own suspicion is that half the story is being emotionally prepared to “let it be awesome”.

I’ll add that a great multiplier for “awe” is gratitude. <<link>>  Organizing and expressing thoughts of gratitude may well create feelings of, well, awe, or at least have the same effect.

I think that when you express gratitude something good in your life, you recognize that you aren’t the center of the universe.  Furthermore, the good things you have or witness are gifts, not payment for services. That is, well, awesome.

Let me wish everyone a happy New Year.

And let’s all take time to both express gratitude and experience awe.  We’ll all be better for it, and happier, too.

  1. Summer Allen, Eight Reasons Why Awe Makes Your Life Better, in Greater Good Magazine. 2018. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/eight_reasons_why_awe_makes_your_life_better


PS.  The first idea for Band Name for 2019:

Awe Research

What is Coworking? It could be an indigenous community

Sensei Cat Johnson—who really gets it about “community” [1]—writes this month about a new community coworking space booting up in Winnipeg– Canoe Coworking.

Canoe aims to be a bit different, to be “indigenous-focused coworking” which above all means “creating a space that respects cultural protocol.” [2]

If coworking is all about community (and it definitely is [3]), then it is certainly interesting to look at existing communities as both models and customers for coworking spaces.

Canoe founder Tara Everett comments that this project has had to overcome mistrust of something so different from what her community is used to.  At the same time, she thinks that “Indigenous people have been coworking since the beginning of time”. Her vision of coworking is one that it maps to traditional organizations and ways..

If you’re a hunter, you’re hunting; if you’re a gatherer, you’re gathering; if you’re a little bit of both, you’re doing that, instead of being forced into these rules where you have to fit in a tiny shoebox.

I think this is an interesting way to think about the “independents, together” aspect of coworking.  Hunting, gathering, and maybe a mix of both.

Everett is still thinking about how to define the “indigenous” nature of the community.  She wants it to have a certain cultural milieu, but potentially be open to others.  As she explains this tension:

[W]e’re all just people within the space. But we have enough knowledge about each other’s cultures that we don’t feel that we have to explain everything. It’s exhausting for people to have to explain their culture over and over again.

One of interesting and unique “protocols” she envisions is an elder lounge.  This part of the space is both dedicated toward taking care of and respecting elders, and as a source of advice and counseling for workers. Cool!

I’m not aware of any other coworking space with any kind of provision for older people, let alone this kind of intergenerational care and mentoring.

I don’t want to be suggesting any kind of cultural appropriation, but I think this idea of a multi-generational space is something that other coworking spaces might explore.

Everett’s summary is actually good advice for any coworking space that wants a community emphasis”

“Indigenous people tend to be very holistic in their approach to policies and looking at all sides of things, not just dollars. We look at how something will make people feel and how it will impact our community. There’s so much more to coworking than just coming into work”.

There’s so much more to coworking than just coming into work”.  There’s a motto for everyone!

  1. Cat Johnson, You Can’t Force Community, in Cat Johnson Content. 2017. https://catjohnson.co/cant-force-community/
  2. Cat Johnson, Indigenous Coworking In Manitoba: A Q&A With Canoe Coworking Founder Tara Everett, in AllWork. 2018. https://allwork.space/2018/08/indigenous-coworking-in-manitoba-a-qa-with-canoe-coworking-founder-tara-everett/
  3. Robert E. McGrath, What is Coworking? A look at the multifaceted places where the gig economy happens and workers are happy to find community. 2018, Robert E. McGrath: Urbana. https://whatiscoworkingthebook.com/


What is Coworking?

What is Coworking? It’s All About Community Leadership

Coworking is all about community, community, community.

But this community doesn’t happen by chance or arise spontaneously.

As discussed in Chapter 5 of my book [2] “What is Coworking?”, the contemporary coworking phenomenon is characterized by a cadre of community leaders, who combine roles and skills from a number of other professions.  The success of a coworking space and its community depends on great community leadership.

This month Sensei Cat Johnson illustrates this point in “An Open Letter to Community Managers”, which is surely addressed to her own community leaders [1].

As usual, Sensei Cat says it so much better than I could.


“Without you, this whole coworking thing would fall apart.”

Sensei Cat calls out many roles these professional “community managers” play in her coworking space, including technical IT support, orienting new workers, and office management.  The “manager” also organizes social events (“what about those happy hours we all roll into without much thought”), deals with personal conflicts, talks to everyone, and generally “connects’ everyone.

“You balance badass, cruise director, networker extraordinaire and all around kind/thoughtful/fun person, and you do it with style and flair.”

Besides the vital social glue that is so important to the happiness and well being of the workers, the community leader fosters networking and collaboration, which is one of the key benefits workers find in their coworking space.

“Your knack for connecting people has led to more collaborations and friendships than we could ever count.”

Indeed, these leaders create and sustain the community, and really are the heart of a coworking community.  As Sensei Cat puts it.

“You are the face and maestro of our community.”

As usual, she says it so much better than I could.

But if you want to read my own exposition of this topic and a lot more, please read my new book [2].  Available from several sources.

  1. Cat Johnson, An Open Letter to Community Managers, in Cowroking Out Loud. 2018. https://catjohnson.co/open-letter-community-managers/
  2. Robert E. McGrath, What is Coworking? A look at the multifaceted places where the gig economy happens and workers are happy to find community. 2018, Robert E. McGrath: Urbana. https://whatiscoworkingthebook.com/



What is Coworking?

What is Coworking? It Can Be On A Co-op Plan

There are many ways to organize and operate a coworking space.  (See my new book, “What is Coworking?” [2])

These days, things have become awfully corporate feeling, and it is hard to remember the early days of coworking, which was much more of a worker owned enterprise.

The fact is, coworking spaces have been successfully run not just as for-profit companies, but also as not-just-for-profit, non-profit, embedded in other enterprises (e.g., libraries), and around kitchen tables.

And a coworking space can also be operated as a worker owned cooperative.

This month Cat Johnson reports on Coworking Niagara, “the only English-speaking coworking co-op in Canada” [1].   The workers who use the space are coowners of the space. Actually, paying members own the space, however much they use it.

Founder Trevor Twining indicates that the choice of a coop reflected the desire for mutual commitment. However, “cooperative” does not have to mean “non-profit.”

In the interest of financial sustainability, CN is organized as a for profit cooperative. This requires seeking income to sustain the space, which has led them to offer revenue generating services.

For profit status has both benefits and limitations.  Non-profits can have some kinds of relationships that for profit cannot (e.g., with public and other non-profits).

The main point, of course, was to align the formal governance of the space with the egalitarian spirit of the coworking community. “[W]e wanted members to not only feel like they were involved and had a say, but to actually have a say.

Twining says that a big benefit is that the members’, AKA customers’, interests are aligned with the space, and with each other.  This mutual interest strengthens this aspect of the community.

“We wanted to commit ourselves to them and we wanted them to be committed to us.”

Of course, cooperatives can be difficult to set up and operate. The legal framework is not trivial, and a patchwork across different jurisdictions.  And democratic decision making can be difficult.  On the other hand, Twining says there are generally other cooperatives in the area which are eager to cooperate.  So there is an existing ecosystem of mutual help among coops.

Is a coop a good model for running a coworking space?  Yes, for some, but not necessarily for all.

The plusses include the close alignment between the community and it’s spirit; and the operation of the facility. In particular, there won’t be a question of a corporate rake-off or other potential conflicts of interests between the management and the members.

This alignment is also a potential weakness. A coop is a commitment, and this may not suit every worker.  (A coop is all pigs, no chickens.) There are plenty of independent workers who desire a place to work, but not the hassle of helping run a workplace. It also may be harder to leave, or to split time with other coworking facilities. If you are part owner, you can’t walk away as easily.

A cooperative organization is not a guarantee against conflict. Indeed, a serious conflict among members will automatically be a conflict within the management, with potentially serious consequences.  We’ve all seen organizations disintegrate in factional fighting, and a coop is just as vulnerable to this, if not more so.

In the end, everything depends on the members and the leadership. In particular, with the right leadership, pretty much any formal organization will work.  And a good community will work well no matter what the paperwork says.

From what I have read, all things equal, booting up a coop is probably more work than a corporation.  But, as Twining says, “there are long-term rewards”.

  1. Cat Johnson, Bringing The Cooperative Business Model To Coworking: A Q&A With Cowork Niagara’s Trevor Twining, in allWork. 2018. https://allwork.space/2018/05/bringing-the-cooperative-business-model-to-coworking-a-qa-with-cowork-niagaras-trevor-twining/
  2. Robert E. McGrath, What is Coworking? A look at the multifaceted places where the gig economy happens and workers are happy to find community, Urbana, Robert E. McGrath, 2018.

Hey, hey!  My new book “What is Coworking?” is (finally) available at online stores.

Check it out

And if you are in the area, come on out to the Book Launch, June 1.


What is Coworking?