Tag Archives: Tony Bacigalupo

What is Coworking? It Makes the World Better

The Original Meaning Of Coworking (TOMOC) was

  1. “Community
  2. Openness
  3. Collaboration
  4. Accessibility
  5. Sustainability”

(From OpenCoworking, “values”)

Coworking is a positive response to the “new way of work”, the gig economy, coworking spaces are bottom up communities of workers, banding together in a space where they can work, collaborate, and network. And, very importantly, coworking makes coworkers happy.

At the recent Global Coworking Unconference Conference (GCUC 2016), the business of operating a coworking was front and center. But there were still vestiges of this older, simpler vibe.

For example, Nate Heasley discussed his time based alternative currency (goodnikels), which are designed to foster collaboration through barter of services, aiming at local social enterprises. If not directly related to coworking, this is certainly “coworking adjacent”. I will have to look at this effort in more detail, because I have been struggling to figure out how to harness cryptocurrency-like technology to do this kind of pro-social, karmic, accounting.

The GCUC alliance itself is setting up a foundation which, among other proposed activities is doing “AllGoodWork”, which encourages coworking spaces to donate “unused” space and expertise for use by “deserving organizations”. Essentially, free coworking for non profit organizations. (The web site describes this program as “tremendously impactful”.) [slides]

The most interesting talk, though, was by Tony Bacigalupo, beloved elder statesman and preeminent communitiologist.  Possibly reacting to some of the other speakers, his talk was about “Consumer Coworking” [slides], which I think must be what the “Service Office Industry” provides.

Consumer coworking is “lame”, he says, but it is coming, and it aims to suck away your members. What is the antidote? “authentic coworking”. Don’t focus on furniture, and don’t talk about “community”. Do community. Be community.

Let the people (coworkers) do the talking, he says. “Authentic coworking cares about the experiences people are having” and is a part of its neighborhood.

“Authentic Coworking doesn’t have to worry about competition, because it’s too busy being its own awesome self. “

Take that, you vampires!

Unsurprisingly, Mr. B. himself is walking the walk, with his “Cotivation” program, and the New Work Cities consultancy, which teaches how to do “Coworking the right way”.

Amen, brother Tony!

I didn’t come to GCUC expecting such a massive schism as I encountered. It will be interesting to see how this develops.

You can tell which way I lean.


What is Coworking?

“What is Coworking?” It’s Still All About “Community”

As I have commented many times in the last year, coworking is all about “community”, only secondarily about space or even “work”. Without a happy, active community, a coworking space is just a bunch of desks, probably less useful than a coffee shop.

While all coworking spaces are about “community”, there are many different “communities”, which means there are many different kinds of coworking spaces. But what can we say about these communities? What do they have in common? How do they work?

How Do They Work?

It is widely thought and claimed that coworking communities are collaborative, and increase creativity and productivity. Given that people self-select into their coworking space, we shouldn’t be surprised that they like working there. But what evidence is there for any benefits?

Vareska Van de Vrande and Michiel Tempelaar of the Rotterdam School of Management have published a survey of coworkers in the Netherlands [2]. The respondents reported positive outcomes, including “contributes to improving current products and services”, “expanding customer networks” and “development of business skills”, as well as finding gigs.

Van de Vrande and Tepelaar suggest two important reasons for the success, “serendipity and the creation of communities”. Large numbers of respondents reported unexpected, positive encounters with fellow coworkers.

The research found suggestive evidence that “community feeling” (i.e., a coworker feeling part of a community) is correlated with “collaborative innovation”. Intriguingly, serendipity seemed much more important than the organized community events for developing collaborations. They conclude that informal networking is most important, and the events program should seek to enhance it.

Caveat: This report is based on multiple sites of a single coworking chain, so I would be cautious before extrapolating to other coworking spaces that may have different “cultures”. Also, the data is mainly self report, so it would be important to get additional convergent measures, e.g., objective measures of the perceived “skill development”.

How Do You Build and Sustain a Community?

To create a new coworking space, and to keep one going, it is necessary to boot up and sustain a community, one way or another. One of the most fascinating developments in the coworking “movement” has been the emergence of pragmatic, deliberate “community management”, people who specialize in operating such communities.

One major practitioner is Tony Bacigalupo, author of “No More Sink Full of Mugs” [1]. After years of experience managing NewWorkCity, he is now one of the movers behind “Cotivation”, which teaches folks how to manage a coworking community.

So there are two new job descriptions, “Community Manager”, and a trainer of community managers!

In a New Year’s blog post, “Your Community’s Perfect January: My free toolkit for you!“, Bacigalupo gives us an idea of the kinds of things he thinks are important, in the form of a “free toolkit”. These ideas are “things that will welcome both current and existing members to integrate more with fellow community members”, with a “new year” theme.

“Resource #1” is a new year theme conversation starter, e.g., who wants to share ways that you plan to keep your resolutions.

“Resource #2” Call a planning meeting. (Ick!) He has suggestions for planning tools that might make this more effective.

“Resource #3” ”A fun winter gathering to kick the cold weather blues”. Such as a party.

And, of course, he plugs the Cotivation program.

Looking at the Van de Vrande and Tepelaar report, how do these “resources” stack up in terms of encouraging “serendipity”?

Resource #2, the Planning Meeting, is probably important for many reasons, to make sure members have a legitimate stake, and as part of bottom up governance. But it’s probably not much of a serendipity thing. If people are having unstructured conversations, it’s probably a bad meeting, no?

Resource #1, the “conversation starter”, is harder to guess. For some groups, this would be a conversation starter. For others it would be spam. If it starts people talking to each other, that’s a win. But who knows?

Actually, from reading B’s book, I think he is know for waling about and just starting conversations with people, face to face (not digitally). This, I imagine, is probably effective no matter what specific “script” he is working from. So maybe ignore the template and just go walkabout.

Resource #3, the Party, is, of course, all about serendipity. Whether pot lucks or alcohol themed events appeal depends on the group. His proposed themes don’t sound particularly interesting to me, but I might show up out of solidarity. But what would we talk about? (I’ve been to a lot of office parties in my life, I have rather low expectations.)

I don’t mean to be hypercritical here. The point I’m driving at is that this “community management” thing is more of an art than a science. I think V&T are probably correct that spontaneous conversation is more important that planned events.

How much or whether these “cotivation” resources help is an open question. Perhaps we will see some research on this question.


  1. Tony Bacigalupo, No More Sink Full of Mugs. 2015, No More Sink Full of Mugs: New York. https://sellfy.com/p/IBtB/
  2. Vareska Van de Vrande and Michiel Tempelaar, CREATING COMMUNITIES OF INNOVATION. Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, Rotterdam, 2015. http://api.rsm.nl/files/index/get/id/1aabed80-8ebb-11e5-8275-c1f4f8ce46f7


Books Reviewed 2015

Here is  housekeeping post, collecting all the books reviewed here in 2015.

Looking back at this list, I see that this year saw Terry Pratchette’s last book (a wrenching experience), and new novels by old favorites Stross, Perry, Macguire, Holt, Gaiman, among others. I also read older but still good histories by Goodwin and Graeber. I read several books about banking, Papal and otherwise, and overlapping works about Italy, fictional and (supposedly) real.

Over the year, I reviewed a sampling of important books about contemporary digital life, including cryptocurrency, the “sharing economy”, social media, and “mind change”.   These works covered a spectrum from enthusiasm to dark worry, giving us much to think about. There are many more I did not have time or energy for. (I will say more on this topic in another post)

Throughout 2015 I continued my ongoing investigation of the question, “what is coworking?”, including reviews of two recent (self published) books about coworking by practitioners. (More on coworking in another post.)

Shall I name some “Best Books” out of my list? Why not?


There were so many to pick from. I mean, with Neil Gaiman in the list, how can I choose? But let me mention two that are especially memorable

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
Very imaginative and well written, and, for once, not so horribly dark. This book lodged in my memory more than others that are probably equally good.

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
Published a few years ago, but I didn’t read it until this year. A wonderful, intricate story. The flight of the parrot is still in my memory.


There were many important works about digital life, and I shall try to comment on them in another post. But three books that really hit me are:

Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
From several years ago, but I didn’t read it until this year. Highly influential on the ‘occupy’ and other left-ish thinking. This is an astonishingly good book, and long form anthropology, to boot. Wow!

Reimagination Station: Creating a Game-Changing In-Home Coworking Space by Lori Kane
An exlectic little self-published book about “home coworking”, which I didn’t know was a thing. Kane walked the walk, and made me think in new ways about community and coworking.

Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs
Unexpected amounts of fun reading this short book. It does an old, graying nerd no end of good to see that at least some of the kids are OK. Really, really, OK.

List of books reviewed in 2015


A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias
After Alice by Gregory Maguire
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson
Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen
Chasing the Phoenix by Michael Swanwick
Candy Apple Red by Nancy Bush
Chicks and Balances edited by Esther Friesner and John Helfers
Corsair by James L. Cambias
Count to a Trillion by John C. Wright
Diaspora by Greg Egan
Distress by Greg Egan
Electric Blue by Nancy Bush
Forty Thieves by Thomas Perry
Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong
Get In Trouble by Kelly Link
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
Koko the Mighty by Kieran Shea
Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald
Mort(e) by Robert Repino
Numero Zero by Umberto Eco
Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
Rebirths of Tao by Wesley Chu
Redeployment by Phil Klay
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Shark Skin Suite by Tim Dorsey
String of Beads by Thomas Perry
Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross
The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year Volume Nine ed. by Jonathan Strahan
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff
The First Bad Man by Miranda July
The Fortress in Orion by Mike Resnick
The Future Falls by Tanya Huff
The Good, the Bad, and The Smug by Tom Holt
The Mark and the Void by Paul Murray
The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley
The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu
The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone
The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
The Wild Ways by Tanya Huff
Time Salvager by Wesley Chu
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman
Ultraviolet by Nancy Bush
We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler
Witches Be Crazy by Logan J. Hunder
Zer0es by Chuck Wendig

Non Fiction

Arrival of the Fittest by Andreas Wagner
Blue Mind by Wallace J. Nichols
Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
Digital Gold by Nathaniel Popper
Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs
God’s Bankers by Gerald Posner
LaFayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell
Let’s Be Less Stupid by Patricia Marx
Live Right and Find Happiness by Dave Barry
Merchants in the Temple by Gianluigi Nuzzi
Mind Change by Susan Greenfield
Mindsharing by Lior Zoref
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
No More Sink Full of Mugs by Tony Bacigalupo
Not Impossible by Mick Ebeling
Pax Technica by Phillip N. Howard
Peers, Inc by Robin Chase
Reimagination Station: Creating a Game-Changing In-Home Coworking Space by Lori Kane
Speculative Everything by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
The Age of Cryptocurrency by Paul Vigna and Michael J. Casey
The Art of Forgery by Noah Charney
The Next Species by Michael Tennesen
The Reputation Economy by Michael Fertik and David C. Thompson
The Social Labs Revolution by Zaid Hassan
The Ugly Renaissance by Alexander Lee
Twentyfirst Century Robot by Brian David Johnson
Women of Will:  Following the Feminine in Shakespeare’s Plays by Tina Packer


Book Reviews











Book Review: “No More Sink Full Of Mugs” by Tony Bacigalupo

No More Sink Full of Mugs by Tony Bacigalupo

Tony Bacigalupo is one of the founders and key leaders of the New Work City coworking space, one of the earliest and most influential cowork spaces. As “mayor” of New Work City, he was deeply involved in their conscious efforts to create and sustain the community that defined the space.

New Work City is closed now (they lost their lease), and Bacigalupo has recently contributed to the “Cotivation” project.

“Mugs” is a short, self-published book written while NWC was still going strong, It is an effort to capture some of the principles and lessons learned about how to build and nurture a coworking community. Lessons from a Sensei: pay attention, Bob!

First, this is explicitly not an academic treatise, “I feel like I can give you far more than your money’s worth without having to prove myself with a lot of theory and research.“ (p.12) That said, there is a lot of thoughtful comment about he “elusive task” of “[b]uilding and maintaining a healthy culture in a shared.” (p. 9)

I note for the record that there is definitely an opportunity and need for academic research on coworking.

Bacigalupo talks a lot about “culture”, in a very pragmatic vein. His goal is to “steer your culture in the right direction”, and the bulk of the book is eight principles and twelve “simple systems” that “made potentially difficult things easier” and “fostered a sense of trust and created space for healthier culture.” (p.11) I will briefly list these, you should read the book.

His basic principles (Chapter 1) are:

  1. Treat people like human beings.
  2. Value relationships over transactions.
  3. Make everything visibly and obviously accessible.
  4. Empower people to handle things themselves wherever possible.
  5. Trust by default.
  6. Remind people to use their conscience.
  7. Practice relentless positivity.
  8. Avoid hard rules.

Notice the number of times the word “people” appears, as well as “trust” and “relationships”.

A flavor of what he is shooting for is given in Chapter 2, “12 Simple Systems for Happy, Empowered Communities”

  1. We celebrate when people clear the sink.
  2. We let members be in charge of the coffee.
  3. We give everyone a way to connect with each other though an online discussion group.
  4. We’re intentional but not overly pushy about onboarding new members.
  5. We hold a monthly Welcome Aboard Member Meeting (WAMM)
  6. We let the members start and stop their own memberships.
  7. We make our business hours malleable.
  8. We rely on our culture and our values when we encounter people who we fear may not be a good fit.
  9. We don’t charge extra for printing—or anything else.
  10. We let members book our large conference room online.
  11. We let members book smaller meeting rooms in the space.
  12. We offer members a way to help run the place.

Note that these “systems” are all stated in terms of “We”.

The 12 systems are very pragmatic, some at the level of sign up sheets and other details. Naturally, these may or may not be useful for any given situation, but they certainly give you a flavor of what worked in NWC.

Overall, this little book is a useful snapshot from one of the leading practitioners in the coworking “movement”.

First of all, we see again the mantra that coworking is all about “community, community, community”. Without a community, it’s just office space.

But more important, Bacigalupo’s coworking spaces deliberately work to create and foster communities (“vibrant communities”, says Cat Johnson). This is now called “curating” the space community, suggesting a skilled and esthetic hand bringing together and caring for a collection of people. Bacigalupo himself eschews such a title, and says that he leaves the curation to the community itself. That reflects his approach to community building, preferring not to treat people as curated objects.

We also get a sense of the kind of community Bacigalupo is thinking of. To be fair, he’s not stiffly doctrinaire about it, I’m sure he’d be happy with most bottom up, democratic communities that represent their members needs and hopes.

It is clear, though, that Bacigalupo is thinking about urban settings, filled with freelancers, contractors, and tiny startups, mostly in information heavy industries. The infrastructure of the NWC includes networks and printers, but not laboratories and workshops, for instance.

The “amenities” are telling, too. They resemble the facilities and nods to the vibe of a software startup. Meeting rooms, kitchen commons, and Friday social hours (with alcohol). I didn’t see anything about large screen TV, football pools, or parties at the sports bar across the street.

This is a caricature of the NWC community, but it has been an influential model for many coworking spaces, and for many, it is the prototypical picture of what coworking is all about.

Anyone looking for a magic formula for creating a vibrant community may be disappointed by Bacigalupo’s book. Most of the “systems” are neither new nor secret. The secret is to really do the things you know are right, consistently and persistently. Of course, I suspect that Tony is really good at listening to, paying attention to, and persuading people; and I bet his respect comes through in every conversation.

For an aspiring community “curator” who needs more that “Mugs”, Bacigalupo collaborated with another notable curator, Susan Dorsch of Office Nomads, to create “Cotivation”, which provides a complete program to train and operate a “cotivation” self-help group to boost the community spirit of any working space. This program propagates many of the attitudes and concepts described in “Mugs”, along with some specific exercises that, among other things, directly targets the “isolation” of remote workers

All in all, “No More Sink Full of Mugs“ is an interesting book that gives us insight into the thinking of one of the erly founders of coworking, and one of the people who has helped invent the concept of actively fostering specific kinds of community as part of coworking spaces.


  1. Tony Bacigalupo, No More Sink Full of Mugs. 2015, No More Sink Full of Mugs: New York. https://sellfy.com/p/IBtB/


Sunday Book Review