Tag Archives: What is Coworking?

What is Coworking? The NYT “Style” Section Hasn’t A Clue

As I have noted before, in-home coworking is one of the low-cost variations of coworking.  It has been around for quite a while, documented by Lori Kane [3] and formalized by the likes of HOffice [2].

There is also an increasing trend to create a diverse array coworking communities to suit different workers, and to reflect the make up of cities.  Notably, there are many coworking spaces that aim to serve professional women in various formats.

In January, The New York Times apparently “discovered” this phenomena, and wrote a piece based on a few examples—from Los Angeles.   Sheila Marikar did a rather ill-informed piece in the Style section about home coworking targeting women, with the annoying title, “Come on Over to My Place, Sister Girlfriend, and We’ll Co-Work” [4].  Much of the piece is about the supposed ‘girls-hanging out’ conviviality of these work sessions.

The fluffy piece portrayed this as (a) sort of Californian craziness and (b) something that women do.

Sigh.

There are many ways to cowork, many different coworkers, and many different kinds of coworking communities.  There are many ways that women cowork, many different female workers, and many different kinds of female-oriented coworking communities—and many not-particulary-female-oriented coworking communities with many female workers.

As I noted, this home coworking approach has a considerable history, and the actual sessions vary, depending on the preferences of the participants.  That’s kind of the point, no?

It is true that home coworking is attractive to workers, male and female, who don’t enjoy a dry, soulless office environment. [5]  Again, that’s the point.

So, to sum up: from the NYT article, we learn that some women sometimes enjoy a female-oriented, informal chatty work environment.  Yup. So?  The whole idea of coworking is that workers get to choose and create their own working environment. For these workers, this is what they want.  (And, by the way, there have been times when I enjoyed a chatty, silly office environment–mostly male.)


While I found the article deeply and comprehensively ignorant, other were irritated by the Style-section fluffiness.  Very irritated.

Liz Elam of the Global Coworking Unconference reacted sharply, bristling “We’re Not Giggling and Braiding Each Other’s Hair, We’re Building an Industry” [1].  She found the article disrespectful, and points out that the coworking industry has had female leadership from the beginning.  (Elam herself is one of those founding leaders.)

[it] makes me cringe. It makes it sound like women in coworking spaces are going to braid each other’s hair, gossip about boys and giggle.

Now, Sensei Elam and I have our differences. She is dedicated to the idea of growing a global coworking industry, which I think is misguided. But I would never say Elam doesn’t know coworking inside and out.

In this case, she is absolutely right, and I don’t blame her for speaking up. The NYT article is insulting to working women, coworking or not.  But it is especially insulting to the many, many female leaders, entrepreneurs and workers who have created, operate, and participate in coworking.

Marikar knows almost nothing about real coworking. It’s that simple.


  1. Liz Elam, We’re Not Giggling and Braiding Each Other’s Hair, We’re Building an Industry, in GCUC Blog. 2017. http://gcuc.co/were-not-giggling/
  2. Hoffice. Hoffice: Come and work at someone’s home. 2017, http://hoffice.nu/en/.
  3. Lori Kane, Tabitha Borchardt, and Bas de Baar, Reimagination Stations: Creating a Game-Changing In-Home Coworking Space, Lori Kane, 2015.
  4. Sheila Marikar, Come on Over to My Place, Sister Girlfriend, and We’ll Co-Work, in New York Times. 2018: New York. p. Di. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/09/style/quilt-coworking-women.html
  5. 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?

Note:  please stay tuned for my new ebook, “What is Coworking”, coming Real Soon Now in 2018.

“The New Way of Work” in 2017

I continue to observe the development of the Gig Economy and related aspects of the “new way of work”.


Freelancing and the Freelancers Union

I am a member of the Freelancers Union (though I earn no income from freelancing), and continue to follow developments.  I strongly support the goals of the FU, though there is little visible impact out here in the boonies.

Their blog and other materials provide an interesting window on the life and challenges of Freelancers.

However, I have criticized their annual reports, which make dubious claims about the number of Freelancers now and project in the future.


Platform Cooperatives (with or without blockchains)

I continue to follow the development of “Platform Cooperativism”  New implementations continue to emerge, with and without blockchains.

While some enthusiasts are excited about ‘replacing Uber’ et al with blockchain-based decentralized markets, most of the hard work is in the user interface, community relations, and above all, the legal and organizational challenges.

I have observed several times that blockchain per se doesn’t really help solve most of the key challenges of creating a local cooperative. In fact, a “trustless” decentralized, digital organization is antithetical to the development of a face-to-face, locally run, community organization.  Using a blaockchain may be cheap and easy, but it isn’t especially conducive to creating personal trust.


What is Coworking?

I continue to blog about coworking, exploring the question “What is Coworking?”

As I have said, coworking is where the gig economy happens.

This year, I was particularly interest in some of the less developed flavors of coworking, including Kidful Coworking, coworking in rural areas, and the growing diversity of coworkers.

(Note:  please stay tuned for my new ebook, “What is Coworking”, coming Reals Soon Now early in 2018.)


I expect all of these topics will continue to be interesting in 2018.

 

What is Coworking?

Tyra Seldon on “co-working with virtual strangers”

Sensei Tyra Seldon muses this month on “co-working with virtual strangers”.

These days terminology about work is confused and ambiguous, and it turns out that she is not specifically talking about “coworking” in the sense of physically sharing a coworking space.  And “virtual strangers” is not the metaphorical “as good as” strangers, but rather strangers known only through digital communications.

In short, she is describing digitally enabled distributed work groups. And her point is that freelancers not only can but should work in such teams.

we become members of shared virtual workspaces without leaving our homes or offices.”

Seldon sketches the plethora of software that makes these collaborations possible.

(Aside:  you youngsters have no idea how lucky you are. In my day, we built all this stuff from scratch – making it up as we went along, and with only 1% of the storage and bandwidth you have on your tablet.  Kid’s today have it easy. : – ))

Sensei Seldon advises that there are benefits, including “skills gained, resources generated, and relationships established”. She hints at the risks to be watched, such as contracts and payments.  The important thing to note is that these are really no different than the risks and benefits of any collaboration.

working with virtual strangers is going to be a significant part of the future of freelancing and gig economy jobs.

Seldon is correct, though I would say she understates the case by far.

First of all, the gig economy is pretty much designed with virtual teams in mind. Freelancing today is, almost by definition, going to involve virtual teams. So, no news there.

Second, these technologies were developed in conventional organizations which have geographically dispersed teams. There is a vast academic literature about the benefits and limitations of these work practices. My own summary would be that it has its strengths and weaknesses, but it is extremely cost effective so it is here to stay.

Third, I’ll point out that the contemporary Coworking Movement is a response and antidote to the isolation of working “without leaving our homes or offices”.  In a coworking space workers will find a face-to-face community of collaborators.  There the teams will use the digital tools as Seldon describes, but will also be able to talk in person and generally be less “strangers” to each other.  For many workers, this is the best part of working in a coworking space.

I would say that coworking spaces were developed to try to get the benefits of digital collaboration while mitigating the perils of isolation and distrust of virtual strangers. It’s a lot easier to establish trust and mutual respect face-to-face.

In short, Coworking spaces are designed to be where freelance workers collaborate.

I’ll note that the coworking movement has elaborated the perceived benefits of these collaborations far beyond Seldon’s own testimony, including enhanced happiness, productivity, and serendipity.  See perhaps [1-3].

So, I would agree with Sensei Seldon, though I honestly don’t think Freelancers have the option to not work in virtual groups. And I would strongly encourage freelancers to explore local coworking spaces (don’t stop at the first one, find one that fits), which may well be even more beneficial.


  1. Lori  Kane, Tabitha Borchardt, and Bas de Baar, Reimagination Stations: Creating a Game-Changing In-Home Coworking Space, Lori Kane, 2015. https://books.google.com/books?id=ybFCrgEACAAJ
  2. Liquid Talent, Dude, Where’s My Drone: The future of work and what you can do to prepare for it. 2015. https://www.dropbox.com/s/405kr9keucv97gw/LiquidTalentFoWEbook.pdf?dl=0
  3. Sebastian Olma, The Serendipity Machine: A Disruptive Business Model for Society 3.0. 2012. https://www.seats2meet.com/downloads/The_Serendipity_Machine.pdf
  4. Tyra Seldon, Can co-working with virtual strangers enhance your freelancing business?, in Freelancers Union. 2017. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2017/11/30/can-co-working-with-virtual-strangers-enhance-your-freelancing-business/

 

 

What is Coworking

Note:  please stay tuned for my new ebook, “What is Coworking”, coming in 2017 Real Soon Now.

What is Coworking? It’s More Diverse Than You Might Think

It is frequently observed that Coworking Spaces, like the Tech Industry, seems pretty, well, undiverse.

For example, Lori Kane commented, [4]

it hit me immediately: almost everyone in the space was young and white” (and mostly male). This was “not at all what the walk through the diverse neighborhood primed me to expect.

Similar sentiments have been expressed by many people.

At the same time, coworkers frequently perceive their own workplace to be diverse, and, indeed, the diversity of fellow workers is seen to be one of the principle benefits of a coworking space (e.g., [5, 8, 9]).

What is going on here?


For one thing, there are many different ways to be “diverse”. Kane notices the visible demographics of the space, especially compared to the city around it. Others are more focused on the range professional and technical skills in the room.

A second caveat is that any given coworking space has only so many workers, and generally draws a group “like-minded” workers. But there are many coworking spaces, with different membership, and no single workplace represents all coworking spaces or coworkers.

Atypical Entrepreneurs”

Sean Captain wrote last year in Fast Company about “A Growing Movement Of Coworking Spaces For Atypical Entrepreneurs” [1].  He writes about the emergence of “work spaces with public-service missions”. These operations may be not-for-profit, or for-profit B-corps, and may have a variety of members. The common theme is serving a social mission rather than pure profit.

Captain views this as a “new” trend, but coworking has had this strain of social mission from the beginning (e.g., the Centre for Social Innovation [9], Make Shift Boston [6], or EnSpiral Space [3]). But he does find that this concept is holding its own amid “mainstream, big-city coworking spaces like those in the WeWork empire” and their clones.

Besides a social mission, these spaces are also emphatically local.

Captain quotes Robbie Brown of WELabs [12] (located in Long Beach), “we’re drawing in membership from the community here rather than so much attracting outside folks into the area,” As Kane suggested, the local group is ”less threatening than walking into a coworking space and seeing a bunch of white guys in dress shirts, their faces in computers and typing away.

Captain mentions similarly local work spaces in Raleigh, NC,  Detroit, and other cities.

Again, the emphasis on serving a local community has been a key to coworking from the beginning. Indeed, the gigantic, one-size-fits all WeWork-Seats2Meet-NextSpace style of “consumer coworking” is a recent development. In the beginning, all coworking was “authentic”, local coworking, and there are plenty of locally oriented (but not necessarily social mission oriented) work spaces, such as The Harlem Collective [10], The Shift [11], Nebula [7], or CoHoots [2]).


In addition to demographic diversity (or perhaps, demographic locality), these small, low profit operations generally attract a variety of “non-traditional” businesses. He notes a variety of occupations and businesses, including healthcare, small manufacturing, and community development projects.

Again, these businesses aren’t as new and ground-breaking as Captain seems to believe–there have been similar community development projects for a century or more in most places. But, again, in recent years the big chains and business schools have promulgated a picture of what entrepreneurs are like, and what they do.


Captain does raise the interesting point that the leadership of these social mission spaces isn’t itself particularly diverse. This is embarrassing, smacking of cultural colonization, but also a matter of access to funding and know-how. Obviously, the next wave of “authentic local coworking” must be locally run and led.


My own view is that coworking has never been as homogeneous or, indeed, “corporate” as the business school version.

More important, coworking is all about community, and about the community feeling of comfortable solidarity and mutual support. Large scale operations may offer consistent, low cost services, but no one community “vibe” will please everyone.

If coworking is to persist and grow, it will need to recruit more and more diverse workers. This will require creating and sustaining communities that attract and nurture new workers, including people who do not aim to “move fast and break things”. (“Move steadily forward and fix things together”?)

For this reason, I view the future of coworking as a patchwork of many spaces, each locally led and connected to it’s location. Authentic, home style, workspaces?

“Even more diverse.”


  1. Sean Captain, Inside A Growing Movement Of Coworking Spaces For Atypical Entrepreneurs, in FastCompany – Leadership. 2016. https://www.fastcompany.com/3059990/inside-a-growing-movement-of-co-working-spaces-for-atypical-entrepreneurs
  2. CoHoots. CoHoots Coworking. 2017, http://www.cohoots.info/.
  3. Enspiral. Enspiral Space. 2015, http://www.enspiralspace.co.nz/.
  4. Kane, Lori, Tabitha Borchardt, and Bas de Baar, Reimagination Stations: Creating a Game-Changing In-Home Coworking Space, Lori Kane, 2015. https://books.google.com/books?id=ybFCrgEACAAJ
  5. Liquid Talent, Dude, Where’s My Drone: The future of work and what you can do to prepare for it. 2015. https://www.dropbox.com/s/405kr9keucv97gw/LiquidTalentFoWEbook.pdf?dl=0
  6. Make Shift Boston. Make Shift Boston. 2016, http://makeshiftboston.org/space.
  7. Nebula. Nebula Coworking St. Louis. 2017, https://nebulastl.com/.
  8. Olma, Sebastian, The Serendipity Machine: A Disruptive Business Model for Society 3.0. 2012. https://www.seats2meet.com/downloads/The_Serendipity_Machine.pdf
  9. The Centre for Social Innovation. Culture | The Centre for Social Innovation. 2016, https://socialinnovation.org/culture/.
  10. The Harlem Collective. The Harlem Collective. 2017, http://www.theharlemcollective.co/.
  11. The Shift. The Shift – Home. 2017, http://www.theshiftchicago.com/.
  12. Work Evolution Labs. Work Evolution Labs,. 2017, http://www.workevolution.co/.

 

What is Coworking?

Note:  please stay tuned for my new ebook, “What is Coworking”, coming in 2017 Real Soon Now.

What is Coworking? It Can Be A Cutthroat Business

In the last couple of years, a number of coworking operations have developed into large chains, offering consistent service in cities around the world. The biggest of the bunch is probably WeWork, which has attracted headlines with million dollar infusions of capital and splashy openings.

WeWork talks about the sharing economy, and hires “community managers”, and so on, but it is definitely a for-profit operation.

What are they selling? Community.

this is a movement toward humanizing work

they are playing the Facebook game: selling customers to each other, raking off a profit from their donated time and attention.

But dropping 20 billion dollar valuation on these neo-hippies surely has an effect: WeWork appears to trying to monopolize the rental office business, with brutal tactics.

In recent months, there have been many reports of straightforward anticompetitive practices by WeWork, using their bankroll to drive out competitors.

Dateline London: “Coworking space Rainmaking Loft is shutting down in London after WeWork moved in above it

Dateline Brazil: “Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures: How Low Will WeWork Go?

Dateline: California: “Is WeWork Cannibalizing The Industry With The Classic Bait-And-Switch Tactic?

And so on. There is clearly a deliberate strategy here, though Amador’s question about desperation is a good one. Is this a move from strength or weakness?

Many of these tactics are probably illegal, though I’d be surprised if conservative controlled governments will act. Certainly, in a low margin business like this, competitors will be out of business long before any legal remedy could be found. The coworking industry is going to have to deal with it.

It is certainly the case that any coworking business should not try to compete directly with WeWork. WeWork are selling large scale sites, and a particular brand of coworking that emphasizes low costs and shiny spaces.   If you try to be a WeWork clone, you’ll be out of business—WeWork is cloning itself as fast as it can, and they will be better clones than you. Plus, they have insane amounts of money to burn in the effort.

However, I think it is obvious that there is plenty of room for coworking operations, but they need to aim at different marks than WeWork. I’d recommend going local, ideally with a core of local creative people on board. Be more interesting than WeWork, would be my advice. And that means have more interesting people, and do more interesting things. You can charge for that, and they can’t steal it.

WeWork may or may not get rich from their tactics. Given the low margins in this business, I have to wonder whether they really can wring enough income out of shot term rentals, even if they were to control 100% of the market. They certainly aren’t going to be able to raise rents astronomically, the customers can’t pay.

Personally, I think coworking is like the restaurant business. Sure, there can be huge chains, and then can offer consistent service and a low price. But there will also be local eateries, which thrive by offering something unique and interesting.

The food industry works this way because people have a range of tastes, and want a range of choices. Furthermore, there is no barrier to entering the game. If the only restaurant in town is McDonalds, it isn’t particularly difficult to open your own joint to compete. There are just too many “right ways” to serve food for a monopoly to cover them all.

My own guess is that WeWork will burn through a ton of money, kill off a lot of competing spaces, and create a lot of unhappy customers. Other operations will boot up, many of them advertising that “we are not like WeWork” or “Cwororking the way it was supposed to be”, or even, “we would never lie to you”. And WeWork could be out of business, possibly within a few years from now.

We shall see.


  1. Cecilia Amador, Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures: How Low Will WeWork Go?, in AllWork. 2017. https://allwork.space/2017/09/desperate-times-call-for-desperate-measures-how-low-will-wework-go/
  2. Cecilia Amador, Is WeWork Cannibalizing The Industry With The Classic Bait-And-Switch Tactic?, in AllWork. 2017. https://allwork.space/2017/10/is-wework-cannibalizing-the-industry-with-the-classic-bait-and-switch-tactic/
  3. Sam Shead, Coworking space Rainmaking Loft is shutting down in London after WeWork moved in above it, in Business Insider – Tech Insider. 2017. http://www.businessinsider.com/rainmaking-loft-is-shutting-down-in-london-because-of-wework-2017-10

 

 

What is Coworking?

 

Note:  please stay tuned for my new ebook, “What is Coworking”, coming in 2017.

What is Coworking? It Can Be Rural

Coworking is generally associated with urban or suburban settings, serving dense populations of independent workers and start ups.

What about rural areas, with much lower population densities, and correspondingly sparser social networks?

It is certainly possible to do digital work anywhere, including out in the country. Many rural areas have technical infrastructure to support remote working, and talented workers. However, in there are fewer people overall, and therefore fewer workers. In addition, many workers migrate to commercial centers.

So, can coworking succeed in a rural area?


Tim Ford blogs about Cohoots Coworking in rural Australia. Cohoots is located in a small town in a rural area, so it has been a struggle to get enough members to pay the bills.

The facility itself is conventional; featuring desks, networking, and events. But they advertise that if you “scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find some magic”. These “magical” features includes the memorable tag, “Members Who Want To Be Here”, i.e., a community of like-minded workers.

Ford is clear that the emphasis and the value added is community. Given the small population (and lack of competition), they have found little point in advertising ‘we have the best space’. Instead, they take what he calls an “inside out” approach. Community is not something that happens inside the coworking space, it connects out into the whole region.


I think this workspace is another example of how flexible and diverse coworking is. The physical and social setting is quite different from urban centers, but there is still entrepreneurship and community happening.

To my mind, this reflects the most important features of coworking. The space itself can be in the Bronx, Santa Clara, or Castlemaine, Victoria; and it can look and feel a lot of ways. What matters in every case is the presence of a thriving community; a group of people with shared interests meeting face-to-face, helping each other.

I’ll also note that this space almost certainly would not exist without the leadership cadre, who are all worked up about coworking and community. You can have the coolest office space in the world, but nothing will happen without community leaders.


Clearly, finances and low population are a challenge for any rural business, not just coworking. However, rural areas have some distinct advantages.

The cost of living is generally lower, and the lifestyle can be attractive. A small town already is a community and a regional center of social networking, so a coworking space fits naturally into the historic cultural patterns.

One of the best things about rural coworking is that it offers opportunities for people, especially young people, who want to stay home. Digital networks make it possible for kids to have a career without splitting for the city. Coworking, in turn, can be the social infrastructure that is a “respite from our isolation” (to quote Zachary Klaas [2]).

One thing that won’t work is a ginormous space like many operations are developing.  Think small and intimate, not large and generic.

But I’m sure that competent local leadership will understand this necessity well enough.


  1. Tim Ford, Rural Coworking – Our Journey, in Cohoots Blog. 2017. http://www.cohoots.info/rural-coworking-our-journey/
  2. Zachary R., Klaas, Coworking & Connectivity in Berlin. University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign Department of Urban and Regional Planning, NEURUS Research Exchange, 2014. https://www.academia.edu/11486279/Coworking_Connectivity

 

What is Coworking

Note:  please stay tuned for my new ebook, “What is Coworking”, coming in 2017.

What is Coworking? GCUC On “Back To Our Roots”?

From its origins in the small, informal coworking movement, the Global Coworking Unconference (GCUC) has evolved into an industrial association, cheerleading coworking as a sector of the “Social Office Industry”. For many, this is quite a divergence from the roots of the coworking movement, e.g. as per the Coworking Manifesto [2, 3].

Michael Benson (of CSBC & ClearEdge Offices) blogs this month about “Coworking A Return To Our Roots” [1]  Appearing in GCUC’s blog, I was interested to see what he has to say about roots.

In this post, he summarizes recent trends from the point of view of the Office Center Industry,

“Coworking is being touted as a brand new Social and Workplace movement, which is sweeping worldwide across the Real Estate and Services Industries.”

This is as clear of a statement of the gospel according to GCUC as I’ve seen. The capitalized words even tell us the salient audiences and viewpoints. (Hint: Coworking does not seem to be about “Workers” or “Working” at all.)

He goes on to give reasons for this worldwide sweeping”.

  • “Growth in part time employment.

  • Growth in the consultant industry.

  • A connected community able to engage with each other in the space.

  • Interesting accessible, relevant events.

  • Comfortable edgy fit outs [sic], which allow people more access to common and casual spaces.

  • Interesting, functional and accessible meeting rooms, function rooms and training rooms.

  • Access to reasonably priced, well located, well designed workspaces.

  • Access to an immediate and open business network.

  • Large Businesses are also trying to connect and take advantage of small business entrepreneurial skill and growth and connect with their market.”

This is a pretty good list of how the “Service Office Industry” views it’s offerings. At the head of the list is “the gig economy”, which is surely a driver for small scale office rentals, social or not.

(I’m not sure “Comfortable edgy fit outs” means, but it’s a great name for a band, no?)

From the point of view of the Office Center Industry, the important trend is that

“The gap between Coworking organisations and Business centres/ Serviced offices/ Executive Suites also seems to be starting to narrow”

Benson favors this trend, which offers two important benefits to companies and workers: the value of “inter-business and inter-personal interaction” and nice surroundings in which to do so.

We are social and our ability to connect collaborate, enjoy our surroundings as well as the interactions with our co-workers is critical to create a balanced and efficient work experience.

This is the essence of the “social” aspect of Social Offices: a nice place to interact with other workers.

Adopting the social aspects of coworking is revitalizing “the Business centre model”.


Benson gives a clear and concise statement of the trends in the “Social Office Industry” that is GCUC’s focus these days.

But I’m having difficulty figuring out what the title of the item means. What “roots” are being returned to?

This post doesn’t seem to be about returning to the roots of the coworking movement. Those roots are definitely not about integrating Coworking into Office Centers. If this is about the “roots” of the Office Center Industry, it’s not clear to me.

Frankly, I think this is a misleading headline that was attached when the item was reposted to this blog. (Benson will be speaking at GCUC AU, so it is possible that he has more to say about “roots” that simply aren’t in this teaser.)

But, my own view is that this article actually is about current trends away from the roots of coworking. Benson thinks these developments are a good idea, and gives a clear statement of why he thinks so, but he’s not really interested in returning to the roots of coworking or GCUC.


  1. Michael Benson, Coworking A Return To Our Roots, in GCUC Blog + Press. 2017. http://au.gcuc.co/coworking-return-roots/
  2. coworking.org. Coworking Manifesto: The Future of Work. 2012, http://coworkingmanifesto.com/.
  3. The Coworking Wiki, Coworking Manifesto (global – for the world) in The Coworking Wiki. 2015. http://wiki.coworking.org/w/page/35382594/Coworking Manifesto %28global – for the world%29

PS.  A couple of great names for bands:

Service Office Industry
Comfortable edgy fit outs

 

What is Coworking?

Note:  please stay tuned for my new ebook, “What is Coworking”, coming in 2017.