Tag Archives: What is Coworking?

Freelancing in America Report 2018 [repost]

[This was posted earlier here.]

The annual “Freelancing in America” report was released October 31 [2].

In past years, I have criticized this report for some sloppy and perhaps misleading claims.  Let’s have a look at this edition.

First of all, the report is base on “An online survey of 6,001 U.S. adults who have done paid work in the past 12 months” [1].  This is an impressive sample, and includes “non Freelancers”.  It’s always hard to be sure of biases in online surveys—obviously not everyone can be reached this way or will participate.  In this case, there will surely be a skew toward including younger, digitally active workers, for instance.  But still, this is a pretty big sample, so that’s good.

One of the headline numbers is that the total number of “freelance” workers held steady compared to 2017, at about 50 million.  This was reported as “3.7 million more”, but that number is growth since the first report in 2014.  There was actually a slight decrease in the number of Freelancers between 2017 and 2018.

In fact, throughout the report, there is very little change from 2017.  But to create an illusion of growth, the base of comparison was shifted to the 2014 survey.  Sigh.

As noted in earlier discussions, this report consistently uses a very expansive and debatable definition of “freelancing”.  They include pretty much anyone who did any part time work at all, from the smallest hobby up to full time a independent business. If you focus on “close to full time” freelancers, there are about half as many as the headline number.  This means that roughly 10% of the US workforce is (more or mostly less) earning a living  freelancing.  That’s quite a few, but less exciting than some of the headlines imply and not necessarily a big change from 50 years ago.

I understand why the Freelancers Union wants to spread the net widely, I’m a ‘one big union’ guy myself.  But these workers really are such a diverse lot it’s questionable whether they should be talked about as if they are one group.

Another headline number is that 61% of freelancers do so by choice, as opposed to necessity.   This percentage has risen over the last few years, suggesting that freelancing really is preferred by many workers, and that number may be growing.  This growth may also reflect better employment opportunities, which has the side effect of reducing the number of involuntary freelancers (because they have found conventional employment).

The survey found that the more freelancers reported full time employment (defined as 35 hours per week or more, I think), and reported incomes of freelancers held steady over the year.  Every survey has shown that the majority of freelancers work less than full time, and, hardly surprisingly, earn less than $75K.  (As I have said before, statistics about freelance “income” need to be taken carefully, because independent contractors have to cover overhead and benefits, so income can’t be simply be compared with wages.)

The survey also reports on the completely unshocking fact that Freelances find that upgrading skills is a good idea, though training is awfully expensive when you are paying your own way.

The survey finds that, as always, autonomy is one of the named benefits of Freelancing, including the ability to make time for family.  And, as always, Freelancing has its own challenges, including unpredictable work and income, and isolation.  Freelancers also face the same anxieties as all workers about health insurance, retirement savings, and low pay. But I guess even though work still sucks, but at least you are working for yourself in your own interest and on your own terms.

A large number of Freelancers report that they make more money Freelancing than in previous conventional employment.  This is an interesting finding, though I still wonder how earnings are being counted.  For instance, is this a higher hourly rate, or a difference in the hours worked?  And perhaps the causation runs the other way—underpaid workers are more likely to jump to Freelancing because of low pay, not because Freelancing pays well.

This study replicates the frequently reports that most Freelancers would not take a conventional job if offered.  This is a solid sign that Freelancers are satisfied, and suggests that pay and conditions must be at least competitive.  I have to point out that this also shows just how sucky US employers seem to treat workers.  I mean, with all the stress and overhead of freelancing, it shouldn’t be that hard to be a nicer alternative.  You know, treat people with respect, pay decently, take care of important needs.  Stuff like that.


Overall, when you look at the actual data the picture is sobering.  The number of Freelancers has held steady, which may reflect a better overall job market for all kinds of employment.  Freelancers still face uncertainty, and many work only a few hours for very little pay.

Indeed, there may be a trend emerging where Freelancing is diverging into a top tier of high paid independent workers (e.g., in-demand technical workers), and a lower tier of low paid contingent workers (e.g., the lumpen proletariat of content generators). This pattern has certainly existed for a long time int he temp economy, so it may not be a surprise if the gig economy simply replicates the gig sector of the old economy.

If this truly is a trend, then it will be very important not to lump all freelance and independent workers into one conceptual heap.  Highly skilled independent contractors with high incomes have different needs and opportunities from low skill, contingent workers.  Above all, it is a mistake to blithely claim that freelancing is a viable path to a decent living for all workers—it isn’t, any more that conventional employment is.

The Freelancers Union has a key role to play here, especially in helping less secure and lower paid workers build a decent life.  Solidarity of all independent workers is a good thing, and to date the FU has done a decent job of fighting for everyone.  (#FreelanceIsn’tFree, insurance, etc.)

However, I would like to see future reports take a closer look at the differences among Freelancers who are full time, part time, and in different pay tiers.  There are many common concerns, for sure.  But there may be some important issues lost in the aggregate.  (Just as a for example, part time working mothers will have important challenges finding affordable child care, not to mention enough hours in the day.)

Disclosure:  I am a long time member of the Freelancers Union.


  1. Freelancers Union and UpWork, Freelancing in America: 2018: An independent, annual study commissioned by Freelancers Union & Upwork Freelancers Union, 2018. https://www.slideshare.net/upwork/freelancing-in-america-2018-120288770/1
  2. Caitlin Pearce, Freelancing in America 2018, in Freelancers Union Blog. 2018. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2018/10/31/freelancing-in-america-2018/

 

For more, see the book, What is Coworking?

What is Coworking?

What is Coworking? It Can Be Good For Working Dads [repost]

[This post appeared earlier here.]

One of the key drivers for the contemporary coworking movement is to combat the isolation faced by independent and freelance workers.  Coworking is a “respite from our isolation”, to quote Zachary Klaas [2].

Long before unmarried professionals discovered the loneliness of working at home, parents, especially mothers, endured the isolation of child rearing.  Worse, working parents, especially mothers, have to balance two careers, at home and, well at home.  Working at home may have advantages, but it is very difficult to do two jobs at home at the same time.

Neil Carlson  co founder the Brooklyn Creative League coworking space of writes about these challenges, and how coworking is not only a respite from isolation, it is a way to create space for (non child rearing) work [1].

OK, this post is kind of Mansplaining the challenges of working and raising kids.  Nothing here is in any way new to the millions of working moms through history.  Somehow, when it becomes a problem for men, suddenly we need solutions other than blaming the victim.

It’s a little annoying to read about how great this coworking space is for dads to find a community of dads to help them have fun at and do better at raising their kids.  Where are the moms in this picture?   They have the same challenges plus clueless knuckle-draggers treating them like domestic servants.

But let’s not harp on that, and let’s ook at how their coworking space helps balance work and family.

First of all, Carlson supports the separation of work and home.  (I have hewed a hard line on this topic for many decades.)  A coworking space—a kid free, everybody is working here, space—is not only a better place to work, it psychologically separates “I’m at work” from “I’m at home”.

Second, coworking is a place to be part of a community of like-minded workers.  In this case, the parents can find other like-minded working parents.  Coworking is widely reported to improve productivity and work quality, through interactions and networking.  Carlson’s analysis suggests that it may also improve parenting through the same mechanisms.  (If you view child rearing as a vital, if unpaid, job, then this certainly makes sense.)

Carlson notes that the flexibility of choosing and finding a coworking space near to home is extremely valuable.  A workplace that is separate, yet close enough to not waste time on commutes, or be so far away to be out of reach if needed by the little ones.

These are all fair points, if nothing that working moms haven’t already invented.

I was more interested in what the Brooklyn Creative League has done to meet the needs of these parents.  Looking at the website, the facilities and amenities don’t seem to be different from most other coworking spaces.  I suspect that the weekly potluck is more kidful than some coworking spaces (Friday keggers or all night video gaming are generally not that interesting to parents of toddlers).

Judging from the blog post, the “secret sauce” of BCL is probably the community leadership, which has built a community of working dads (maybe moms, too).  This is certainly what I would expect:  coworking is all about community, and community leaders are usually much more important than the workspace or “amenities”.

One thing that is strikingly missing from the BCL is child care.  T  One thing that working parents need most is accessible child care, and BCL does not seem to have anything to say on that.  It also doesn’t look like the space is designed to be kid friendly at all.  he website doesn’t even have pictures of kids or kid’s spaces.  (This may be an inaccurate impression, but you’d think they would mention it.)

I’ve been arguing for years that coworking spaces should ally with child care facilities. I know that this is hard, very hard.  But it’s starting to happen, and it’s really important.

I’m sure I will return to this topic in the near future.


  1. Neil F. Carlson, Dads Who Cowork, in Brooklyn Creative League – Coworking Blog. 2018. http://brooklyncreativeleague.co/coworking-blog/2018/8/15/8m5rj68pecjhuoz3ugi3t6dlaptjbd
  2. Zachary R. Klaas, Coworking & Connectivity in Berlin. University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, 2014. https://www.academia.edu/11486279/Coworking_Connectivity

 

For more on Coworking, see What is Coworking? The Book.

 

What is Coworking?

Coworking Community Without A Coworking Space (Repost)

A version of this post appeared earlier here.


Sensei Alex Hillman, founder and key player in the Indy Hall coworking space in Philadelphia, has been discussing the importance of creating and sustaining community in a coworking space for many years.

As is well known, the Indy Hall space faced closure, but the workers stepped up to help it stay open in another location.  This is a famous case of a community that outlived the space in which it was born.

Hillman also recounts that many of the members almost never use a desk.  They are active, but mostly through digital and other forms of interaction and contributions.

Recently, he has asked community leaders to try to “imagine what your community would look like without a space?”

Hillman cites a “virtual coworking” community as an instructive example.  Described in a guest post by leader Margo Aaron, The Arena is, basically, a digital social network, though it is very selective and deliberately exclusive [1].  Sensei Hillman makes the point that (a) the community is the primary goal and (b) it is going to have a digital aspect.

People don’t need the “stuff” and they don’t need you (the operator), they need each other.  (I think Hillman likes Aaron’s approach because he is extremely concerned with how to sustain the community—i.e., how to get people to pay for the important things, rather than the unimportant “stuff”.)


Turning this point around, let’s ask, If we can create digital communities, and they work, then what is the workspace for?

In my observation, there seems to be a desire for physical spaces, and they seem to be a lot more than just a desk and bandwidth.

My own view is that at least some workers, some of the time, crave face-to-face interactions.  Desperately. Even if most of the work and even most of the collaboration happens on-line, there is still something crucial about talking to a real human.   A “respite from our Isolation”. [2]

Not to mentions hugs.

The experience of Indy Hall and similar cases also suggests that a physical space can be a catalyst (as Senseis Angel and Beth called it [3]), bringing people together in a way that they can discover connections and get to know each other.  The result can be a community that extends beyond the four walls, and can outlive the space itself.

This is an interesting and probably useful image to keep in mind.  Think about the physical workspace as the kitchen where you want to mix and heat ingredients to create something much more than a warmer mixture. You want to make a delicious meal, that everyonw will enjoys together.  (OK, OK, cooking and eating your fellow workers is a bit cannibalistic, but you get the point.)

What is Coworking?  It’s still mainly about community, community, community.


  1. Margo Aaron, Guest Post: 3 incredibly counterintuitive lessons that every coworking operator needs to learn, in Alex Hillman – Better Communities, Better Business, and Better Coworking. 2018. https://dangerouslyawesome.com/2018/10/guest-post-3-incredibly-counterintuitive-lessons-that-every-coworking-space-needs-to-learn/
  2. Zachary R. Klaas, Coworking & Connectivity in Berlin. University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, 2014. https://www.academia.edu/11486279/Coworking_Connectivity
  3. Angel Kwiatkowski and Beth Buczynski, Coworking: Building Community as a Space Catalyst. 2011, Cohere Coworking: Ft. Collins. http://coherecommunity.com/shop/coworking-building-community-as-a-space-catalyst

For more on Coworking and Coworking Communities, see the new book, What is Coworking?

 

What Is Coworking?

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 can be impactful

In recent years, coworking has come to be associated with a very corporate mind set, seen as part of “the hospitality industry” or the “Service Office Industry”.  The rapacious, debt-fueled expansion of WeWork has become the most visible face of Coworking.

But the truth is that coworking can be, has been, and still is organized in many different ways [2].  Coworking operations are organized as for profit, non-profits, not-entirely-for-profit.  Coworking spaces are organized as independent businesses, as franchises, and embedded in other organizations.  Coworking is even done in living rooms and other informal settings.  (For more on this, see perhaps Chapter 4 of “What is Coworking?” [2].)

In fact, the current highly corporate vibe belies the peer-to-peer, community development spirit of early coworking, clearly reflected in the Coworking Manifesto [1].  The “Coworking Movement”, loosely inspired by open source software, is about workers banding together to reinvent the future of work, improve cities, and bootstrap a new, sustainable economy.

“We are reshaping the economy and the society through social entrepreneurship and innovation. Our communities are coming together to rebuild more human scale, networked, and sustainable economies to build a better world.

“We are the world coworking movement!” (from [1])

This vision is hard to discern in something like WeWork, which “offers companies of all sizes the opportunity to reimagine employees’ days through refreshing design, engaging community, and benefits for all.” (quoted from WeWork website).

Regardless of conferences or corporartions, coworking still is whatever workers want to make it.

This summer Ruby Irene Pratka writes for Sharable about coworking spaces that “positively impact local communities” [3].  Not just low cost, on-demand workspace, these organizations connect with their local community “by launching scholarship programs, offering space for local groups, and hosting public lectures.”

Her list is:

  1. AllGoodWork — New York City, New York
  2. Co+hoots — Phoenix, Arizona
  3. The Coven — Minneapolis, Minnesota
  4. The Beahive— Beacon, New York
  5. Spacecubed— Perth, Western Australia
  6. 312 Main— Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

These examples are mostly, but not all, non-profits, and they have quite a variety of participants.  It is telling that in the write up most of them view their coworkers as a “typical” coworking community, though they are pretty diverse in many dimensions, reflecting their different locations.  (The major exception is The Coven in Minneapolis, which is self-described a community of women and non-binary identified workers—their work is probably “typical”, if not the demographics.)

The common thread is that all of these organizations have a major focus on having a positive impact on their local area. This means different things to each, but obviously goes far beyond “reimagining employees’ days”, to reimagining a better world outside the doors.

Besides the potential good for the world that these collaborations may do, there is also an important benefit from having these contemporary workers visible and engaged with their city, especially with local kids. Kids need to know about what working is like, and to be inspired by adult examples. If coworking is where the future of work is happening, then kids (and everyone) need to know people who are doing it.

This commitment to community impact is also an asset for the both the coworking organization, and for the workers. The workers are invited to participate in a narrative about work and life, and take up a larger purpose as part of a like-minded community.  Going to the office is much more than just showing up, it’s helping make the world better.  (I’ll also speculate that when you are worried about helping other people, you are a lot less likely to be depressed.)

(For more on these ideas, see perhaps Chapter 7 and 8 of “What is Coworking?”, the book.)

  1. coworking.org. Coworking Manifesto: The Future of Work. 2012, http://coworkingmanifesto.com/.
  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. (in preparation), self, 2017. https://whatiscoworkingthebook.com/
  3. Ruby Irene Pratka (2018) These 6 groups are showing how coworking spaces can positively impact local communities. Sharable, https://www.shareable.net/blog/these-6-groups-are-showing-how-coworking-spaces-can-positively-impact-local-communities

 

What is Coworking?


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

Check it out

 

What is Coworking? The Book Launch!

The long promised book, “What is Coworking?” is finally available.  See details here.

It’s been a gradual rollout, so I am having a ‘Book Launch’ on June 1, to mark an official release date.

Book Launch Pop Up!

Come in and help celebrating the launch of a new book, “What is Coworking?” by Urbana author Robert E. McGrath.

Friday June 1, 2018
5 – 9PM
[Co][Lab] Urbana
206 W. Main St., Urbana

 

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?