Tag Archives: What is Coworking?

Coworking Megatrends for 2019 [repost]

[This was posted earlier here.]

Sensei Liz Elam, founder of Global Coworking UnConference, has posted her annual “Coworking Megatrend Predictions

Looking back, she gives herself credit for a lot of predictions coming true in 2018.   As is often the case, her predictions were generally accurate, though not necessarily in detail.  For example, WeWork continued to grow, but a lot of the growth is taking the form of diversifying into other businesses.  It’s debatable whether these businesses are “coworking” or not.  And, by the way, WeWork is experiencing debt problems, so its growth will almost certainly be followed by contraction.

Anyway, Elam’s 2019 predictions are not all that different than 2018. I.e., more of the same.  Her headlines are:

  • Real Estate
  • Differentiation
  • Consolidation
  • Design
  • Wellness
  • Coworking Nomenclature
  • Tools for Coworking

“Real Estate” is “the sleeping giant” that has awakened to the concept of on-demand workspaces.  It’s pretty obvious that big real estate operations will want to get a big slice of coworking.  How well this will work out, is less than clear.  (And Elam’s comments are rather Delphic,  something about “as the power shifts from the owner to the tenant”.)

“Differentiation” and “Consolidation” are an interesting pair.  Big money is building large workplaces and buying up (or killing off) other operations, consolidating ownership.  At the same time, Elam correctly notes that a key to coworking success is “niche spaces”.  From the point of view of the real estate industry, a “niche” is a matter of clever branding.  My own view is that this is the heart and soul of community coworking, and there really are nothing except niches.  How you can consolidate and also be authentically community oriented is the great contradiction for Elam’s industrial trends.

Another “sleeping giant” is the design industry, which she notes is showing greater interest in coworking spaces.  This goes hand in hand with the entry of big money, of course, and an uncharitable observer might say that designers are simply marketing the same old stuff to a newly trendy market.

Elam has been advocating “Wellness” for quite a while.  Here she totally understands that wellness is not really about design (sure, natural light is great, etc.), but more about people.  This isn’t limited to coworking, of course, but a thriving coworking community is likely to foster the kind of “CheckYoMate”  action that she advocates. (I’ll comment that gigantic, corporate workplaces, and even fancy “luxury” workplaces are generally not so great for this kind of wellness.  Low cost, local community workplaces are going to be a lot healthier.)

Elam is Delphic about coworking nomenclature.  She has taken a strong stand on this in the past, but in this forum takes the co-opting of the term “coworking” by designers and real estate as a sign of victory for coworking, “an indication of a huge shift and a new emergence in the market where the power shifts to the tenant.”  I don’t know who is the “tenant” here, or what this supposed power shift might be.

Finally, Elam points out that there is a minor boom in “tools”, mainly for operating a coworking space.  This is a trend I predicted a long time ago, based on my observation that there are a lot of common tasks that could easily be automated.  But, putting my software developer hat back on, I’ll say that this looks like an area where it will be hard to make much money off the software.  So I’d be very surprised if this area grows very much.

Finally, Elam boasts a “bombshell” prediction: “Coworking will replace the office.”

I’m sure it looks this way from the perspective of the real estate industry (where Elam now sits), but it’s kind of obviously wrong.

OK, I guess if you define “office” narrowly, and by “replace” you mean, “make workers provide their own office space”, then, sure. A lot of companies will Uberize their desk workers, making everyone BYO.  (This will include the inevitable “mandatory optional” requirement to rent your desk from a specific coworking space. Not coworking so much as charging workers for their desk.)

But if you take “office” to mean “workplace”, then obviously there will have to be a lot of workspaces that are not “coworking” in any meaningful sense.  I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again:  there are broad swaths of workers and work that are not suited to coworking for one reason or another.  E.g., Work processes involving atoms rather than bits (think fabrication or lab work), work that involves human interactions (think medical services), work that is proprietary or otherwise highly secured (trade secrets? Record keeping?), or businesses that need a branded space.

Furthermore, I’ll point out the related fact that the number of Freelance and independent workers is small and not growing.  So it is far from clear how much coworking will grow.

I have tremendous respect for Sensei Elam, but I think this “bombshell”  will surely fizzle.


  1. Liz Elam, Coworking Megatrend Predictions for 2019 (and a Bombshell), in Liz Elam Articles. 2018. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/coworking-megatrend-predictions-2019-bombshell-liz-elam/

 

[For more on this, see the book “What is Coworking?“]

What is Coworking?

Affordable Freelancing [repost]

[This was posted earlier here]

Sensei Tyra Seldon discusses a new report from Commercial Café which surveys the cost of freelancing in various cities.  The basic idea is to calculate the base cost of renting an apartment and an office, and take a national average $38 hour charging, estimate how many hours per week is needed in different cities.  (The logic here is that freelancers can live anywhere, while charging national rates.  Your mileage may differ.)

The results are not particularly surprising, in line with what we already know of relative costs of living.  But the “hours per week” metric is revealing:  the most expensive locations require 100 hours per week or more (at the nominal $38/hour) to just get by [1].  Personally, I don’t think that’s feasible.

Sensei Seldon points out that this kind of calculation is an economic driver for “co-living” arrangements  [2]. Or, I’d say, moving out of the city.

I don’t have precise statistics at hand, but a back of the envelope calculation indicates that even the cheapest major city are more expensive than living in a small town or small city.  Assuming you can really charge NYC or Bay Area rates while living in a small city, my calculations say you can get the best space in town (with a yard for pets, kids, and a garden!) at about 25-30 hours per week.

It may not be as “exciting” as the big city, in all the unnamable ways that people like living in major urbs.  But there is an affordable opportunity.  And if you have connections to family and/or a major University, then this can be a quality lifestyle.

So, to the degree that Freelancing actually lets you actually live out here in the hinterland, and still have a good career, then it is a very interesting New Way of Work indeed.


  1. Diana Sabau, Your Work Week Could Be 10 Hours Shorter in Dallas or Houston – What’s it Like to Live and Work as a Freelancer in These US Cities?, in Commercial Cafe. 2018. https://www.commercialcafe.com/blog/your-work-week-could-be-10-hours-shorter-in-dallas-or-houston-whats-it-like-to-live-and-work-as-a-freelancer-in-these-us-cities/
  2. Tyra Seldon, The best cities for freelancers who want affordability, in Freelancers Union blog. 2018. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2018/12/10/the-best-cities-for-freelancers-who-want-affordability/

[For more on this, see the book “What is Coworking?“]

What is Coworking?

What is Coworking? Kidful Coworking is Here to Stay [repost]

[This was posted earlier here]

I’ve been writing about kidful coworking for a long time now (here, here, here, here) Almost exactly three years ago, I called this the mountain we have to climb.

Child care for working parents is a hard problem for everyone, so it isn’t surprising that many coworking spaces do not tackle the problem. But I’m glad to see that more and more are doing so.

This month, Sensei Cat Johnson interviewed Shazia Mustafa of Third Door coworking in the UK. Open since 2015, this is reported to be “The World’s First Coworking Space With Full Childcare” [2].

One reason why this is very hard is that it is really two different businesses, and you need to get both right.  My general rule of thumb is to focus on being good at one thing, but that’s not an option n this case.

Mustafa reports that they designed the space from the start as “childcare with a place to work”. She comments that, “I don’t know if having a coworking space then slotting in the nursery is going to work as effectively”.  I tend to agree that the childcare part is harder, and the workspace part is a lot more flexible–there are lots of ways to get the workspace right, so it is more likely that you can adapt to the childcare.

She also notes that working parents often can benefit from some psychological boost. (Moms and dads both have challenges, though not always identical or symmetric ones.) It is interesting to think of this kind of childcare+work community as an especially potent way to help both work and childrearing.

It’s hard to know if Third Door really was the first, but it certainly won’t be the last. New ones crop up every day  (E.g., here, here).  And locally to me, Moose International has opened an exciting new space with childcare+coworking(+food+fitness).

I would see this trend as possible a step toward a more general multi-generational, life+work spaces,  and there are more of them every day. I also find some indigenous themed Canadian spaces interesting, because they include space for elders.

It seems to me that there would be advantages to having elders and kids and workers in the community. (Don’t you think having some aunties and uncles would be a real good thing?) Basically, a whole village.

Now there’s a mountain to climb.

  1. Catie Dixon, Working From Home Never Looked So Good, in Bisnow. 2018. https://www.bisnow.com/national/news/multifamily/a-must-have-coworking-in-apartments-isnt-quite-like-in-offices-94020
  2. Cat Johnson, Inside The World’s First Coworking Space With Full Childcare: A Q&A With Third Door’s Shazia Mustafa, in Allwork.Space. 2018. https://allwork.space/2018/12/inside-the-worlds-first-coworking-space-with-full-childcare-a-qa-with-third-doors-shazia-mustafa/

 

[For more on this, see the book “What is Coworking?“]

 

What is Coworking?

Diversity in the Gig Economy? [repost]

[This appeared earlier here]

Patrick Llewellyn of 99designs writes at Entrepreneur about “How the Gig Economy Helps Boost Diversity” [1].  In particular, he is referring to online platforms which, he says, “create a truly level playing field irrespective of location, gender, age or background”.

He touts the many benefits to businesses (thinking mainly of web design businesses like his own 99designs), which can find (low cost) talent from all over the globe.  He’s particularly excited by the availability of talent from every geographic location. Online platforms certainly make it way easier to hire contractors far away from your home office.

Llewellyn seems to believe that this is good for workers.  In general, online gigging is “a unique space where the world’s best talent can connect both with each other to exchange ideas and share feedback,” he says.  He views gig workers as “Valuing flexibility over more traditional benefits”, which is a “valid choice.”

Finally, the level playing field is especially important for workers who live far from the centers of commerce and media.  (This, I suppose, is another “valid choice”.)

“No skilled worker should be disadvantaged because of where they were born or where they live.”

This best of all possible worlds bears little resemblance to the actual gig economy.

First of all, much if not most of the “gig economy” is not high skilled labor, but trivial piecework for pennies.  And much, if not most, is not online work, even if the labor market is digitized.  Llewellyn is thinking about and talking about a tiny, unrepresentative fraction of the overall gig economy.

Second, he’s rather hazy on what “diversity” means.  He’s primarily thinking of geographical location, which seems to stand in for cultural diversity.  But there are lots of other kinds of diversity to think about, especially gender racial, and ethnic backgrounds—and age. The online contracting workforce is certainly international, but it’s not clear that it is much different in any other way. And there certainly is no evidences that it operates as a level playing field.

Third, he offers not one shred of evidence that such geographic diversity is actually beneficial even to the business.  I’m assuming that he’s thinking of digital collaborations (in English).  Working across time zones with people who never meet in person can be challenging.  I believe it can work well, at least in some cases. But that doesn’t mean its good for all jobs, and there is good reason to think twice about this kind of outsourcing.

Finally, I’ll note that the article is entirely from the point of view of the business. (This is fair, as it appears in Entrepreneur.)  Hiring gig workers via an online platform is basically outsourcing to temp workers from overseas. This may be good for the business, and maybe even for some workers, but is hardly a great thing for most workers.

Let’s put the best spin on Llewellyn’s point:  he’s encouraging employers and freelancers to embrace the opportunity to work with “people who aren’t necessarily like you.”  That’s a good idea, but you scarcely need to outsource through digital share cropping to accomplish that goal.  There are plenty of people “not necessarily like you” right where you live.


  1. Patrick Llewellyn, How the Gig Economy Helps Boost Diversity, in Entrepreneur. 2018. https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/323253

What is Coworking? It Can Have An Indigenous Flavor [repost]

[This was posted earlier here.]

In an earlier post, I noted the soon to open Canoe Coworking, which is designed of, by, and for indigenous workers in Winnipeg.   This is part of a larger trend of contemporary workplaces targeted for use by first peoples across Canada [1] (other examples here, here).

Coworking spaces are all about “community, community, community”, and every successful working space creates and sustains a community of workers.  Of course, this means different things to each such community, and that is one of the cool things about contemporary coworking.

So, what do these “indigenous” workplaces do that is different, and that makes them attractive to their workers and communities?

Aside from the obvious “flocking” of like-minded workers (on this point, Everett commented that it is nice not to have to ‘splain their culture to other workers), these spaces offer the cultural room for ritual and for their own comfort food [2].  These touches willprobably  mean much to their community, and little to other people.

These spaces also pay a lot of attention to multi-generational interactions.  Canoe Coworking plans a space reserved for “elders”, which is both for caring for the elders by younger workers and for counseling from the elders.

This is obviously a practice common to the heritage of many North American tribes, but it is also interesting to think about how something like this could be integrated into any coworking space.

It’s not so much that there are no such interactions in other spaces.  Its more that these communities are far more intentional about it, and have strong norms about the value of intergenerational care and counseling.

Overall, these spaces seem to fit nicely to aspects of traditions of North American First Peoples .  As Tara Everett of Canoe Coworking puts it, “before there was money in North America, we were always sharing resources or time or expertise. That’s how I see the coworking movement.” [2]

From the very beginning of the coworking movement, there has been an element of “back to the village” for many coworkers.  Kane’s home coworking space drew on her local neighbors, and the interactions were much like life in a villages in many parts of the world [1].  In Kane’s kitchen, there were many informal rituals and home-made comfort foods.

Indeed, even in large “corporate” workplaces, it is frequently reported that workers benefit from “mentoring” by older, experienced workers.  Whether planned and supported by the operator, or purely spontaneous, these intergenerational interactions are clearly valuable for everyone, not just indigenous workers.

As these indigenous coworking spaces flourish, perhaps they can spread the wisdom by helping other coworking spaces design for the intentional inclusion of elders in multigenerational communities.  That would be interesting.


  1. Lori Kane, Tabitha Borchardt, and Bas de Baar, Reimagination Stations: Creating a Game-Changing In-Home Coworking Space, Lori Kane, 2015.
  2. Ruby Irene Pratka,  Empowering Canada’s Indigenous communities through coworking Sharable.November 12 2018, https://www.shareable.net/blog/empowering-canada%E2%80%99s-indigenous-communities-through-coworking

 

[For more on this topic, see my book, “What is Coworking?“]

 

What is Coworking?

What is Coworking? Architects Haven’t A Clue [repost]

[This was posted earlier here.]

What is Coworking?  Well, I literally wrote a book on that question [3], and I’m not really sure what the answer is.

But I’m pretty sure that the discussions at AIA reported by Carolyn Cirillo are totally wrong [1].

She reports that professional office designers think that coworking “needs a new definition”, essentially to match the thing that they do.

[Coworking is] about how the real estate, design and construction industry deliver that product in a more systematic or productized way.

Who cares what workers actually do?  Who cares what coworking actually is? The important thing is to “deliver that product” (in a “productized way” (?!)).

For these professionals, it’s all about building office space. So let’s redefine the whole world to fit the business model of the real estate industry.

Sigh.


I’m not the only one who strongly disagrees with this bogosity.

Sensei Liz Elam, founder of Global Coworking Unconference Conference (GCUC) replied, “Coworking Does Not Need A New Definition” [2].

She lists what Coworking really is about, with item number one being “Community”.

Exactly.

We would like to suggest that the Real Estate industry, AIA, and others that don’t like the term coworking stick to the always bland “flexible office,” or “serviced office,”

You tell ‘em, Elam!

I’ve had my differences with Sensei Liz, but she does know what she is talking about.  And she hasn’t forgotten the truly important things that make coworking coworking.


  1. Carolyn Cirillo, Why Coworking Needs A New Definition, in AllWork. 2018. https://allwork.space/2018/11/why-coworking-needs-a-new-definition/
  2. Liz Elam, Coworking Does Not Need A New Definition, in LinkedIn – Liz Elam. 2018. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/coworking-does-need-new-definition-liz-elam/
  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, Self-published: Urbana. https://whatiscoworkingthebook.com/

 

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?