Tag Archives: What is Coworking?

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.

What is Coworking? It’s Partly About Office Management

Coworking spaces have emerged as one of the places where independent workers and small startups choose to work

Coworking is enabled by ubiquitous digital technology, which makes it possible for workers to “bring your own device”, and to work from pretty much anywhere.

The same technology has enabled office managers to operate not only anywhere, but at very small scales. From the point of view of the operator, the challenge of coworking is to be able to slice up workspace into one worker pieces, and very short time periods. Some coworking spaces are willing to rent a single desk for an hour at at time.

This granularity, and a desire to offer an array of packages, means that the office management must be extremely efficient and inexpensive. These processes have been automated for decades, of course, But now there are an increasing number of packages designed for the lowest budget operations, including coworking spaces.

Not only can workers work anywhere, it’s pretty easy to set up almost any space to be a rental workspace.

For example, Andy Alsop of “The Receptionist.com” (maker of office management products) wrote about the “5 Best Coworking Office Space Management Software Solutions [1] .His list gives us an idea of the tasks that are commonly needed.

The five products listed may be a bit out of date, there will surely be many more entries in the intervening years.

But the important thing is, what do coworking space operators need?

The basic core is managing memberships and payments. The latter is a straightforward billing/invoicing task. The former combines elements of property leasing with customer relations, and different tools offer different features for this.

Nexudus (one of the biggest players) manages stuff like events, newsletters, and also printers and so on. Optix also has member-to-member messaging (redundant with Facebook etc.?) and a market for desk space. Coworkify has sales and marketing features (i.e., for recruiting members to fill the desks). Happy Desk has wifi network management and door access features.

All of the systems are designed to be sold or leased at low cost to even the smallest operator.

I note that this article is in the blog of The Receptionist, a company that makes “The Receptionist for iPad”, a versatile, effective and easy-to-use visitor management system available”. This suite of features includes annoying stuff like logging visitors to your office, integrated with deeper annoying features that connect these logs with security or sales data bases. All on an iPad connected to cloud services.

Overall, it is clear that complex business office processes are available to pretty much anyone.

In the case of the products that are specialized for coworking, the business features are combined with social features (e.g., mail and chat groups), PR stuff (event management, “customer relationship” stuff), and technical managements (wifi, doors, printers).


This job is harder than I realized.

But the best thing about these products, to my mind, is that they enable a good community leader to provide professional quality business services with relatively little effort. This frees time and energy for the most important part, schmoozing, connecting, teaching, and listening.

  1. Andy Alsop, 5 Best Coworking Office Space Management Software Solutions, in The Receptionist – Blog. 2015. https://thereceptionist.com/5-best-coworking-space-management-software-solutions/


What is Coworking?

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

GCUC 2017: The “Coworky Awards”

I did not attend GCUC  USA conference this year. After last year, it is clear that GCUC is transitioning to be an “industry” conference, focused on the business of running coworking operations. Much of the program was in that vein and not especially interesting to me. Pretty much the only talk of real interest is the 2017 Coworking Survey from Deskmag.

One new feature was the first “Coworky Awards”, “Honoring the spaces, places, and people that make this industry juicy

This award (consciously or unconsciously) reveals quite a lot about the nature of the GCUC today.  First, the conference self-identifies with “this industry”. Second, the topics of interest are the physical spaces and individual people. Notably, there is nothing about community, work, or workers.

This broad characterization isn’t completely accurate, of course.

The categories are rather opaque to me, but do include topics other than industry insider stuff (though it generally strikes me as corporate style back-slapping).  Some of the categories are trivial (Best Website Design, Best Tagline), but some are pretty significant (Best Collective or Alliance, Best Social Impact Program). And some are inscrutable to outsiders (what the heck is a “Rainbow Unicorn”? What does “Volunteer to the Greater Movement” even mean?)

Let’s look at a few.

The social impact award mentions include Cogite (Tunisia), advocacy program trying to “to establish opportunities for dialogue between entrepreneurs and the Tunisian government”. A second recognizes COHIP (Toronto), health insurance for coworkers. The third is organized charity races from ios offices (Mexico).

These are worthy endeavors, though it is hard to determine the actual impact.

The category for “Best Technology To Run Your Space” recognizes three companies providing nice all-in-one packages that let pretty much anyone set up a coworking space anywhere (you have to bring your own community, of course). These are pretty nice products and pricing looks reasonable. But there are dozens of similar products, including an open source product (Nadine [3]), so I’m not certain how the selection was made.

Finally, there were three “Best Space Design” recogniitions. The winner Is Bespoke (SF), which is lauded thusly:

Bespoke Coworking, Events, and Demo was designed specifically as a retail-tech hub in the heart of Westfield Shopping Centre. Each square foot was meticulously designed to be flexible enough to exude the warmth of a second home, while doubling up on functionality.” 

I haven’t visited any of the mentioned spaces, but the pictures on the web show a space that is anything but “warm” and certainly not homey. I’ll take their word for the “doubling up on functionality”.

The main thing I note is that this award is based entirely on the perspective of the real estate developer. No mention why workers want to work in a shopping centre, or have “flexible” space, nor even why workers would want “the warmth of a second home”. (Do they have a first home, and is it “warm”?) There is certainly no mention that workers or their work benefit from this design.

In short, it is optimal space from the point of view of the rental company, but who knows if it is good for workers?

The bottom line is that the “hijacking” (a la Cat Johnson) continues, GCUC isn’t about coworking it is about the coworking sector of the “social office industry”,


  1. Global Coworking Unconference Conference (GCUC). Coworky Awards Winners 2017. 2017, http://coworkyawards.com/coworky-awards-2017-winners/.
  2. Deskmag and Global Coworking Unconference Conferences (GCUC), The Global Coworking Survey, in Global Coworking Unconference Conferences (GCUC). 2017: New York. http://usa.gcuc.co/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/GCUC-2017-Global-Coworking-Survey.pdf
  3. Office Nomads. The Nadine Project. 2017, http://nadineproject.org/.


What is Coworking?

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

What is Coworking? Trying To Be Kidful Downunder

I have commented before that one of the unsolved problems for coworking is how to accommodate kids. Day care for working parents is a hard problem for conventional organizations, and most coworking spaces don’t have any provisions at all. A few have tried and faced problems. But the list is growing, all around the world.

Robert Ollett blogged recently about Happy Hubbub in Melbourne (Australia), which offers a conventional array of coworking services, plus on site day care. There are some details that depend on local policies, other aspects are pretty universal.

Even with subsidies, daycare is expensive, much more expensive than coworking. The information indicates that Hubbub charges about four times as much for daycare as for coworking! This is typical. The cost of kid care is so much higher, I have seen coworking spaces that offered free coworking when you buy day care, sort of like free coffee or fee mints.

For coworking spaces which are operating at the lowest cost possible, day care is way, way outside the reach of their members.

One reason childcare is expensive is that the facilities and staffing are regulated by local authorities. This is a very good thing, but compliance costs money.  In addition, childcare generally requires competent and trained human staff, another cost driver.

You can set up coworking in almost any space, with almost no staff, but that isn’t true for child care.

For that matter, the little ones have their own requirements. Catering needs to be age appropriate, and they need interesting activities while mum is busy working. And so on. This is all standard stuff for day care operators, but it’s totally alien to coworking operators!

Even the coworking facilities themselves probably have different requirements. Parking is probably much more important for parents bringing in their kids. The work space needs to be close to, but isolated from, the children. There probably should be parent plus child lounge areas, separate from both work and child care area.  Handling kids of different ages might require some creativity. And so on.

Hubbub has been successful so far, though it is actually pretty small (sixteen slots for kids). Compared to some “commodity coworking” sides with hundreds of desks, it is tiny. Could you scale it up? How big is too big for this kind of site?  I’m not sure, and I’m certainly not telling you that bigger is better.

Community, community, community

Erin Richards of Hubbub comments that establishing a trusted reputation is essential for the child care service. This is a completely different kind of reputation from the coworking side.

I think the deeply tricky problem fo solve in all of this is that this is not only two businesses in the same location, but that the two businesses are both about community—but two very different kinds of community.

Coworking is all about community, a community of like-minded peers—workers with similar skills, needs, and goals. Drop-off child care is about trust, and ideally about a community of like-minded peers—parents and care givers with similar needs and goals.

“Coworking with kids” must really be about a community that is both peer workers and peer parents. That’s easy enough to say, but it’s not that easy to do. It’s kind of a Venn diagram, looking for the intersection of the group of simpatico independent workers, and the group of parents who want this kind of child care.

This is a niche, and it cuts both ways. Richards notes that the double draw is attractive for some, “These parents try the coworking space for the childcare, but keep coming back because of the community.” On the otter hand, workers who might otherwise be pleased may be disinclined to participate. “There’s definitely a psychological barrier for people who don’t have kids to come here”.

Thinking about this, I can see that it is not likely that you can have successful coworking and “sprinkle on” some child care, nor have successful childcare and “drop in” some coworking. Making this work is hard, but Hubbub and other sites are beginning to show how to make it work.

One key is the right kind of community leadership, people who are “peers” in both the target communities. The greatest community wrangler in the world may be useless with kids, and the finest tot wrangler might be hopeless at office management.   In the case of Hubbub, this challenge is addressed by the partnership of two leaders, with the right combination of skills.

I think that is their secret, and I’m betting that the success they have seen so far is due to having the right leaders.

  1. Happy Hubbub. Happy Hubbub – coworking with children. 2017, https://www.happyhubbub.com.au/.
  2. Robert Ollett, Coworking Heroes: Happy Hubbub, in habu. 2017. https://www.habu.co/blog/coworking-heroes-happy-hubbub


What is Coworking?

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

What is Coworking? It might be Eurotrekking

The term “Coworking” is used for a variety of different activities, ranging from informal meetups and short term desk rental to a global movement , which is the future of work. Recently, coworking has branched into various forms of “coliving”, further blurring both work-life boundaries and the definition of the term “coworking”. The common theme is a desire to work and live in a community, a face-to-face group of people in the same physical space.

Coworking has always appealed to digital nomads, untethered and rootless digitally enabled workers who travel the world, working wherever they are. At the extreme, these nomads are their own community, banding together. “Destination coworking” blends into the global swarm of gap yearing trekkers, with sites in exotic locations, travel packages, and even cruises.

[N]ext time you’re going to work remotely, why not go somewhere actually remote?” [1]

Last month Ivan Brkljac wrote excitedly about “Europe’s wonderfully remote coliving-coworking locations” [1] . He reports that across Europe locations in “the rural countryside” have “managed to turn these communities into interesting destinations” with coworking and coliving spaces. These locations attract location independent urban workers who can come to work and “de-stress”.

His examples include villages in Serbia, Spain, Switzerland, Builgaria, and Germany. The Spanish and Swiss sites are located at conventional tourist destinations, the other villages feature healthy rustic amusements. The unifying theme seems to be rural authenticity.

[W]hen it comes to coworking and coliving, what people want is something genuine. They’re even willing to travel far and wide to find it

Glancing at the information, these locations seem more like sedate club med, without the club, and with Internet. Bear in mind that every hotel and inn has internet and desk space suitable for remote working. The trick is to attract people who want to meet and mix with other workers.

The promotional materials show happy young, single (white) workers. No old people or children in sight. In addition to surfing, skiing, and fine food, the potential attractions may include seminars on, say, Bulgaria Tax Citizenship. (Tax avoidance seems to be one of Europe’s largest industries, and a main attraction for digital nomadism.)

These locations are all pretty new, so who knows how they will evolve. Brkljac implies that these spaces represent some sort of reverse migration out of the cities, a repopulation of rural areas, and so on.

My own view is this is a sort of niche marketing in the huge and competitive European lodging business. There are thousands of ski lodges in Switzerland, most of which have Internet, and most of which will be happy to host a corporate meeting or individual remote workers. There are inns all over Europe too.

These spaces distinguish themselves in this crowded market with a new agey story about working and de-stressing, décor and amenities attractive to young professionals, and a trendy new name, “coworking”. More power to them, but this ain’t a big social revolution.

  1. Ivan Brkljac,  A tour of Europe’s wonderfully remote coliving-coworking locations. The New Worker.April 26 2017, http://newworker.co/mag/coliving-coworking-locations-to-work-remotely-in-europe/
  2. Alpine Co-Working. Alpine Co-Working. 2017, http://www.alpinecoworking.com/.
  3. Coconat. Coconat – A Workation Retreat. 2017, http://coconat-space.com/.
  4. Coworking Bansko. Coworking Bansko – Home for Digital Nomads and Freelancers. 2017, coworkingbansko.com.
  5. Mokrin. Mokrin House of Ideas. 2017, http://www.mokrinhouse.com/.
  6. Sende. Sende is a rural coworking & coliving space in Spain. 2017, http://sende.co/.
  7. Sun and Co. Sun and Co – The home to location independent workers. 2017, https://sun-and-co.com/.


What is Coworking?

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

What is Coworking? “Female Friendly” list from “Women Digital Nomads”?

The Women Digital Nomads site is aimed for female nomads, offering information (and merchandise) “to help you stay safe on the road while living the lifestyle of your dreams”.

This month WDN published a somewhat heroic list of “Coolest Co-working Space In Each State” for the US. Given that there are thousands of coworking spaces in most major cities, I was curious to see what “the coolest” would be.

It isn’t really clear what methodology was used to compile this list. Did they visit in person? How did they decide which few to visit?

In any case, the survey clearly focuses mainly on the physical space, i.e., with little consideration of the community:

The criteria for “coolest” was based on the interior decor, facilities and/or atmosphere of each space. The selected spaces are well designed and would wow any visitor.

They selected: “beautifully designed spaces and ergonomic furniture, community events and inspiring work spaces”  and also note with favor that “many spaces that are making a difference in their communities by supporting local entrepreneurs”.

But, as I said, not much consideration of the leadership, community spirit, or non-nomadic workers.

As far as the specific recommendations, I have to say that it takes a bit of nerve to make such a list. Boiling things down to only one space per state is bound to be controversial!

I certainly have to question their pick of WeWork in Chicago as the “coolest” in the whole state of Illinois. Many of us wouldn’t be caught dead in a giant, soulless space like that…. But then I’m not a Woman, or a Digital Nomad, and I am certainly not going to travel to Chicago in search of “cool” temporary work space.

The thing that I really would most like to know is what WDN considers to make a coworking space “female friendly”. We assume that these spaces are “coolest” for women, but it’s not clear what that means, and I’d really like to know so I can help make all coworking cooler for women.

But, I don’t want to bash this list unduly. Coworking spaces are diverse, and coworkers are diverse. Tastes differ, and some information is better than no information.

So I’m glad to have this list.

And I would love to know what makes coworking female friendly.

  1. Chrys Tan The coolest coworking space in each state [infographic]. New Worker Magazine.January 23 2017, http://newworker.co/mag/the-coolest-coworking-space-in-each-state-infographic/
  2. Chrys  Tan, These Are The Coolest Co-working Space In Each State in Women Digital Nomads Inspiration. 2017. http://womendigitalnomads.com/blog/coolest-co-working-space-united-states/


What is Coworking?

Please stay tuned for my new ebook, “What is Coworking”, coming early in 2017.