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 . 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”. 
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 ), 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.
- 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/
- Zachary R. Klaas, Coworking & Connectivity in Berlin. University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, 2014. https://www.academia.edu/11486279/Coworking_Connectivity
- 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
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