I first encountered coworking in the context of virtual organizations and computer supported collaborative work (CSCW—it’s a thing). As a software guy, I’ve continued to be interested in what kind of software people use to implement coworking. Maybe I can understand coworking if I understand the software it uses.
I quickly discovered that most of the software that coworkers and coworking oprators use are pretty generic. Digital communications, social media, cloud computing—these make freelancing, remote working, and coworking cheap and easy. But they aren’t specifically “coworking” software, and that’s actually the whole point. Coworkers can collaborate and generate products where ever they want in the same ways they would in a conventional office.
There is also software used to manage and operate coworking spaces and communities. Again, much of this software is essentially generic. Resource scheduling, billing, membership services, etc.—coworking operations need these generic business services. Coworking operations also use digital social media to “manage” the community of workers.
So what, if anything would it mean to specialize software for coworking?
Hector Kolonas (one of the wheels at the Coworking Library) is building a collection of “Coworking Software”. . This list comes from his research for software solutions for his own coworking operation.
So what kind of software is he looking at here?
He has over fifty products listed, with two main categories, “Billing Software”, and “Member Portals”. The former isn’t exactly an innovative category, but for most coworking operations low cost, simplicity, and ease of integration are critical. Only the largest operations and chains can afford a conventional billing system, or have personnel to operate it.
The category “Member Portal” is interesting. There are, of course, a lot of “portals” in the world, but for coworking there are some important desiderata. Coworking communities are part time and fluid, so the system needs to handle on-boarding, leaving, and the common case of coming and going.
There is also an element of DIY. Many coworking operations have small staffs, and lean toward self-registration, etc. This matches the general low-overhead, on-demand flavor of coworking.
I’m not familiar with the details of these products, but I’m pretty sure that these “member portals” also interface to social media, because membership involves joining the community, not just getting a log in and a key code. For example, a new member will probably create a profile which will be pushed to the whole community as an introduction.
A couple of other points seem to be important. Much of Kolonas’ information is about software integration, “how they’re connected and who integrates with what.”. While large companies with conventional workforces can purchase a closed silo system, coworking operations are generally small (even the largest aren’t that large) and don’t “own” the workforce. So it is clearly advantageous to be able to mash up your own system out of pieces from different vendors.
(Historical note: we worked very hard from the early days of the web, and even before that, to develop pluggable, modular infrastructure. It’s good to see that concept in use.)
The second point is that Kolonas clearly has a vision, at least implicitly, of what a coworking operation does. As a trivial example: you don’t need billing software if cowowrking is free. Another example from Kolonas’s own product (included.co) , are features like “How to add included deals”. Obviously, he views marketing and this kind of “deal” as an important feature of running a coworking community.
This software collection is interesting, and I’m sure it will be useful to people trying to set up a coworking operation. I’m a little disappointed that he collects rating information, but does not include any of that in this table. Maybe he sells that intelligence.
One thing that is missing is an explanation of his categories. What does “Member Portal” mean? What are the definitions of the “extra features” listed in the tables?
Along those lines, it would be interesting for him to expand on just why these products are included, and what criteria must be met. Sensei Kolonas obviously knows a lot about this arena, and it would be nice to hear how he is thinking about these products.
(For more background on coworking management and leadership see the book, “What is Coworking?”, especially Chapter 4 and 5.)
- Hector Kolonas. The Big Bodacious List of Coworking Software. 2019, https://inztinkt.com/big-bodacious-list-of-coworking-software/.
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