What is Coworking? Proximity Thinks It Should Have A Playlist

Friend or the book Proximity (in Colorado) are in the business of software to manage a coworking space (“We have everything you need!“).  They do a sort of turn key, “Click here to set up and run a coworking space” thing.

This winter they have another feature, which is probably a sort of side project that got out in the world:  Coworking Playlists.

I’ve heard that music (or silence) is one of the most difficult design challenges for operating a coworking space.  I personally prefer quite and natural conversations, but many people really, really want a sound track.  The problem is, of course, that tastes differ. So it is hard to please everybody, or, on a bad day, to please anybody.

 

So what’s a coworking operator to do?  It’s an opportunity to be a DJ to a captive audience.  But the audience is paying you for workspace, so driving them nuts or away is not a good thing.

Proximity Coworking is in the business of selling technical support for running coworking spaces. In that effort, they study the common problems and try to provide simple, cost effective solutions.  (We sued to call this musak.)

So, it’s sort of logical that they have identified this challenge and provide a solution.

“Finding a good playlist for your coworking space can be difficult. There are so many genres and moods to choose from, and you want to find the perfect balance. Luckily, we’ve created some playlists for you! “

The product itself is a collection of playlists available via Spotify, with tags such as, “Monday Motivation, for when you’ve had a great weekend and need to come back into focus.”  And so on.

I don’t do Spotify, so I can’t really listen samples.  I definitely don’t recognize any of the titles or artists.  So basically, I can’t critique the music.

I’m deeply skeptical that any playlist picked out by a twenty-something will appeal to me, let alone make me more productive (or “come back into focus” on Monday). (Kids today—their music, it’s just noise!)

The point is, of course, that these playlists say more about the DJ, and about not very carefully examined assumptions about workers taste, experience, and culture.  As with many aspects of coworking, there is a tension between binding together a community of workers, versus openness to diverse workers.  In this case, music can be a powerful common cultural statement, gluing together a group of workers.  At the same time, it can be a powerful force to push away and, sub-consciously, exclude others.

And bear in mind, too, that the supposed psychological effects are very much individual—just because you find this tune motivating, doesn’t mean that anyone else does.

So, my advice is to proceed with caution.  I hope you see my point.

I’ll note that there is a good reason why ear buds and headsets are nearly as universal as mobile devices.  Everyone can have their own personal playlists, which can override whatever ambient sound is around.  The safe play is to let people program their own sound.

These playlists have the earmark of somebody’s personal project that was good enough to get out in the world. So, more power to you.  I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone from creating curated playlists.  There is too much algorithmic programming in the world, and not enough human DJing.  (My personal listening actually leans heavily on streams from local, live DJs.)

But maybe coworking operations shouldn’t to blast this out loud into the room—unless you are sure that everybody really wants to listen to the same thing as you.


  1. Megan Dirksen, Coworking Playlists, in Proximity Space – Blog. 2019. https://www.proximity.space/2019/02/22/coworking-playlists/

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