This month Sensei Cat Johnson interviewed Canadian “coworking powerhouse” Ashley Proctor about “the potential of coworking to transform neighborhoods, cities, regions and beyond.” 
The “future of work”, hell! It’s the future of everything!
I have asked whether anyone still believes in the Coworking Manifesto. Proctor and Johnson clearly do.
Sensei Ashley is very clear about what “genuine” coworking is and is not.
“A genuine coworking space has nothing to do with desks or wifi or space rental—it’s about bringing people together, and dismantling loneliness. We see people focused on building and strengthening communities, and inspiring and empowering members.”
Amen, Sister Ashley!
Proctor looks beyond coworking per se, to other just as valuable activities that “can make an impact on a local economy, and have a social impact“. What does this mean in practice? If she isn’t specific, it’s because every case is specific. Her own example is a repurposed building (a disused polices station) in a poor neighborhood. In this case, improving the community means dealing with poverty right outside the door.
Other cases will be embedded in other communities, and thus have other possibilities and necessities.
Her guiding principle is “lead by example”.
It’s really just that simple, actually.
“Any coworking space can make an impact on a local economy, and have a social impact, as well. Every coworking space can be dismantling loneliness and helping people connect within their community. Whether or not that’s their focus, that’s happening in each space. Every space is empowering neighborhood residents.“
Proctor gets extra points from me with a call for collecting data to demonstrate the (alleged) benefits of coworking. I see lots of claims, but little evidence to back them up.
Getting decent evidence isn’t easy, but, as she notes, there are (or should be) people who are very interested in these questions. Find allies, she suggests. (My own experience has been that there is very little interest is seriously studying these issues. But there should be. Keep trying.)
Unfortunately, Procto’s philosophy seems to be a minority in the overall coworking world. Many workers and operators are focused on business development, of workers and of the workspace enterprise itself. If “community” is defined to be “the (paying) members’ of the workspace, there is little impact on the street outside. Coworking makes workers happy, which is good. But Proctor would say that it can do a lot more than that.
And, of course, there are many people who are focused on furniture and layout , which I think is irrelevant to “community” of any sort, and certainly contributes nothing to any wider social impact. Furniture doesn’t change the world, people change the world.
To be fair, there is an inherent tension between the needs of independent workers and the desire to serve the whole local community. Workers need infrastructure, companionship, and child care, among other things. A community needs jobs, public space, and decent places to live, among other things. It is difficult to meet all the needs of everyone, in one operation, and not necessarily wise to try to do too many things at once.
Clearly, Sensei Proctor has her head screwed on right. She has an inspiring vision, and seems to still be living out the “Coworking Manifesto”.
- Cat Johnson, The Social And Economic Impact Of Coworking: A Q&A With Ashley Proctor, in allwork. 2019. https://allwork.space/2019/03/the-social-and-economic-impact-of-coworking-a-qa-with-ashley-proctor/