A new book about Coworking, Coworking Spaces, and Coworkers.
A new book about Coworking, Coworking Spaces, and Coworkers.
Child care for working parents is a hard problem for everyone, so it isn’t surprising that many coworking spaces do not tackle the problem. But I’m glad to see that more and more are doing so.
This month, Sensei Cat Johnson interviewed Shazia Mustafa of Third Door coworking in the UK. Open since 2015, this is reported to be “The World’s First Coworking Space With Full Childcare” .
One reason why this is very hard is that it is really two different businesses, and you need to get both right. My general rule of thumb is to focus on being good at one thing, but that’s not an option n this case.
Mustafa reports that they designed the space from the start as “childcare with a place to work”. She comments that, “I don’t know if having a coworking space then slotting in the nursery is going to work as effectively”. I tend to agree that the childcare part is harder, and the workspace part is a lot more flexible–there are lots of ways to get the workspace right, so it is more likely that you can adapt to the childcare.
She also notes that working parents often can benefit from some psychological boost. (Moms and dads both have challenges, though not always identical or symmetric ones.) It is interesting to think of this kind of childcare+work community as an especially potent way to help both work and childrearing.
It’s hard to know if Third Door really was the first, but it certainly won’t be the last. New ones crop up every day (E.g., here, here). And locally to me, Moose International has opened an exciting new space with childcare+coworking(+food+fitness).
I would see this trend as possible a step toward a more general multi-generational, life+work spaces, and there are more of them every day. I also find some indigenous themed Canadian spaces interesting, because they include space for elders.
It seems to me that there would be advantages to having elders and kids and workers in the community. (Don’t you think having some aunties and uncles would be a real good thing?) Basically, a whole village.
Now there’s a mountain to climb.
Patrick Llewellyn of 99designs writes at Entrepreneur about “How the Gig Economy Helps Boost Diversity” . In particular, he is referring to online platforms which, he says, “create a truly level playing field irrespective of location, gender, age or background”.
He touts the many benefits to businesses (thinking mainly of web design businesses like his own 99designs), which can find (low cost) talent from all over the globe. He’s particularly excited by the availability of talent from every geographic location. Online platforms certainly make it way easier to hire contractors far away from your home office.
Llewellyn seems to believe that this is good for workers. In general, online gigging is “a unique space where the world’s best talent can connect both with each other to exchange ideas and share feedback,” he says. He views gig workers as “Valuing flexibility over more traditional benefits”, which is a “valid choice.”
Finally, the level playing field is especially important for workers who live far from the centers of commerce and media. (This, I suppose, is another “valid choice”.)
“No skilled worker should be disadvantaged because of where they were born or where they live.”
This best of all possible worlds bears little resemblance to the actual gig economy.
First of all, much if not most of the “gig economy” is not high skilled labor, but trivial piecework for pennies. And much, if not most, is not online work, even if the labor market is digitized. Llewellyn is thinking about and talking about a tiny, unrepresentative fraction of the overall gig economy.
Second, he’s rather hazy on what “diversity” means. He’s primarily thinking of geographical location, which seems to stand in for cultural diversity. But there are lots of other kinds of diversity to think about, especially gender racial, and ethnic backgrounds—and age. The online contracting workforce is certainly international, but it’s not clear that it is much different in any other way. And there certainly is no evidences that it operates as a level playing field.
Third, he offers not one shred of evidence that such geographic diversity is actually beneficial even to the business. I’m assuming that he’s thinking of digital collaborations (in English). Working across time zones with people who never meet in person can be challenging. I believe it can work well, at least in some cases. But that doesn’t mean its good for all jobs, and there is good reason to think twice about this kind of outsourcing.
Finally, I’ll note that the article is entirely from the point of view of the business. (This is fair, as it appears in Entrepreneur.) Hiring gig workers via an online platform is basically outsourcing to temp workers from overseas. This may be good for the business, and maybe even for some workers, but is hardly a great thing for most workers.
Let’s put the best spin on Llewellyn’s point: he’s encouraging employers and freelancers to embrace the opportunity to work with “people who aren’t necessarily like you.” That’s a good idea, but you scarcely need to outsource through digital share cropping to accomplish that goal. There are plenty of people “not necessarily like you” right where you live.
In an earlier post, I noted the soon to open Canoe Coworking, which is designed of, by, and for indigenous workers in Winnipeg. This is part of a larger trend of contemporary workplaces targeted for use by first peoples across Canada  (other examples here, here).
Coworking spaces are all about “community, community, community”, and every successful working space creates and sustains a community of workers. Of course, this means different things to each such community, and that is one of the cool things about contemporary coworking.
So, what do these “indigenous” workplaces do that is different, and that makes them attractive to their workers and communities?
Aside from the obvious “flocking” of like-minded workers (on this point, Everett commented that it is nice not to have to ‘splain their culture to other workers), these spaces offer the cultural room for ritual and for their own comfort food . These touches willprobably mean much to their community, and little to other people.
These spaces also pay a lot of attention to multi-generational interactions. Canoe Coworking plans a space reserved for “elders”, which is both for caring for the elders by younger workers and for counseling from the elders.
This is obviously a practice common to the heritage of many North American tribes, but it is also interesting to think about how something like this could be integrated into any coworking space.
It’s not so much that there are no such interactions in other spaces. Its more that these communities are far more intentional about it, and have strong norms about the value of intergenerational care and counseling.
Overall, these spaces seem to fit nicely to aspects of traditions of North American First Peoples . As Tara Everett of Canoe Coworking puts it, “before there was money in North America, we were always sharing resources or time or expertise. That’s how I see the coworking movement.” 
From the very beginning of the coworking movement, there has been an element of “back to the village” for many coworkers. Kane’s home coworking space drew on her local neighbors, and the interactions were much like life in a villages in many parts of the world . In Kane’s kitchen, there were many informal rituals and home-made comfort foods.
Indeed, even in large “corporate” workplaces, it is frequently reported that workers benefit from “mentoring” by older, experienced workers. Whether planned and supported by the operator, or purely spontaneous, these intergenerational interactions are clearly valuable for everyone, not just indigenous workers.
As these indigenous coworking spaces flourish, perhaps they can spread the wisdom by helping other coworking spaces design for the intentional inclusion of elders in multigenerational communities. That would be interesting.
What is Coworking? Well, I literally wrote a book on that question , and I’m not really sure what the answer is.
But I’m pretty sure that the discussions at AIA reported by Carolyn Cirillo are totally wrong .
She reports that professional office designers think that coworking “needs a new definition”, essentially to match the thing that they do.
Who cares what workers actually do? Who cares what coworking actually is? The important thing is to “deliver that product” (in a “productized way”).
For these professionals, it’s all about building office space. So let’s redefine the whole world to fit the business model of the real estate industry.
I’m not the only one who strongly disagrees with this bogosity.
She lists what Coworking really is about, with item number one being “Community”.
You tell ‘em, Elam!