A new book about Coworking, Coworking Spaces, and Coworkers.
A new book about Coworking, Coworking Spaces, and Coworkers.
This is a transcript of a conversation we had about coworking and the book.
Check it out.
Many view a coworking space as a sector of the hospitality industry, and, indeed, hotels have provided temporary workspace for many years. Now some hotels are opening “coworking spaces” .
As Sensei Cat Johnson says, “Coworking in hotels is a thing, and it’s not going away.”
So what does coworking at a hotel mean? And what does it have to do with coworking in general?
Jo Meunier describes a variety of business models . Within a hotel, a coworking space is available as temporary workspace for guests and, potentially, for local workers. Hotel guests are often working “alone, together”, and the coworking environment presumably makes this a bit nicer and, ideally, less isolated. I have spent a lot of time feeling alone in hotels, so I can see the point.
For local workers, the hotel offers glitzy surroundings, if you like that kind of thing. (Personally, I am just nauseated by the “luxury” décor of fancy hotels.) In some cases, the coworkers may get access to the “amenities” of the hotel as part of the deal. So, maybe you would like working at the Ritz, and getting access to the spa, room service, etc.
The space might be “branded” for the hotel. Or, a local or global coworking operation might to operate a branded space within the hotel. In the latter case, workers would presumably be able to connect with other workers in the area as part of a coworking community.
Which brings us to the 64 million dollar question, “what about community?
“The big question for coworking operators is, what about community?”
If you think that coworking is all about community, community, community (as I do), you have to wonder just how the transient population of a hotel will foster a feeling of community. After all, these workers may share nothing except that they don’t live here. These are peers, perhaps, but not necessarily “like-minded”. (One reason why I feel so isolated at hotels is that I really have nothing in common with most business travelers.)
Meunier notes this challenge, but notes that hotels have strong offers of customer oriented service and amenities . Frankly, I don’t think these things make up for a lack of community.
It is clear to me, then, why contracting with a coworking operation might be a good way to go. The hotel’s space can be an outcrop of a local community, which could be quite attractive especially compared to sitting along in your room.
I suspect that some of these operations will be basically just short-term office rental. Probably pretty expensive office rental, considering the venues.
Other operations might really be a corporate coworking space, with a bit of added glitz. Not my cup of tea, but maybe good for some (well funded) workers.
I would be very surprised if much in the way of long term community develops in such a space. In that sense, it isn’t going to be very successful coworking, however “nice” the amenities.
I guess we’ll see.
Sensei Tyra Seldon writes for the Freelancers Union Blog about the importance of “staying connected” to other people. “[F]reelancers may be particularly vulnerable to feeling disconnected and lonely.”  As independent workers, they are also responsible for maintaining their own well-being.
Sensei Seldon gives three key things to do to sustain an independent career:
On the third point, she equates well-being with “self-care”, though I view the latter to be mostly cosmetic, while the latter is essential. Exercise, rest, eat right. You know it’s important, and Seldon is correct that your work will suffer if you don’t. Budget time and effort to keep your own physiological and psychological infrastructure in shape.
The second point is, of course, not limited to independent workers. Many, if not most, workers—and basically everybody–are digitally connected in many ways. Independent workers may find valuable connections beyond direct work activities.
However, experience shows that digital communities are not enough. People need other people, face to face. So item number one is “network with others”—in person.
Historically, one of the key reasons contemporary coworking emerged is that independent workers can find a community of like-minded workers. It is a “respite from our isolation”, to quote Zachary Klaas .
This is all good advice, and not just for independent workers.
I thing Sensei Seldon leaves out another critical principle. “Self care” is important, but the road to happiness is caring for others. (Actually, we know Seldon hereself understands this: see here and here)
Anyone with kids or elders or a family in general knows this. Why is work-life balance a problem? Because work is necessary but takes time away from what really matters, and what really matters and makes us happy.
So–when looking for community and self care, I say aim to help take care of each other, not just yourself. And this is certainly something that a coworking community can, and should foster.
Senssei Cat Johnson is an enthusiastic supporter of ”Women Who Cowork”, a new “alliance” that is “a growing network of supporters and allies and a beautiful vision to transform the way we work.”
As I document in my 2018 book, one of the key features of contemporary coworking is that it is whatever the workers want it to be. And it surely can be what female workers want it to be. A woman who is her own boss has a woman for a boss!
So what, specifically is this “beautiful vision” which Sensei Cat eloquently invokes?
First of all, this is clearly coming from the perspective of women who lead and operate coworking spaces. Individual workers may benefit and enjoy participation, but WWCO invites you to “Join the professional community of women who create, inspire and lead coworking businesses.”
There is nothing wrong with that, and, of course, community leadership is the make or break element of any successful coworking community, so this is certainly at the heart of things.
These women are also founders of the GCUC conferences, and are deeply involved in the evolution of the “industry”. In fact, their manifesto has the telling sentence, “We believe coworking is the industry best positioned to achieve the goal of 100% gender parity in leadership and funding accessibility.”
There is lots of talk of gender equity everywhere, but it is interesting to see what the WWCO think are the crucial facets: leadership and funding accessibility. Power and money. Yup. I can’t disagree with that.
Of course, WWCO is going to be about more than that, but, hey, give me money and power and I can make stuff happen!
Inevitably, part of the mission of WWCO will be advocating for women coworkers, recognizing success, busting myths, and generally promoting the “beautiful mission” of “Yes, We Can.”
As I have written many times, coworking is all about community, and community all about being “us, together”—for pretty much any value of “us”. We see coworking communities that serve geographical neighborhoods, vocational categories, and of course all kinds of social and lifestyle groupings.
But I must be quick to say that across all demographic, geographic, and identity slices, coworkers share a broad base of common needs, goals, and working life. Everyone is using the same technological base, navigating similar career paths, and struggling with the same life-work challenges. Truly, we’re all in this together, even though we may “clump” into relatively homogeneous “us” groups sometimes.
Women have always had a strong role in coworking, even if some of the “clumps” are pretty masculine. Since freelance workers are free to choose their workspace and coworkers, many women and men (and whatever other gender self-identifications) are happy to find a community with women leaders, and will choose to join.
While it may be a stereotype to think that women are “better” at community than men, it is certainly true that women can create and sustain community very well. There have always been successful female leaders, and there certainly should continue to be so.
From this perspective, WWCO is basically playing a game that has already been won.
But I’m sure that for those who a playing the “shared workspace industry” game, WWCO could have an important role, demanding “100% gender parity in leadership and funding accessibility.” I personally am not interested in that game, but I want to make sure that “girls get to play, too”.
How will “femme-identified coworking entrepreneurs and community managers” do things different? I don’t know. Let’s see what happens.
In the runup to this year’s Global Coworking UnConference (GCUC) USA (#gcuc, #coworking), Sensei Cat Johnson (@catjohnson) reposted her comments from last year’s GCUC  (reposted to her Coworking Out Loud newsletter this month).
Like me, Sensei Cat finds the former “not coworky”. “[I]t feels like community as a commodity, and it’s not my jam. It might not be your jam either.”
She wants to reassure people that it’s OK to not be interested in billion-dollar projects, and that you shouldn’t be afraid that they’ll crush you. She uses the analogy of the “coffee industry”, which has giant corporations and chains, but also multitudes of local, friendly, craft roasteries. There is little danger than Starbucks will put all other coffee shops out of business (though the chances of a small indie getting a contract at an airport or mall are slim).
I have used a similar analogy to restaurants. There is always room for a good, local eatery—so long as you find your niche and do it superbly. It is good to see that Sensei Cat is saying the same thing!
But what should a little guy, interested in doing something authentically coworky, do? Just do the right thing.
“You do you. Take care of your business, take care of your people, make your space better every day, and make sure your members and community are your priority.”
It was also good to read Johnson’s sage comment that
“The best coworking communities could thrive in any space because, in the end, coworking—real coworking—has very little to do with the spaces and everything to do with the human connections formed within them.”
I’ve been saying this for years: think of coworking as participatory theater. The space is the stage, which is necessary but not sufficient. A great play can be acted out anywhere. For more on this viewpoint, see my earlier comments here, expanded in Chapter 7 of my book , and also my Pecha Kucha talk .
What should we do about GCUC? Sensei Cat is rather more sanguine about this weird schizoid conference than I am. Some people view it as a “barbell shaped industry”, but I view it as two different industries with the big one parsitizing (is that a word?) the little one. For me, GCUC was just broken, and I have no interest in it. But then again, I am not, and will never be, a coworking space operator.
It seems clear to me that there is room in the world and reason enough to split GCUC into two conferences. One focused on infrastructure and one focused on people. I don’t expect this will happen, but I would bet that GCUC may well evolve to have parallel tracks that run along these lines.