In Coworking, A Thousand Flowers Are Blooming

As I predicted coworking is coming back, and there are plenty of seats available. As Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner’s headline says  “Co-Working Spaces Are Back. And There Are Many, Many Options [2].  As she reports, there is pent up demand for face to face interaction and a vast oversupply of office space.

This means workers have many more choices (and who says you have to pick only one coworking space?)  Not only the old, pre-pandemic spaces, but new options including restaurants open for workers in the daytime, hotels, spaces in residential buildings, and many “smaller, resourceful co-working initiatives”.

As predicted here.

Let a thousand flowers boom” has always been my mantra for coworking.

Some of the new initiatives are things that I’d like to see succeed.  For one thing, some of the coworking spaces are near where the people live, i.e., instead of commuting, go to a coworking space near home.  This is surely a good thing, especially if you get to meet a bunch of other people who are also not commuting. This is the close in version of “zoom towning”.

Of course, the current crop of daisies has some dubious sprouts in the mix. 

One so-called “coworking” space rents you a pod, with no human contact at any point.

How is this “coworking” at all?, I ask.  This is a capsule hotel with a desk instead of a bed.

Another venture (in the Bay area naturally) is doing the Airbnb thing, renting you space in someone else’s apartment [1].

I’m not really seeing why I want to work at home in someone else’s home?  (OK, I guess you leave your kids at home, and the rental better not come with kids included.)

My own view is that these concepts will probably fail because they misunderstand the essential point of coworking:  to find a community of like-minded workers

So, work pods are basically pointless as far as I’m concerned.  About as useful as a phone booth—which is useful when you need it, but probably not if you have to pay by the hour.

Home coworking has been around for quite a while (remember Jelly?)  It can be really, really cool, bringing together a neighborhood, making friends, knitting, baking cookies.  But inviting strangers to use your home while you are not there is really not building community. So I really dunno about this app–it depends on how you use it.

We still don’t know how the new hybrid office will work out.  But remote workers will not be short of places to work.

The bottom line is, there are lots of choices for workers right now, which is a very good thing. 

And I hope remote workers will be able to find comfortable and mutually helpful communities of fellow workers, whatever that means to each of them.

  1. Aayat Ali, Bay Area Startup Is The Airbnb Of Coworking Spaces, in Allwork, May 16, 2021.
  2. Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner, Co-Working Spaces Are Back. And There Are Many, Many Options, in New York Times. 2021: New York.

Coworking Spaces Will Be Important in “Zoom Towns”

I have noted the pandemic driven trend to dispersed, hybrid workspaces.

This summer, Aayat Ali gives me the word we didn’t know we needed:  Zoom Towns [1].

Forced to work from home, some workers have moved out of city centers to suburban or exurban homes.  Remote work works fine as long as you’ve got connectivity, so why not get out of a depressing shut down city? 

And some places have been trying to entice workers to move there, with subsidies and other presents.  These “Zoom Towns” hope to beef up local economies with a slice of the talent and jobs that have been concentrated in the major cities, especially on the coasts.

As Ali’s title suggests, it’s not clear how long this trend might be sustained.

On the plus side, this is certainly a trend that has been growing slowly, even before the pandemic.  And it seems that many organizations have discovered that they can function without everyone being in the same office all the time.  So there is a lot of talk about “hybrid” workspaces, with only some workers in the office some of the time. 

On the other hand, some organizations either can’t or won’t go this way. So workers may soon face either longer commutes, relocation back to the city, or a change of job.  (This summer is certainly seeing a lot of job changing.)

Coworking spaces might play a role in this hybrid working model.  Remote workers have always been key customers for coworking spaces, in fact they are literally what coworking was invented for.  So a successful “Zoom Town” will likely have quite a few coworking spaces, and, I would say, a variety of different coworking spaces. (With childcare.)

These spaces could provide a local community of “zoomers”, as well as on-demand meeting spaces for remote corporations and other features we haven’t realized we need.

Even better, the remote zoomers can mix and meet and collaborate with local workers, companies, and start ups; spreading knowledge and human networks out into the talent pools out here in flyover country.

So, if you want to try to succeed as a Zoom Town, I suggest you look to create a rich mix of coworking spaces.

  1. Aayat Ali, Zoom Towns: Fad Or Future?, in, July 12, 2021.

Digital Nomads In a Pandemic World?

The pandemic has pushed many workers to remote work, and many workers will continue to work remotely at least some of the time.

Remote workers are, of course, the folks who invented and populated the first wave of coworking spaces.  For many, remote work was a necessity, or at least a choice driven by circumstances.

But for some workers, remote working has been a lifestyle choice / philosophical stance.  These digital nomads eschew not only conventional offices, but the very concept of a permanent residence.  These transient workers are happy to work from anywhere, including coworking desks.  Of course, they prefer to be somewhere cool (or warm in the winter).  Some just like like to travel, some are seeking to live permanently “off shore”, independent of “the man”.

So, are we going to see a lot more digital nomads in the post-pandemic “hybrid” working environment?

The technology is here, as it has been for a while.  Many workers need little more than power and wifi, which they can get a lot of places.  And if you already work remotely, you can work just as well from Hawaii or Bali or Croatia as from you kitchen table.

So, is nomadism going to take off?

This summer Bryan Lufkin discusses the not-so-clear future of digital nomadism [1].

First of all, there are different levels of “nomadism”.  Lufkin notes that during the pandemic, some workers were able to retreat out of the city, to work from relatively healthy rural abodes.  If the clubs are closed, why put up with living in the city?   These remote workers may or may not be especially mobile, so this may or may not be a nomadic lifestyle.

Lufkin points out that true nomadism is a very privileged situation.  You not only need a high paying remote career, you need political and social capital.  Blithely bebopping around the world is fine if you have money and a passport, but a lot harder for poor people, AKA, “illegal immigrants”.  And in a lot of places borders are closed and will remain closed.  Good luck trying to work remotely from New Zeeland if you aren’t already there. Heck, I can’t even go to Canada from the US these days.

(Some digital nomads have surely been trapped in place by the pandemic, spending a year or more in what was supposed to be a short visit.  That was not so fun, and could happen at any time in the future.)

In any case, most jobs involve real world, physical activities.  Most workers have to show up at work. And even in the commonly envisioned “hybrid” workplace, workers have to come to the office some of the time.  Maybe they will have fewer but longer commutes, but how many workers will be allowed to just phone it in from anywhere they want? Not many.

This is really a highly privileged lifestyle.

So yeah, rich kids may continue to bebop around the world, “working” remotely.  But most workers won’t.

I’ll also point out that the entire mind set–eschewing a permanent home, living a permanent spring break–is a whole lot more prevalent among young adult (rich and poor) than older people.  Soon enough, kids grow up and want a family and a home. 

OK, some retirees go nomad at the other end of the lifespan : – ) 

But the point is that a lot of the noise about digital nomadism is from Internet media that are written by and for twenty somethings.  It was never, and will never be, a thing for most workers.

  1. Bryan Lufkin, Is the great digital-nomad workforce actually coming?, in BBC News – Worklife, June15, 2021.

Trends: Just how expensive is a coworking desk?

Part of the attraction of a coworking space is reasonable cost.  Independent workers generally can’t afford to rent conventional office space, so a local coworking space or spaces offer cost-effective alternatives. 

Part of this savings comes from “on-demand” rental, with only-what-you-need pricing.  If you need a desk for one day a week, or for one week a month, you don’t need to pay for unused capacity.  Similarly, other facilities, such as meeting rooms, are available just as needed.

Of course, in the best case, when the worker is part of a community of peers she is getting a lot more than a desk and utilities.

But just what does basic coworking cost? 

This spring, Circleloop reports a compilation of coworking in major cities [1].  These figures reflect local conditions, of course, supply and demand and the availability of competing alternatives.  But they are surprisingly similar across the survey.

It is interesting to see that the most expensive cost per month, Lichtenstein at £464. is not that different from many other cities.  And even the least expensive in the survey, Buenos Aires £37, is not that different.  Mainly, I suspect, these figures track the overall cost of office space in these locations, as well as the general state of the local economy.

Naturally, these figures are a bit hard to interpret precisely.  Are these “hot desks” truly equivalent in all these facilities?  Probably not, at least in the sense that the cities have overall different infrastructure and environment.  For that matter, these are averages with no indication of the variation among different coworking spaces.

In any case, I predict that prices will be quite a bit lower in the next few years.  Vast amounts of commercial office space is empty and looking for users.  There will be opportunities to open or expand coworking and offer very much cheaper rents.  This will mean new coworking spaces, and, I expect, many smaller, boutique-y spaces. 

I hope many will be attached to child care facilities, which will benefit working parents, and possibly provide income for child care facilities.

There will also be a lot of coworking spaces outside city centers, and even—gasp—out here in the corn fields.  We have learned that we can work remotely, but remote workers still need colleagues. 

In short, these statistics are both out of date and probably not representative of several important trends in the near future.

  1. CircleLoop, The Co-Working Index:  Where in the world is the best city to co-work post-Covid?, in Circleloop Blog, May 7, 2021.

What is Coworking? What will Coworking Become?

Coworking will be popular, but will it be “diverse”?

Pretty much everyone agrees that as we return from pandemic isolation, most office work will be done in “hybrid” spaces, with workers splitting time between in-person and remote working.  The trick will be to figure out how to do this well.

This make for an interesting time for coworking spaces.   Coworking has always been a “hybrid” workplace, and generally aims to be a sweet spot for workers and work:  just the right amount of and kind of in-person working.

The most successful coworking spaces have built communities of workers, or have been built by communities of workers (or both).  The best thing is that there can be multiple “communities” in the same area, so different independent workers may find a good fit.  As I have pointed out, unlike conventional organizations, independent workers therefore may choose their workspace and coworkers.  No wonder people like it!

This does raise an important question, though.  The flip side of multiple communities and “good fit”, is the relative homogeneity of the communities, and the separation between them.  Self-selection may make people happy, but it also leads to fragmentation and segregation.  If being “comfortable” means being around “people like me”, this leads to non-diverse workplaces.

This is not just a hypothetical issue.  There have been serious problems in coworking communities.  Shockingly enough, self-selection alone is not a cure for the problem of getting along with others at work.

So, if coworking spaces have raised this question, what does it say about the future of “hybrid workspaces”.   With some workers in and some out of the office at a given time, and people cycling through the office on different schedules, how does this affect worker relations and decision making?

This month, the Deskpass Blog argues that hybrid work can help foster a diverse workplace [1].

First of all, they hit the nail on the head, “company culture has taken a hit since the pandemic”, because proximity is a huge factor.  And continuing with a “hybrid” model retains this fundamental challenge to creating and maintaining the much talked about “company culture”.

The main point of the post is that there is opportunity here, specifically to foster “diversity” as a base for a strong group culture.  So what are the opportunities?

One positive is that a hybrid workforce “widens your talent pool to different locations, economic backgrounds, cultures and skill sets”.  If you can really recruit anyone from anywhere, then, yeah, that’s certainly as diverse as you can get!

Second, hybrid work makes at least some workers happy.  What a concept!  Happier workers are, besides happier, often more effective, and generally stick around.  (Happy workers are not necessarily “diverse”, however.)

A third point is that hybrid work helps mitigate “location biases”, especially in expensive metro areas.  Reducing the need to live near and commute to work is an opportunity for people who can’t afford the cost of living or long commutes.  

In fact, workers are tending to move out of cities this year, finding a better quality of life, yet still able to work remotely.  So even workers who were managing the pain, geographical flexibility is potentially beneficial.

But, as the article sort of points out, none of this actually matters for “culture” or “diversity” unless the organization focuses on those things.  You can have a completely monocultural hybrid workplace just as easy as not.  And you can certainly have dysfunctional culture in a hybrid work situation. Many would say that a hybrid workforce is dysfunctional by default, because people can’t get to know each other.

But…the Deskpass people do have a point that their “flexible offices”, the corporate version of coworking spaces, can be used to build a diverse and vibrant work group.

So I say, make the most of the geographical flexibility and spread your net wide. 

But I would also say that you need to make the most of the in-person part of the hybrid.  Bringing people into the office, only to have them not talk to each other, or only have boring meetings will be a huge mistake.  It’s a waste of very expensive rent!

Learn from coworking communities.  Use the space for networking, for socializing, and for talking to people other than your closest colleagues.

I know that one of my own tools as a team leader was “going walk about”.  Just walking around and being available to anyone who wanted to talk, show me what they were working on, tell me what they were thinking—this is really valuable.  And you can’t do it remotely. This would be one of the things to do in-person.

Another thing missing from the article was child care.  Families with kids, especially mothers with kids, need child care, period.  Working remotely does not solve the problem—unless they can find “flexible office space” that has child care.  And whatever in-person workspace is available must have child care.  Child care way, way more important—especially for “diversity”—than free coffee or game rooms.

(Thanks to Cat Johnson for the pointer to this article via her newsletter.) 

  1. Deskpass, How Hybrid Work Helps Foster A Diverse Workplace, in
  2. May 6, 2021.

What Will Coworking Become?