Just out! Video from my presentation at
Friday, October 5th at Broadway Food Hall Urbana, IL
[Videos of all the the talks are here.]
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!
One of the key drivers for the contemporary coworking movement is to combat the isolation faced by independent and freelance workers. Coworking is a “respite from our isolation”, to quote Zachary Klaas .
Long before unmarried professionals discovered the loneliness of working at home, parents, especially mothers, endured the isolation of child rearing. Worse, working parents, especially mothers, have to balance two careers, at home and, well at home. Working at home may have advantages, but it is very difficult to do two jobs at home at the same time.
Neil Carlson co founder the Brooklyn Creative League coworking space of writes about these challenges, and how coworking is not only a respite from isolation, it is a way to create space for (non child rearing) work .
OK, this post is kind of Mansplaining the challenges of working and raising kids. Nothing here is in any way new to the millions of working moms through history. Somehow, when it becomes a problem for men, suddenly we need solutions other than blaming the victim.
It’s a little annoying to read about how great this coworking space is for dads to find a community of dads to help them have fun at and do better at raising their kids. Where are the moms in this picture? They have the same challenges plus clueless knuckle-draggers treating them like domestic servants.
But let’s not harp on that, and let’s ook at how their coworking space helps balance work and family.
First of all, Carlson supports the separation of work and home. (I have hewed a hard line on this topic for many decades.) A coworking space—a kid free, everybody is working here, space—is not only a better place to work, it psychologically separates “I’m at work” from “I’m at home”.
Second, coworking is a place to be part of a community of like-minded workers. In this case, the parents can find other like-minded working parents. Coworking is widely reported to improve productivity and work quality, through interactions and networking. Carlson’s analysis suggests that it may also improve parenting through the same mechanisms. (If you view child rearing as a vital, if unpaid, job, then this certainly makes sense.)
Carlson notes that the flexibility of choosing and finding a coworking space near to home is extremely valuable. A workplace that is separate, yet close enough to not waste time on commutes, or be so far away to be out of reach if needed by the little ones.
These are all fair points, if nothing that working moms haven’t already invented.
I was more interested in what the Brooklyn Creative League has done to meet the needs of these parents. Looking at the website, the facilities and amenities don’t seem to be different from most other coworking spaces. I suspect that the weekly potluck is more kidful than some coworking spaces (Friday keggers or all night video gaming are generally not that interesting to parents of toddlers).
Judging from the blog post, the “secret sauce” of BCL is probably the community leadership, which has built a community of working dads (maybe moms, too). This is certainly what I would expect: coworking is all about community, and community leaders are usually much more important than the workspace or “amenities”.
One thing that is strikingly missing from the BCL is child care. T One thing that working parents need most is accessible child care, and BCL does not seem to have anything to say on that. It also doesn’t look like the space is designed to be kid friendly at all. he website doesn’t even have pictures of kids or kid’s spaces. (This may be an inaccurate impression, but you’d think they would mention it.)
I’ve been arguing for years that coworking spaces should ally with child care facilities. I know that this is hard, very hard. But it’s starting to happen, and it’s really important.
I’m sure I will return to this topic in the near future.
Sensei Alex Hillman, founder and key player in the Indy Hall coworking space in Philadelphia, has been discussing the importance of creating and sustaining community in a coworking space for many years.
As is well known, the Indy Hall space faced closure, but the workers stepped up to help it stay open in another location. This is a famous case of a community that outlived the space in which it was born.
Hillman also recounts that many of the members almost never use a desk. They are active, but mostly through digital and other forms of interaction and contributions.
Recently, he has asked community leaders to try to “imagine what your community would look like without a space?”
Hillman cites a “virtual coworking” community as an instructive example. Described in a guest post by leader Margo Aaron, The Arena is, basically, a digital social network, though it is very selective and deliberately exclusive . Sensei Hillman makes the point that (a) the community is the primary goal and (b) it is going to have a digital aspect.
People don’t need the “stuff” and they don’t need you (the operator), they need each other. (I think Hillman likes Aaron’s approach because he is extremely concerned with how to sustain the community—i.e., how to get people to pay for the important things, rather than the unimportant “stuff”.)
Turning this point around, let’s ask, If we can create digital communities, and they work, then what is the workspace for?
In my observation, there seems to be a desire for physical spaces, and they seem to be a lot more than just a desk and bandwidth.
My own view is that at least some workers, some of the time, crave face-to-face interactions. Desperately. Even if most of the work and even most of the collaboration happens on-line, there is still something crucial about talking to a real human. A “respite from our Isolation”. 
Not to mentions hugs.
The experience of Indy Hall and similar cases also suggests that a physical space can be a catalyst (as Senseis Angel and Beth called it ), bringing people together in a way that they can discover connections and get to know each other. The result can be a community that extends beyond the four walls, and can outlive the space itself.
This is an interesting and probably useful image to keep in mind. Think about the physical workspace as the kitchen where you want to mix and heat ingredients to create something much more than a warmer mixture. You want to make a delicious meal, that everyonw will enjoys together. (OK, OK, cooking and eating your fellow workers is a bit cannibalistic, but you get the point.)
What is Coworking? It’s still mainly about community, community, community.