Kolonas on “Coworking Software”

I first encountered coworking in the context of virtual organizations and computer supported collaborative work (CSCW—it’s a thing).  As a software guy, I’ve continued to be interested in what kind of software people use to implement coworking.  Maybe I can understand coworking if I understand the software it uses.

I quickly discovered that most of the software that coworkers and coworking oprators use are pretty generic.  Digital communications, social media, cloud computing—these make freelancing, remote working, and coworking cheap and easy.  But they aren’t specifically “coworking” software, and that’s actually the whole point.  Coworkers can collaborate and generate products where ever they want in the same ways they would in a conventional office.

There is also software used to manage and operate coworking spaces and communities.  Again, much of this software is essentially generic. Resource scheduling, billing, membership services, etc.—coworking operations need these generic business services.  Coworking operations also use digital social media to “manage” the community of workers.

So what, if anything would it mean to specialize software for coworking?

Hector Kolonas (one of the wheels at the Coworking Library) is building a collection of “Coworking Software”. [1]. This list comes from his research for software solutions for his own coworking operation.

So what kind of software is he looking at here?

He has over fifty products listed, with two main categories, “Billing Software”, and “Member Portals”.  The former isn’t exactly an innovative category, but for most coworking operations low cost, simplicity, and ease of integration are critical. Only the largest operations and chains can afford a conventional billing system, or have personnel to operate it.

The category “Member Portal” is interesting. There are, of course, a lot of “portals” in the world, but for coworking there are some important desiderata.  Coworking communities are part time and fluid, so the system needs to handle on-boarding, leaving, and the common case of coming and going.

There is also an element of DIY. Many coworking operations have small staffs, and lean toward self-registration, etc.  This matches the general low-overhead, on-demand flavor of coworking.

I’m not familiar with the details of these products, but I’m pretty sure that these “member portals” also interface to social media, because membership involves joining the community, not just getting a log in and a key code. For example, a new member will probably create a profile which will be pushed to the whole community as an introduction.

A couple of other points seem to be important.  Much of Kolonas’ information is about software integration, “how they’re connected and who integrates with what.”.  While large companies with conventional workforces can purchase a closed silo system, coworking operations are generally small (even the largest aren’t that large) and don’t “own” the workforce.  So it is clearly advantageous to be able to mash up your own system out of pieces from different vendors.

(Historical note:  we worked very hard from the early days of the web, and even before that, to develop pluggable, modular infrastructure.  It’s good to see that concept in use.)

The second point is that Kolonas clearly has a vision, at least implicitly, of what a coworking operation does.  As a trivial example:  you don’t need billing software if cowowrking is free.  Another example from Kolonas’s own product  (included.co) , are features like “How to add included deals”.  Obviously, he views marketing and this kind of “deal” as an important feature of running a coworking community.


This software collection is interesting, and I’m sure it will be useful to people trying to set up a coworking operation.  I’m a little disappointed that he collects rating information, but does not include any of that in this table.  Maybe he sells that intelligence.

One thing that is missing is an explanation of his categories. What does “Member Portal” mean?  What are the definitions of the “extra features” listed in the tables?

Along those lines, it would be interesting for him to expand on just why these products are included, and what criteria must be met.  Sensei Kolonas obviously knows a lot about this arena, and it would be nice to hear how he is thinking about these products.


(For more background on coworking management and leadership see the book, “What is Coworking?”, especially Chapter 4 and 5.)

6x9_COWORKING_EBOOK_COVER thumb


  1. Hector Kolonas. The Big Bodacious List of Coworking Software. 2019, https://inztinkt.com/big-bodacious-list-of-coworking-software/.

 

What is Coworking? It Can Have An Indigenous Flavor

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 [1] (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 [2].  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.” [2]

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 [1].  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.


  1. Lori Kane, Tabitha Borchardt, and Bas de Baar, Reimagination Stations: Creating a Game-Changing In-Home Coworking Space, Lori Kane, 2015.
  2. Ruby Irene Pratka,  Empowering Canada’s Indigenous communities through coworking Sharable.November 12 2018, https://www.shareable.net/blog/empowering-canada%E2%80%99s-indigenous-communities-through-coworking

 

What is Coworking? Architects Haven’t A Clue

What is Coworking?  Well, I literally wrote a book on that question [3], 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 [1].

She reports that professional office designers think that coworking “needs a new definition”, essentially to match the thing that they do.

[Coworking is] about how the real estate, design and construction industry deliver that product in a more systematic or productized way.

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.

Sigh.


I’m not the only one who strongly disagrees with this bogosity.

Sensei Liz Elam, founder of Global Coworking Unconference Conference (GCUC) replied, “Coworking Does Not Need A New Definition” [2].

She lists what Coworking really is about, with item number one being “Community”.

Exactly.

We would like to suggest that the Real Estate industry, AIA, and others that don’t like the term coworking stick to the always bland “flexible office,” or “serviced office,”

You tell ‘em, Elam!

I’ve had my differences with Sensei Liz, but she does know what she is talking about.  And she hasn’t forgotten the truly important things that make coworking coworking.


  1. Carolyn Cirillo, Why Coworking Needs A New Definition, in AllWork. 2018. https://allwork.space/2018/11/why-coworking-needs-a-new-definition/
  2. Liz Elam, Coworking Does Not Need A New Definition, in LinkedIn – Liz Elam. 2018. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/coworking-does-need-new-definition-liz-elam/
  3. Robert E. McGrath, What is Coworking? A look at the multifaceted places where the gig economy happens and workers are happy to find community. 2018, Self-published: Urbana. https://whatiscoworkingthebook.com/

 

What is Coworking? It Can Be Good For Working Dads

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 [2].

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 [1].

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.


  1. Neil F. Carlson, Dads Who Cowork, in Brooklyn Creative League – Coworking Blog. 2018. http://brooklyncreativeleague.co/coworking-blog/2018/8/15/8m5rj68pecjhuoz3ugi3t6dlaptjbd
  2. Zachary R. Klaas, Coworking & Connectivity in Berlin. University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, 2014. https://www.academia.edu/11486279/Coworking_Connectivity