The “Coworking Code of Conduct”

Sensei Cat Johnson calls attention this month to the “Coworking Code of Conduct”, which is a template policy document intended to be used as a model for coworking spaces to use.

The document is undated and unsigned, but is promulgated by Cobot and other coworking operators (and CJ).  The document cites other similar templates that inspired this particular template.

The main thrust of the template is the kind of workplace code of conduct that many conventional organizations promulgate.  Anyone who has worked or gone to school anywhere should already be familiar with these policies.  (This document doesn’t consider kidful environments, which would have additional wrinkles involving interactions between adults with children, and the rights and needs of parents.)

The thing is, of course, that in a conventional office, the employer is in charge of both the space and the workers, so responsibility for the policy and its enforcement are clear. (In many cases, there are legal obligations for employers to enforce such policies.)  In a coworking space, the workers don’t work for the space, so it isn’t necessarily clear who sets and enforces the rules of the workplace.

This policy template essentially encourages the workspace operator to take up this aspect of running the space, even though there isn’t a clear legal requirement to do so.

Yet another important responsibility for community leaders….

What effect would such a policy have?

Obviously, a well-functioning community of coworkers probably doesn’t need any such a formal policy, because they’ll be treating each other with respect already.  But not all communities work smoothly all the time, and workers come and go all the time, so things can change at any moment. In addition, there will inevitably be differences of opinion, such as what is or isn’t “appropriate” talk or touching, so conflict resolution may be needed.  Notably, the code calls for the workspace operator to create mechanisms for mediation, which are probably a good idea anyway.

This document is intended as a template to be adapted for specific workplaces. It will be interesting to see how it might be used by coworking spaces serving specific communities, such as women or first peoples or whatever.  These spaces are balancing the goals of being congenial and/or safe for specific communities, with a desire to be open to everyone.  The generic template about incusion might be too little or totally off target for these communities, I dunno.

If nothing else, this document should make coworking operators and community leaders think about this issue in their own community.  Even if a community is functioning fine, there may be improvements to make.


Coworking Code of Conduct

What is Coworking? It Definitely Can Be Feminine

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.

6x9_COWORKING_EBOOK_COVER thumb

What is Coworking? Ashley Procter Still Believes It Can Transform Communities

This month Sensei Cat Johnson interviewed Canadian “coworking powerhouse” Ashley Proctor about “the potential of coworking to transform neighborhoods, cities, regions and beyond.”  [1]

The “future of work”, hell!  It’s the future of everything!

I have asked whether anyone still believes in the Coworking Manifesto.  Proctor and Johnson clearly do.

Sensei Ashley is very clear about what “genuine” coworking is and is not.

“A genuine coworking space has nothing to do with desks or wifi or space rental—it’s about bringing people together, and dismantling loneliness. We see people focused on building and strengthening communities, and inspiring and empowering members.”

Amen, Sister Ashley!

Proctor looks beyond coworking per se, to other just as valuable activities that “can make an impact on a local economy, and have a social impact“. What does this mean in practice?  If she isn’t specific, it’s because every case is specific.  Her own example is a repurposed building (a disused polices station) in a poor neighborhood.  In this case, improving the community means dealing with poverty right outside the door.

Other cases will be embedded in other communities, and thus have other possibilities and necessities.

Her guiding principle is “lead by example”.

It’s really just that simple, actually.

“Any coworking space can make an impact on a local economy, and have a social impact, as well. Every coworking space can be dismantling loneliness and helping people connect within their community. Whether or not that’s their focus, that’s happening in each space. Every space is empowering neighborhood residents.“

Proctor gets extra points from me with a call for collecting data to demonstrate the (alleged) benefits of coworking.  I see lots of claims, but little evidence to back them up.

Getting decent evidence isn’t easy, but, as she notes, there are (or should be) people who are very interested in these questions.  Find allies, she suggests.  (My own experience has been that there is very little interest is seriously studying these issues.  But there should be.  Keep trying.)


Unfortunately, Procto’s philosophy seems to be a minority in the overall coworking world.  Many workers and operators are focused on business development, of workers and of the workspace enterprise itself.  If “community” is defined to be “the (paying) members’ of the workspace, there is little impact on the street outside.  Coworking makes workers happy, which is good.  But Proctor would say that it can do a lot more than that.

And, of course, there are many people who are focused on furniture and layout , which I think is irrelevant to “community” of any sort, and certainly contributes nothing to any wider social impact.  Furniture doesn’t change the world, people change the world.

To be fair, there is an inherent tension between the needs of independent workers and the desire to serve the whole local community.  Workers need infrastructure, companionship, and child care, among other things.  A community needs jobs, public space, and decent places to live, among other things.  It is difficult to meet all the needs of everyone, in one operation, and not necessarily wise to try to do too many things at once.


Clearly, Sensei Proctor has her head screwed on right.  She has an inspiring vision, and seems to still be living out the “Coworking Manifesto”.


  1. Cat Johnson, The Social And Economic Impact Of Coworking: A Q&A With Ashley Proctor, in allwork. 2019. https://allwork.space/2019/03/the-social-and-economic-impact-of-coworking-a-qa-with-ashley-proctor/

 

What is Coworking? Proximity Thinks It Should Have A Playlist

Friend or the book Proximity (in Colorado) are in the business of software to manage a coworking space (“We have everything you need!“).  They do a sort of turn key, “Click here to set up and run a coworking space” thing.

This winter they have another feature, which is probably a sort of side project that got out in the world:  Coworking Playlists.

I’ve heard that music (or silence) is one of the most difficult design challenges for operating a coworking space.  I personally prefer quite and natural conversations, but many people really, really want a sound track.  The problem is, of course, that tastes differ. So it is hard to please everybody, or, on a bad day, to please anybody.

 

So what’s a coworking operator to do?  It’s an opportunity to be a DJ to a captive audience.  But the audience is paying you for workspace, so driving them nuts or away is not a good thing.

Proximity Coworking is in the business of selling technical support for running coworking spaces. In that effort, they study the common problems and try to provide simple, cost effective solutions.  (We sued to call this musak.)

So, it’s sort of logical that they have identified this challenge and provide a solution.

“Finding a good playlist for your coworking space can be difficult. There are so many genres and moods to choose from, and you want to find the perfect balance. Luckily, we’ve created some playlists for you! “

The product itself is a collection of playlists available via Spotify, with tags such as, “Monday Motivation, for when you’ve had a great weekend and need to come back into focus.”  And so on.

I don’t do Spotify, so I can’t really listen samples.  I definitely don’t recognize any of the titles or artists.  So basically, I can’t critique the music.

I’m deeply skeptical that any playlist picked out by a twenty-something will appeal to me, let alone make me more productive (or “come back into focus” on Monday). (Kids today—their music, it’s just noise!)

The point is, of course, that these playlists say more about the DJ, and about not very carefully examined assumptions about workers taste, experience, and culture.  As with many aspects of coworking, there is a tension between binding together a community of workers, versus openness to diverse workers.  In this case, music can be a powerful common cultural statement, gluing together a group of workers.  At the same time, it can be a powerful force to push away and, sub-consciously, exclude others.

And bear in mind, too, that the supposed psychological effects are very much individual—just because you find this tune motivating, doesn’t mean that anyone else does.

So, my advice is to proceed with caution.  I hope you see my point.

I’ll note that there is a good reason why ear buds and headsets are nearly as universal as mobile devices.  Everyone can have their own personal playlists, which can override whatever ambient sound is around.  The safe play is to let people program their own sound.

These playlists have the earmark of somebody’s personal project that was good enough to get out in the world. So, more power to you.  I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone from creating curated playlists.  There is too much algorithmic programming in the world, and not enough human DJing.  (My personal listening actually leans heavily on streams from local, live DJs.)

But maybe coworking operations shouldn’t to blast this out loud into the room—unless you are sure that everybody really wants to listen to the same thing as you.


  1. Megan Dirksen, Coworking Playlists, in Proximity Space – Blog. 2019. https://www.proximity.space/2019/02/22/coworking-playlists/