Workbar on “What is Coworking?”

Boston based Workbar coworking talks about “What is Coworking?

Hey!  That’s my line!

So, what’s their take on the question?

Their subtitle gives a hint: “Benefits, Perks and the Most Important Facts You Need to Know About Shared Workspaces”.

The crux of the matter, in their view, is “Coworking offers many advantages that have proven to help companies and individual professionals grow.”   (This is not exactly the Coworking Manifesto).

Workbar does get the most important point:  “coworking is not only about sharing a physical space to get your work done. Most professionals using a coworking space enjoy the sense of community….

They list five key features:

  1. The Community Aspect
  2. Creativity and Productivity
  3. Effortless Networking
  4. Lower Costs and Flexibility
  5. All-Inclusive Services and Perks

They correctly identify that community thing as number one, and make the common assertion that connecting with others increases happiness and productivity (number two and three).

The other two points are arguments for Workbar’s specific approach.  In their view, coworking competes on price and convenience.  Obviously, your mileage may differ—these aspects shade into other workspaces, such as home offices and public cafes.

Workbar has a second list of benefits, “Five ways coworking makes your day great” [Infographic].

This list overlaps with the first one, but item number one is “No More Distractions”, which means “get out of the house”.  Item three is “Professional Space”, e.g., for meeting clients.


Finally, Workbar sees coworking as something of interest to “an increasing number of large companies”.  Clearly, this is an important potential market for Workbar.  But I remain extremely skeptical of how well it can work to have, say IBM and Microsoft workers salted in to a room full of freelancers.

“Today an increasing number of large companies are asking employees to work at coworking spaces or at least offering them the option to work from a remote shared workspace on a part-time or full-time basis.”

Sure, it’s cost effective, and might be popular with workers.  (I mean, who wouldn’t like the flexibility of a freelancer with the security of a real job?)  But I have to question whether these workers can really be fully part of a community of independent workers.

Is, say, IBM going to let its workers share their knowledge and activities with random non-IBMers?  They never have been easy about that in the past, with good reason

And should freelance workers freely commune and help out workers from, say, Microsoft?  This might be great for Microsoft, but I personally don’t like giving away knowledge to mega corporations who give me nothing in return.

And will IBM and Microsoft employees be able to talk to each other?  That’s generally not allowed, for good reason.

Look, the idea of a coworking community is that it is a community of like-minded peers.  And corporate workers may be “like-minded”, but they cannot be peers with people outside their organization.  And vice versa.

In short, conventional employees, especially of large corporations, are not going to fit, and may tend to break the community that is so critical for coworking. So I have to strongly disagree with the notion that coworking is going to work the same way for companies as it does for independent workers.

However, I can see that companies will like flexible, inexpensive, even Bring-Your-Own workspace.  And I imagine that some workers may like working near, if not exactly among them as peers.

But I really don’t think this is a formula for good community.


  1. Workbar. What Is Coworking | Learn the Many Benefits of Coworking | Workbar. 2019, https://www.workbar.com/what-is-coworking/.

 

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/.

 

Does anyone still believe in the Coworking Manifesto?

Contemporary coworking blossomed during the 2008 crash. The world wide crisis forced many workers to seek part time and freelance work.  More than a cheap desk and wifi, a coworking space offered a community of like-minded workers.

Following the spirit of the software many of them admired, many of these tech oriented workers conceived of coworking as analogous to, and maybe part of, a larger open source movement.

This concept was expressed in the Coworking Manifesto [2, 7] which appeared circa 2005 and has been copied and quoted many times since. The manifesto proclaims that coworking is “the future of working,” which is “a new economic engine composed of collaboration and community.”  It invites workers to endorse and enact the values of this “movement”, such as:

  • Community
  • Collaboration
  • Openness
  • Sustainability
  • Accessibility

In addition to these general values, the manifesto also defines a view of the proper spirit of this global community. This is expressed in a list of desired attributes:

  • collaboration over competition
  • community over agendas
  • participation over observation
  • doing over saying
  • friendship over formality
  • boldness over assurance
  • learning over expertise
  • people over personalities
  • “value ecosystem” over “value chain”

These concepts are rather hazy (and, if I may say, kind of new agey), but the general thrust is describing a non-hierarchical, peer-to-peer community of socially oriented entrepreneurs.

The Coworking Manifesto document was highly influential, and appeared in the self-descriptions of many coworking spaces (e.g., [3]).

That was then.

By 2016, the number of coworking spaces and coworkers had skyrocketed world wide, along with conferences, magazines, and, yes books [1, 4-6] <<link book>>. But more and more of these workspaces were operated by large companies, including real estate companies. At the Global Coworking Unconference (GCUC) in 2015, talk of “the movement” was abruptly eclipsed by discussions of “the service office industry”.

And, indeed, the most representative face of Coworking today would be WeWork and other corporate chains. “redefining success measured by personal fulfillment, not just the bottom line. Community is our catalyst.”

This may be in fact be the “Future or Work, 2019”, but I’m not finding even the tiniest trace of the Coworking Manifesto here.

It is remarkable to see the manifesto disappear so suddenly, with hardly a peep.   I mean, the CW was everywhere.  You couldn’t open a coworking space without the using the manifesto to explain what you were trying to do.

And now no one even knows it ever existed.

Wow!  That particular “future” sure didn’t last long.  (Kind of like the contemporaneous Occupy movement, no?)

 

For more on this topic, please see Chapter 8 of What is Coworking? [5]


  1. Tony Bacigalupo, No More Sink Full of Mugs. 2015, No More Sink Full of Mugs: New York. https://sellfy.com/p/IBtB/
  2. coworking.org. Coworking Manifesto: The Future of Work. 2012, http://coworkingmanifesto.com/.
  3. Gangplank Collective. Manifesto – Gangplank. 2016, http://gangplankhq.com/vision/manifesto/.
  4. Lori Kane, Tabitha Borchardt, and Bas de Baar, Reimagination Stations: Creating a Game-Changing In-Home Coworking Space, Lori Kane, 2015.
  5. 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, Robert E. McGrath: Urbana. https://whatiscoworkingthebook.com/
  6. Sebastian Olma, The Serendipity Machine: A Disruptive Business Model for Society 3.0. 2012. https://www.seats2meet.com/downloads/The_Serendipity_Machine.pdf
  7. The Coworking Wiki, Coworking Manifesto (global – for the world) in The Coworking Wiki. 2015. http://wiki.coworking.org/w/page/35382594/Coworking%20Manifesto%20%28global%20-%20for%20the%20world%29

 

Coworking Trends 2019

Sensei Liz Elam, founder of Global Coworking UnConference, has posted her annual “Coworking Megatrend Predictions

Looking back, she gives herself credit for a lot of predictions coming true in 2018.   As is often the case, her predictions were generally accurate, though not necessarily in detail.  For example, WeWork continued to grow, but a lot of the growth is taking the form of diversifying into other businesses.  It’s debatable whether these businesses are “coworking” or not.  And, by the way, WeWork is experiencing debt problems, so its growth will almost certainly be followed by contraction.

Anyway, Elam’s 2019 predictions are not all that different than 2018. I.e., more of the same.  Her headlines are:

  • Real Estate
  • Differentiation
  • Consolidation
  • Design
  • Wellness
  • Coworking Nomenclature
  • Tools for Coworking

“Real Estate” is “the sleeping giant” that has awakened to the concept of on-demand workspaces.  It’s pretty obvious that big real estate operations will want to get a big slice of coworking.  How well this will work out, is less than clear.  (And Elam’s comments are rather Delphic,  something about “as the power shifts from the owner to the tenant”.)

“Differentiation” and “Consolidation” are an interesting pair.  Big money is building large workplaces and buying up (or killing off) other operations, consolidating ownership.  At the same time, Elam correctly notes that a key to coworking success is “niche spaces”.  From the point of view of the real estate industry, a “niche” is a matter of clever branding.  My own view is that this is the heart and soul of community coworking, and there really are nothing except niches.  How you can consolidate and also be authentically community oriented is the great contradiction for Elam’s industrial trends.

Another “sleeping giant” is the design industry, which she notes is showing greater interest in coworking spaces.  This goes hand in hand with the entry of big money, of course, and an uncharitable observer might say that designers are simply marketing the same old stuff to a newly trendy market.

Elam has been advocating “Wellness” for quite a while.  Here she totally understands that wellness is not really about design (sure, natural light is great, etc.), but more about people.  This isn’t limited to coworking, of course, but a thriving coworking community is likely to foster the kind of “CheckYoMate”  action that she advocates. (I’ll comment that gigantic, corporate workplaces, and even fancy “luxury” workplaces are generally not so great for this kind of wellness.  Low cost, local community workplaces are going to be a lot healthier.)

Elam is Delphic about coworking nomenclature.  She has taken a strong stand on this in the past, but in this forum takes the co-opting of the term “coworking” by designers and real estate as a sign of victory for coworking, “an indication of a huge shift and a new emergence in the market where the power shifts to the tenant.”  I don’t know who is the “tenant” here, or what this supposed power shift might be.

Finally, Elam points out that there is a minor boom in “tools”, mainly for operating a coworking space.  This is a trend I predicted a long time ago, based on my observation that there are a lot of common tasks that could easily be automated.  But, putting my software developer hat back on, I’ll say that this looks like an area where it will be hard to make much money off the software.  So I’d be very surprised if this area grows very much.

Finally, Elam boasts a “bombshell” prediction: “Coworking will replace the office.”

I’m sure it looks this way from the perspective of the real estate industry (where Elam now sits), but it’s kind of obviously wrong.

OK, I guess if you define “office” narrowly, and by “replace” you mean, “make workers provide their own office space”, then, sure. A lot of companies will Uberize their desk workers, making everyone BYO.  (This will include the inevitable “mandatory optional” requirement to rent your desk from a specific coworking space. Not coworking so much as charging workers for their desk.)

But if you take “office” to mean “workplace”, then obviously there will have to be a lot of workspaces that are not “coworking” in any meaningful sense.  I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again:  there are broad swaths of workers and work that are not suited to coworking for one reason or another.  E.g., Work processes involving atoms rather than bits (think fabrication or lab work), work that involves human interactions (think medical services), work that is proprietary or otherwise highly secured (trade secrets? Record keeping?), or businesses that need a branded space.

Furthermore, I’ll point out the related fact that the number of Freelance and independent workers is small and not growing.  So it is far from clear how much coworking will grow.

I have tremendous respect for Sensei Elam, but I think this “bombshell”  will surely fizzle.


  1. Liz Elam, Coworking Megatrend Predictions for 2019 (and a Bombshell), in Liz Elam Articles. 2018. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/coworking-megatrend-predictions-2019-bombshell-liz-elam/

 

What is Coworking? Kidful Coworking is Here to Stay

I’ve been writing about kidful coworking for a long time now (here, here, here, here) Almost exactly three years ago, I called this the mountain we have to climb.

Child care for working parents is a hard problem for everyone, so it isn’t surprising that many coworking spaces do not tackle the problem. But I’m glad to see that more and more are doing so.

This month, Sensei Cat Johnson interviewed Shazia Mustafa of Third Door coworking in the UK. Open since 2015, this is reported to be “The World’s First Coworking Space With Full Childcare” [2].

One reason why this is very hard is that it is really two different businesses, and you need to get both right.  My general rule of thumb is to focus on being good at one thing, but that’s not an option n this case.

Mustafa reports that they designed the space from the start as “childcare with a place to work”. She comments that, “I don’t know if having a coworking space then slotting in the nursery is going to work as effectively”.  I tend to agree that the childcare part is harder, and the workspace part is a lot more flexible–there are lots of ways to get the workspace right, so it is more likely that you can adapt to the childcare.

She also notes that working parents often can benefit from some psychological boost. (Moms and dads both have challenges, though not always identical or symmetric ones.) It is interesting to think of this kind of childcare+work community as an especially potent way to help both work and childrearing.

It’s hard to know if Third Door really was the first, but it certainly won’t be the last. New ones crop up every day  (E.g., here, here).  And locally to me, Moose International has opened an exciting new space with childcare+coworking(+food+fitness).

I would see this trend as possible a step toward a more general multi-generational, life+work spaces,  and there are more of them every day. I also find some indigenous themed Canadian spaces interesting, because they include space for elders.

It seems to me that there would be advantages to having elders and kids and workers in the community. (Don’t you think having some aunties and uncles would be a real good thing?) Basically, a whole village.

Now there’s a mountain to climb.

  1. Catie Dixon, Working From Home Never Looked So Good, in Bisnow. 2018. https://www.bisnow.com/national/news/multifamily/a-must-have-coworking-in-apartments-isnt-quite-like-in-offices-94020
  2. Cat Johnson, Inside The World’s First Coworking Space With Full Childcare: A Q&A With Third Door’s Shazia Mustafa, in Allwork.Space. 2018. https://allwork.space/2018/12/inside-the-worlds-first-coworking-space-with-full-childcare-a-qa-with-third-doors-shazia-mustafa/