It’s Coworking Day – Surface Your Purpose

September 9 is International Coworking Day (not to be confused with National Coworking Day, 6 June). 

Over the last 18 months we all have learned to work remotely, like or not.  This year coworking is celebrating a rebirth of interest in coworking spaces, as people ease back into offices, and organizations contemplate a future of “hybrid” work practices.

As I have argued before, coworking is potentially just the right thing for workers who sometimes commute to the office, sometimes work from home, and sometimes want to work near home but not in the main office.  And frankly, if a coworking space is a good fit, you might want to spend a lot of time there, rather than home.

What are the variables that might determine a good fit?

Well, Sensei Cat Johnson has a little list [1]. Sensei Cat has always had her head screwed on right, so pay attention.

Her top three items are WiFi, coffee and creamer.  I’d say these are is necessary but not sufficient, especially since a good coffee shop covers these bases, no?

The core is items 4-7:  Connection, Belonging, Professional development, Professional connections.  Community, community, community.

And the rest is mere infrastructure….  Chairs, sanitation, provision for separating phone conversations from quiet work.  And so on.


This is a great list, and I know it is based on years of experience.

My own summary would be this.  Without WiFi and coffee, it’s not actually usable office space.  The key is, as it always has been, Community, Community, Community.  “Belonging” is basically the whole point.

If you’ve got that Wifi, coffee and community, everything else can be worked around.

And if you don’t believe me, Sensei Cat included two last points, to cement the point: “Purpose” and “Community”. 

“A strong community is the intangible that money can’t buy and data can’t pin down. “

From [1]

“Purpose” is an interesting one, and very definitely Cat Johnson-y:  “People want purpose in their lives and work.”

In my view, this is something that coworking leadership helps enunciate, and both creates and emerges from the development of a community. Sensie observes that “coworking spaces are full of people living a life of their design, digging deeper into their best self, and finding purpose in their days” .

And so, an important goal for coworking leaders is to, and I quote, “Surface this”. 

So there’s a motto for 2021:  Surface your Purpose.

From Rene at da.wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Surfacing Our Porpoise….
From Rene at da.wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

  1. Cat Johnson, 25+ Things Members Want From Your Coworking Space, in Cat’s Blog, August 3, 2021. https://catjohnson.co/members-want-coworking/

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. https://allwork.space/2019/05/bay-area-startup-is-the-airbnb-of-coworking-spaces
  2. Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner, Co-Working Spaces Are Back. And There Are Many, Many Options, in New York Times. 2021: New York. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/15/nyregion/co-working-New-York.html

The Future of Work: Office of the Future (Some thoughts)

As we go back in to work after the pandemic, everybody, including me, says ‘hybrid’ offices are the next thing. The idea is that offices closed by the pandemic will not reopen as they were.  Basically, some workers will be in the office some of the time, working remote other times. 

This spring, John Seabrooke discusses what office designers are thinking, and how this might actually work [2].  His piece has inspired me to think a bit more about work space “design”.

The main goal of the ‘hybrid’ model is to use the in-person office time for what it is necessary and/or good for, e.g.,:

  • Some meetings, especially with clients and stakeholders
  • Group culture
  • Training of new hires
  • Serendipity

Other activities, including many routine meetings, can be done remotely, or with some workers collocated and others remote.

  • Many solo activities, including research, coding, and writing
  • Routine checkins and team meetings
  • Some conversations and collaborations

What Should We Shoot For?

So, what kinds of things should the office and remote try to optimize?

In my view, an in-person office space should try to maximize (in no particular order):

  • Visibility and equity in decision making
  • Promote group cohesion
    • Positive feelings, especially in public
    • Private channels for negative communication
  • Hi security/privacy
  • Specific facilities, i.e., shop/lab/kennels/etc.,
  • Hospitality (e.g., for clients, customers)

And a remote work experience should emphasize:

  • Productivity (individual and group)
  • Work/life balance
  • Reduced commuting, etc.
  • Reduced cost of office space

What can go wrong?

Well, as Seabrooke makes clear, you can always manage to get the worst of both worlds. : – (

Remote workers can easily become isolated, lonely, and depressed.  Distributed work groups can become unmotivated, disorganized, inequitable, and prone to the special digital hell of what we used to call “flame wars”. 

At the same time, the in-person part of a hybrid work environment is prone to all the woes of any conventional workplace, made worse by low and inconsistent attendance. 

There can be crappy work conditions, bad meetings and that special analog hell of antisocial behavior. And, these days, people sit in office working remotely with headphones on.

I would say that any in person office, but especially partly occupied ‘hybrid’ office is prone to anti-serendipity–i.e., random acts of social disfunction.

What does this tell us about the future of coworking?

I note that the coworking “industry” is whole-heartedly embracing the ‘hybrid’ space concept.  This make sense because this is what coworking has always been about.

Coworking spaces are actually pretty good models for what a ‘hybrid’ office should look like.  And, as I have written, it’s not the layout of the space, or any specific amenities that matter.  What matters is the people and how they get along [1].

And successful coworking communities are generally no larger than 200 people, which stands as a guide for all office design (which Seabrooke notes, too).

A coworking space (at least pre-pandemic) has one interesting feature that designers should pay attention to:  participation is optional.  Unlike corporate offices, workers inhabit coworking spaces that they like, and leave when they don’t like it.  This means that a coworking space succeeds by meeting the needs of its workers, whoever they are. 

There can be (and have been) many different coworking spaces, meeting the needs of different groups of workers.  But each one needs to work hard to recruit and satisfy a community of workers, and this is what successful coworking spaces do well.

In contrast, a company can only have one or a few in person office spaces, and workers generally don’t have a lot of choice about where to work.  And this is a challenge, because everyone is different, and no single office can be perfect for everyone.  (It is quite possible to be awful for everyone, of course.)

So, I would say that an organization needs to understand how its workers work, and what they like, and try to do that. 

There is some circular logic here, because organizations select and shape their workers to their own ways.  So there is tangled feedback of what workers are used to and what workers want.

Worse, people who don’t fit the official or most dominant ‘culture’ face marginalization and can be driven out.  This isn’t good for the workers or the organization, and can easily be flat out illegal when any group is treated unfairly.

Coworking spaces deal with these issues with strong community leadership (see Chapter 5 of my book [1]). In a conventional office, “culture” is promulgated by managers and HR who work for management.  Coworking “culture” is promulgated by leaders who work for the space, which means that the workers are their customers, not their employees.

This seems like a very significant psychological difference to me.  Corporate “culture” is too often something that arrives via email from a boss.  Coworking community culture is something that arrives via personal conversations and introductions.

Hmm.  Which one would you like better?

So, here’s a thought. 

Don’t worry too much about the layout of the office.  Instead, hire people whose job is to make workers happy in the space, and specifically, to get people to like each other.

This role is inspired by coworking ‘community managers’, but can’t be quite the same.  The really tricky bit is to make these people mostly responsible to the workers, not to management.  I.e., this cannot be a classical HR position (concerned with enforcing policies) or line manager (concerned with meeting goals).  This is something different, and it doesn’t even have a name.

Can this be done?  Will it work?

I dunno.

But I think it might be the right way to go.


  1. 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/
  2. John Seabrooke, Office Space: The Post-pandemic Future of Open-plan Work, in The New Yorker. 2021, Conde Nast: New York. p. 40-49. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/02/01/has-the-pandemic-transformed-the-office-forever

Liz Elam, Coworking Megatrends 2021

It’s time for year end prognositications, and as always, I pay close attention to Sensei Liz Elam’s Megatrends [1]. 

Elam is the leader of Global Coworking Unconference Conference (GCUC), and at this time, she is looking forward to whatever will be “the new normal”, as vaccines roll out and people can travel and meet again next summer.  This will certainly create a sense of relief and new beginnings everywhere.

What will this mean for work and workplaces?  She agrees with me that there will be an increased desire for togetherness.

“As we transition to the new normal, we will see an unprecedented return to shared workspace”

(From [1])

We’ve all learned how to work from home, and a lot of people don’t like it, at least not as the whole picture.  And for many workers, this will mean choosing a local coworking space.

Elam also sees opportunities for “Internal Corporate Coworking”, which is essentially trying to provide the coworking experience for employees of a single organization.  I’m not so sure that this can be successful, but it probably is an opportunity for coworking operations to sell their expertise—possibly a life saving source of income.

Elam wants to see healthier office spaces, spacing people out as needed, and attending to air quality and other environmental quality.  She also sees an further explosion of “low touch technology”.  For workers and users, this is healthy, for companies this is profitable. 

But the most important thing remains “Community and coworking will win.”  I’ve been saying it, Sensei Liz has been saying it, and it’s still true.

What did we learn from being locked down by the pandemic?   We learned that we don’t like being socially isolated.  Working at home is better than unemployment, but after a short time it is brutally punishing for workers.

We already craved community, and after the pandemic we will desperately seek community.

Coworking spaces are all about community, and I expect they will snap back stronger than ever.

The details may be different.  Many spaces will have closed, so new ones will open.  And who can guess what the job market will be?  But workers will want coworking, and workers will get coworking.

  1. Liz Elam, Coworking Megatrends 2021, in GCUC Blog, November 24, 2020. https://gcuc.co/coworking-megatrends-2021/

What Is Coworking? Not Necessarily Utopia

As I have said before, my own view is that a big part of why coworking makes workers happy is that each coworking community serves its niche, so workers can self-select their work environment.

So we see lots of ‘niche’ coworking spaces, not just localized, but focusing on specific types of work, personal interests, or demographics.

A prime example are workspaces aimed to serve women (for example, see here or here).  The idea of a “female friendly” workplace can be a tricky balance to hit, since female workers and businesses need the same things as everyone, but at the same time can benefit from not quite so many large male elbows and shadows, thank you very much. My own observation is that a ‘female friendly’ coworking space (or any similar effort) requires of ambiance, policy, and just the right people.

This summer we are reminded that things can go wrong.  Very wrong.

In particular, any kind of workspace and community may work for some of the workers, and not for others. Just like any other human organization….

This week we see reports about The Wing, a female oriented coworking space [1].  (The fact that WeWork invested in The Wing is, to me, a warning sign.  But that’s not the topic today.)

The thrust of the story is that this community that espoused feminism and female empowerment, was and is rife with racial stereotyping and flat out discrimination [1]. AI can’t independently verify the claims, though the resignation of the leader would seem to indicate that there is something deeply troubled there.

Reading the report, it sounds familiar.  I’ve encountered workplaces with similar issues. Of course, this sort of degradation and shafting is often directed at working women of any demographic.  The irony is that this is exactly the problem that The Wing aims to solve for working women.

The reports paint an ugly picture, for sure.  To the degree this is accurate, The Wing does not seem to be all unicorns and rainbows.

Perhaps the safe space for women made room for some women to let loose their own biases on other women.

In fact, though, this sounds pretty much like a lot of conventional offices.

However, in a coworking space, the lines of responsibility are murkier than a conventional office.  Just who is responsible for maintaining a decent work environment?  The workers do not work for the workspace, nor do the workers all work for the same employer. Noone is formally responsible to anyone else.

Worse, the workers are actually paying customers of the workspace, so they can’t be disciplined or fired for misbehavior.  And works of all, it is easy to see how you could act as if the people who run the workspace are not coworkers, but rather are servants.   (These are inherent weaknesses in modelling coworking on the “hospitality” industry, IMO.)

Utopia often is built on slavery.

One of the great things about coworking is that it is all about workers creating their own workplace culture.  But these reports make us realize that the resulting “bottom up” workplace culture can be just as toxic as any other workplace culture.


  1. Ashley Reese, How The Wing’s Empire Was Built On Trauma, Racism, and Neglect, in Jezebel, June 12, 2020. https://jezebel.com/how-the-wings-empire-was-built-on-trauma-racism-and-n-1844000985