Interview with VillageOne

Clarke Illmatical posted an interview in the VillageOne blog this week [1].

This is a transcript of a conversation we had about coworking and the book.

Check it out.


  1. Clarke Illmatical, What is Coworking and Where is it going? Interview with author Robert McGrath, in VillageOne – Blog. 2019. https://villageone.nyc/interview-with-what-is-coworking-author-robert-mcgrath/

 

What is Coworking? It might be at a Hotel

Many view a coworking space as a sector of the hospitality industry, and, indeed, hotels have provided temporary workspace for many years.   Now some hotels are opening “coworking spaces” [1].

Coworking is in demand, and hotels already have the space and service infrastructure to cater to the needs of flexible workers.

As Sensei Cat Johnson says, “Coworking in hotels is a thing, and it’s not going away.”

So what does coworking at a hotel mean?  And what does it have to do with coworking in general?

Jo Meunier describes a variety of business models [1].  Within a hotel, a coworking space is available as temporary workspace for guests and, potentially, for local workers.  Hotel guests are often working “alone, together”, and the coworking environment presumably makes this a bit nicer and, ideally, less isolated.  I have spent a lot of time feeling alone in hotels, so I can see the point.

For local workers, the hotel offers glitzy surroundings, if you like that kind of thing.  (Personally, I am just nauseated by the “luxury” décor of fancy hotels.)  In some cases, the coworkers may get access to the “amenities” of the hotel as part of the deal.  So, maybe you would like working at the Ritz, and getting access to the spa, room service, etc.

The space might be “branded” for the hotel.  Or, a local or global coworking operation might to operate a branded space within the hotel.  In the latter case, workers would presumably be able to connect with other workers in the area as part of a coworking community.

What about community?

Which brings us to the 64 million dollar question, “what about community?

“The big question for coworking operators is, what about community?”

If you think that coworking is all about community, community, community (as I do), you have to wonder just how the transient population of a hotel will foster a feeling of community.  After all, these workers may share nothing except that they don’t live here.  These are peers, perhaps, but not necessarily “like-minded”.  (One reason why I feel so isolated at hotels is that I really have nothing in common with most business travelers.)

Meunier notes this challenge, but notes that hotels have strong offers of customer oriented service and amenities [1].  Frankly, I don’t think these things make up for a lack of community.

It is clear to me, then, why contracting with a coworking operation might be a good way to go.  The hotel’s space can be an outcrop of a local community, which could be quite attractive especially compared to sitting along in your room.

Is This Really Coworking?

I suspect that some of these operations will be basically just short-term office rental.  Probably pretty expensive office rental, considering the venues.

Other operations might really be a corporate coworking space, with a bit of added glitz.  Not my cup of tea, but maybe good for some (well funded) workers.

I would be very surprised if much in the way of long term community develops in such a space.  In that sense, it isn’t going to be very successful coworking, however “nice” the amenities.

I guess we’ll see.


  1. Jo Meunier, Everything You Need To Know About Coworking In Hotels, in AllWork. 2019. https://allwork.space/2019/05/everything-you-need-to-know-about-coworking-in-hotels/

 

What is Coworking? It is a way to stay connected

Sensei Tyra Seldon writes for the Freelancers Union Blog about the importance of “staying connected” to other people.  “[F]reelancers may be particularly vulnerable to feeling disconnected and lonely.” [2]  As independent workers, they are also responsible for maintaining their own well-being.

Sensei Seldon gives three key things to do to sustain an independent career:

  1. Network with others
  2.  Join virtual communities
  3. Take care of your body

On the third point, she equates well-being with “self-care”, though I view the latter to be mostly cosmetic, while the latter is essential.  Exercise, rest, eat right.  You know it’s important, and Seldon is correct that your work will suffer if you don’t.  Budget time and effort to keep your own physiological and psychological infrastructure in shape.

The second point is, of course, not limited to independent workers. Many, if not most, workers—and basically everybody–are digitally connected in many ways. Independent workers may find valuable connections beyond direct work activities.

However, experience shows that digital communities are not enough.  People need other people, face to face.  So item number one is “network with others”—in person.

Historically, one of the key reasons contemporary coworking emerged is that independent workers can find a community of like-minded workers.  It is a “respite from our isolation”, to quote Zachary Klaas [1].

This is all good advice, and not just for independent workers.

I thing Sensei Seldon leaves out another critical principle. “Self care” is important, but the road to happiness is caring for others.  (Actually, we know Seldon hereself understands this:  see here and here)

Anyone with kids or elders or a family in general knows this.  Why is work-life balance a problem?  Because work is necessary but takes time away from what really matters, and what really matters and makes us happy.

So–when  looking for community and self care, I say aim to help take care of each other, not just yourself.  And this is certainly something that a coworking community can, and should foster.


  1. Zachary R. Klaas, Coworking & Connectivity in Berlin. University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, 2014. https://www.academia.edu/11486279/Coworking_Connectivity
  2. Tyra Seldon, 3 ways to stay connected for emotional and physical well-being, in Freelancers Union Blog. 2019. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2019/04/23/3-ways-to-maintain-your-emotional-and-physical-well-being/

 

GCUC Coworking 2019 Projections

It’s Global Coworking UnConference (GCUC) USA time again, and that means this year’s  round of of reports and surveys.

As I commented after attending the 2016 GCUC, this conference has mutated into mainly a trade meeting for operators of “social office” spaces, which is certainly not the whole, or even the most important aspect of coworking.  (For a fuller picture, see the book, What is Coworking?)

This focus is on clear display in the pre-conference (or pre-un-conference) release of a study of “the future of the flexible workspace industry” [1].   (This report was prepared by The Instant Group [2])

The study reports “33,072 centers” world wide, and project 14% growth. (I’m not sure what a “center” is.)  Much of the growth is expected to be in “secondary and tertiary” cities, AKA, fly-over country.  (I have advocated for this move for quite a while.)

There is also projection of strong growth outside Europe an North America.  Basically, it’s last year’s trend, so it’s going to be big in the hinterland, no?  (Not that China, Africa, or Latin America are secondary except in the minds of US and European analysts.)   Also, this reflects not only saturation, but also real estate prices.  There ain’t any such thing as affordable real estate in major cities, so even “tertiary” cities look interesting.

The most telling part of this report is what they consider to be the topic of the survey: “Flexible workspace industry”. This actually refers to a business model for real estate operations, not how workers work or anything else.   From this point of view, the growth is driven by “awareness among clients of all sizes of alternative ways to occupy office space”:  the “client” is someone who “occupies office space”.

If you wonder where the “community” or even “work” went, so do I.

The report discusses the growing interest in “hybrid” spaces, which “cater to a mix of SME businesses that want privacy, alongside start-up, freelancers”.  Conventional companies rent a block of space, but share common areas with un-affiliated  workersand other companies.  “The key for operators of these spaces will be to provide services that cater to both groups while creating a sense of community that encourages all occupiers to mix and feel part of something bigger than just themselves.”  (It’s telling that the workers are characterized as “occupiers”, no?)

I’ve heard that this arrangement is popular with workers, though I have yet to see any evidence of its effects for either the conventional employees or the independent workers.  I can see the benefits of getting outsiders to motivate, help, and “share” with your company’s employees—for free.  But  I have difficulty imagining how employees of a company can “share” with outsiders.

I think it will be interesting to see how this hybrid model actually works out.

In every survey of coworkers, the workers rate “a community of like-minded workers” high on the list of benefits.  Are these hybrid groups “like-minded”?  I doubt it.  This hybrid model does not seem very “peer-to-peer” to me—some of the workers are part of a hierarchy, and others are not.  And some are “inside” and others “outside” the companies.  And what independent worker would donate intellectual property or anything to a company that doesn’t pay her?

The report also contains the same bad news as last year: “we can expect to see increased investment into the industry, potentially leading to increased consolidation from larger scale providers, while smaller independents continue to look towards niche sectors to carve out sustainable business communities.”  Classic, community-based coworking suffers from competition from the massive build up of “flexible office space”.

As the report says, “smaller independents” will continue to exist, but not by competing on price or scale.  “Carving out a niche” simply means “crating a real, local community”, which is kind of the whole point of coworking.

The good news is that this kind of community has been the essence of coworking from the start, and is the very stuff that the giant corporate spaces are selling to their cold soulless face sucking corporate clients.  So I say, pay more attention to the community and the workers, and less to the “clients” who “occupy office space”.  You may not conquer the world or make millions, but you’re community will be happy and successful.


  1. Global Coworking Unconference Conferences (GCUC), The Future looks Juicy – What can we Expect from the Flexible Workspace Industry, in GCUC Blog. 2019. https://gcuc.co/the-future-looks-juicy-what-can-we-expect-from-the-flexible-workspace-industry/
  2. The Instant Group, Flexible Workspace Trends – 2019 and Beyond, in Instant Offices Blog. 2019. https://www.instantoffices.com/blog/featured/flex-workspace-trends-2019-beyond/