Priya Parker on “How We Should Meet”

Parker has studied and written on what she calls “The Art of Gathering”.

Much of her earlier work was out the window during the pandemic.  Meeting in person was too dangerous, so we all improvised mostly with the Internet.  Overall, it worked better than I expected, but everyone knows meeting over small screens isn’t perfect. 

Now we are all struggling to figure out how to ease back into face to face activities, we are all wondering what to do.  Organizations of all kinds are trying to move to some kind of “hybrid” operation, with some activities remote, and some in person. 

As Parker writes this week,  “How should we meet?” [1] .

And, as she asks, “Who should decide?”

So, what does Sensei Priya have to say?

As usual, she has her head screwed on right. 

The basic answer is, “it depends”.  It depends on what the group needs and wants to do.  And the answer may be tricky, because different participants may have different wants and needs.

One of the best points she makes is that the best meetings, regardless of format, have a known purpose, and are designed to fit that purpose.  This means that the way to meet might be different each time.

As a student of meeting-ology Parker is eager to see organizations experiment.  If ever there was to time to try new things, it is now.  Don’t ask how to “return to the office”, she says.

“What did you long for when we couldn’t physically meet? What did you not miss and are ready to discard? What forms of meeting did you invent during the pandemic out of necessity that, surprisingly, worked?”

(From [1])

One kind of experiment she sees is for groups meet in person sometimes mainly for bonding with each other.  Besides creating work for meeting planners like Parker, this calls for flexible meeting places, and flexible organizing strategies.  Meetings do not have to always be in the office, nor always doing the same thing.

Coworking spaces are yet another way we gather.  Parker does not mention coworking spaces in her essay, but I’ll point out that flexible coworking spaces located near workers are ideal for off-campus meetings as well as remote working.  “Flexibility” is coworking’s wheelhouse!

Of course, coworking spaces are mainly about social support, about having other humans around even as you work remotely with others.  Routine coworking is a way we gather that is a shared experience of the workers, but not confined within the organization.  In fact, workers “meet” in order to create their own community, independent of companies or bosses. 

“Who decides?”  In a coworking space, the workers themselves decide.

“We have an unusual moment to experiment with the workplace. These moments don’t come along often and don’t stay open long. Let’s seize this occasion to reinvent.”

(From [1])

I would encourage organizations to think about how coworking spaces might best fit into their new “hybrid” office concepts.

  1. Priya Parker, How Should We Meet? And Who Decides?, in New York Times. 2021: New York.

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.

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.
  2. Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner, Co-Working Spaces Are Back. And There Are Many, Many Options, in New York Times. 2021: New York.

Digital Nomads In a Pandemic World?

The pandemic has pushed many workers to remote work, and many workers will continue to work remotely at least some of the time.

Remote workers are, of course, the folks who invented and populated the first wave of coworking spaces.  For many, remote work was a necessity, or at least a choice driven by circumstances.

But for some workers, remote working has been a lifestyle choice / philosophical stance.  These digital nomads eschew not only conventional offices, but the very concept of a permanent residence.  These transient workers are happy to work from anywhere, including coworking desks.  Of course, they prefer to be somewhere cool (or warm in the winter).  Some just like like to travel, some are seeking to live permanently “off shore”, independent of “the man”.

So, are we going to see a lot more digital nomads in the post-pandemic “hybrid” working environment?

The technology is here, as it has been for a while.  Many workers need little more than power and wifi, which they can get a lot of places.  And if you already work remotely, you can work just as well from Hawaii or Bali or Croatia as from you kitchen table.

So, is nomadism going to take off?

This summer Bryan Lufkin discusses the not-so-clear future of digital nomadism [1].

First of all, there are different levels of “nomadism”.  Lufkin notes that during the pandemic, some workers were able to retreat out of the city, to work from relatively healthy rural abodes.  If the clubs are closed, why put up with living in the city?   These remote workers may or may not be especially mobile, so this may or may not be a nomadic lifestyle.

Lufkin points out that true nomadism is a very privileged situation.  You not only need a high paying remote career, you need political and social capital.  Blithely bebopping around the world is fine if you have money and a passport, but a lot harder for poor people, AKA, “illegal immigrants”.  And in a lot of places borders are closed and will remain closed.  Good luck trying to work remotely from New Zeeland if you aren’t already there. Heck, I can’t even go to Canada from the US these days.

(Some digital nomads have surely been trapped in place by the pandemic, spending a year or more in what was supposed to be a short visit.  That was not so fun, and could happen at any time in the future.)

In any case, most jobs involve real world, physical activities.  Most workers have to show up at work. And even in the commonly envisioned “hybrid” workplace, workers have to come to the office some of the time.  Maybe they will have fewer but longer commutes, but how many workers will be allowed to just phone it in from anywhere they want? Not many.

This is really a highly privileged lifestyle.

So yeah, rich kids may continue to bebop around the world, “working” remotely.  But most workers won’t.

I’ll also point out that the entire mind set–eschewing a permanent home, living a permanent spring break–is a whole lot more prevalent among young adult (rich and poor) than older people.  Soon enough, kids grow up and want a family and a home. 

OK, some retirees go nomad at the other end of the lifespan : – ) 

But the point is that a lot of the noise about digital nomadism is from Internet media that are written by and for twenty somethings.  It was never, and will never be, a thing for most workers.

  1. Bryan Lufkin, Is the great digital-nomad workforce actually coming?, in BBC News – Worklife, June15, 2021.

Coworking will be popular, but will it be “diverse”?

Pretty much everyone agrees that as we return from pandemic isolation, most office work will be done in “hybrid” spaces, with workers splitting time between in-person and remote working.  The trick will be to figure out how to do this well.

This make for an interesting time for coworking spaces.   Coworking has always been a “hybrid” workplace, and generally aims to be a sweet spot for workers and work:  just the right amount of and kind of in-person working.

The most successful coworking spaces have built communities of workers, or have been built by communities of workers (or both).  The best thing is that there can be multiple “communities” in the same area, so different independent workers may find a good fit.  As I have pointed out, unlike conventional organizations, independent workers therefore may choose their workspace and coworkers.  No wonder people like it!

This does raise an important question, though.  The flip side of multiple communities and “good fit”, is the relative homogeneity of the communities, and the separation between them.  Self-selection may make people happy, but it also leads to fragmentation and segregation.  If being “comfortable” means being around “people like me”, this leads to non-diverse workplaces.

This is not just a hypothetical issue.  There have been serious problems in coworking communities.  Shockingly enough, self-selection alone is not a cure for the problem of getting along with others at work.

So, if coworking spaces have raised this question, what does it say about the future of “hybrid workspaces”.   With some workers in and some out of the office at a given time, and people cycling through the office on different schedules, how does this affect worker relations and decision making?

This month, the Deskpass Blog argues that hybrid work can help foster a diverse workplace [1].

First of all, they hit the nail on the head, “company culture has taken a hit since the pandemic”, because proximity is a huge factor.  And continuing with a “hybrid” model retains this fundamental challenge to creating and maintaining the much talked about “company culture”.

The main point of the post is that there is opportunity here, specifically to foster “diversity” as a base for a strong group culture.  So what are the opportunities?

One positive is that a hybrid workforce “widens your talent pool to different locations, economic backgrounds, cultures and skill sets”.  If you can really recruit anyone from anywhere, then, yeah, that’s certainly as diverse as you can get!

Second, hybrid work makes at least some workers happy.  What a concept!  Happier workers are, besides happier, often more effective, and generally stick around.  (Happy workers are not necessarily “diverse”, however.)

A third point is that hybrid work helps mitigate “location biases”, especially in expensive metro areas.  Reducing the need to live near and commute to work is an opportunity for people who can’t afford the cost of living or long commutes.  

In fact, workers are tending to move out of cities this year, finding a better quality of life, yet still able to work remotely.  So even workers who were managing the pain, geographical flexibility is potentially beneficial.

But, as the article sort of points out, none of this actually matters for “culture” or “diversity” unless the organization focuses on those things.  You can have a completely monocultural hybrid workplace just as easy as not.  And you can certainly have dysfunctional culture in a hybrid work situation. Many would say that a hybrid workforce is dysfunctional by default, because people can’t get to know each other.

But…the Deskpass people do have a point that their “flexible offices”, the corporate version of coworking spaces, can be used to build a diverse and vibrant work group.

So I say, make the most of the geographical flexibility and spread your net wide. 

But I would also say that you need to make the most of the in-person part of the hybrid.  Bringing people into the office, only to have them not talk to each other, or only have boring meetings will be a huge mistake.  It’s a waste of very expensive rent!

Learn from coworking communities.  Use the space for networking, for socializing, and for talking to people other than your closest colleagues.

I know that one of my own tools as a team leader was “going walk about”.  Just walking around and being available to anyone who wanted to talk, show me what they were working on, tell me what they were thinking—this is really valuable.  And you can’t do it remotely. This would be one of the things to do in-person.

Another thing missing from the article was child care.  Families with kids, especially mothers with kids, need child care, period.  Working remotely does not solve the problem—unless they can find “flexible office space” that has child care.  And whatever in-person workspace is available must have child care.  Child care way, way more important—especially for “diversity”—than free coffee or game rooms.

(Thanks to Cat Johnson for the pointer to this article via her newsletter.) 

  1. Deskpass, How Hybrid Work Helps Foster A Diverse Workplace, in
  2. May 6, 2021.

What Will Coworking Become?