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/

 

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.

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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/

 

 

What is Coworking? Nookpod Thinks It Is Huddle Pods

Nookpod – New ways of working”.  Hey!  That’s my line!

For several years now, I’ve been very interested in freelancing and coworking because they are some of the important things at the heart of the “new way of working”.  So, Do company caught my attention with their “new ways of working”.

It turns out that what they are talking about is modular furniture, in the form of a self-contained, wheeled mini-office, which they call “mobile modular huddle pod,”. Each nook has room for about four workers, a table, lighting, connectivity, etc. [1]

Notably, this piece provides a closed workspace, and is kind of a reply to the supposedly universal “open plan” office.  They offer a succinct critique of the open plan office, “Nooksters benefit from increased productivity through better focus; experience more effective phone & Skype calls; and hold more powerful small meeting.

They make the interesting remark that the original design was to meet the workplace needs of “those on the autistic spectrum”.  But apparently, almost anyone might actually need an office, at least some of the time.

Of course, these units are marketed to coworking space operators rather than the workers themselves.  From that perspective, they offer flexibility for the workspace.  The pod is on wheels and they can be connected into larger groupings.

The company claims (without evidence) that “Nook helps everyone to improve their personal wellbeing, as well as adding efficiency & flexibility of space while creating greater engagement between people.”  I’m not sure how these boxes achieve any of those purported benefits, especially compared to alternatives such as permanent offices (including the “booths” becoming common in coworking spaces), open plan spaces, are any of the other ways people might organize a workspace.

And obviously, there is nothing particular “new” about this way of working, though it looks like it’s kind of convenient for a workspace operator who wants to change the configuration of the space from day to day.

I admit that these look kind of cool.  But they don’t look like particularly good workspaces to me. They are pretty small, and the seating looks horribly uncomfortable (and, by the way, not ADA accessible).  The whole “huddling in a pod” thing seems to preclude natural light and air circulation.  And it’s temporary and insecure, so you can’t really do anything confidential.  And so on.

There isn’t anything wrong with this product. In fact, I kind of like it.

But to me, the essence of the “new way of working” is in the interaction of workers (and others).  In the case of coworking, the essence is the development of a community of “like minded” peers.

These social things are the special sauce and “the big idea” of contemporary coworking.  And they can happen in pretty much any environment.  So “huddle pods” or any other clever furnishings can be used for successful coworking, but they are neither necessary or sufficient to create the community spirit that is so valuable.


  1. Do Company. Nookpods -New Ways Of Working. 2019, http://nookpod.com/.

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/.