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/.

 

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/

 

Affordable Freelancing

Sensei Tyra Seldon discusses a new report from Commercial Café which surveys the cost of freelancing in various cities.  The basic idea is to calculate the base cost of renting an apartment and an office, and take a national average $38 hour charging, estimate how many hours per week is needed in different cities.  (The logic here is that freelancers can live anywhere, while charging national rates.  Your mileage may differ.)

The results are not particularly surprising, in line with what we already know of relative costs of living.  But the “hours per week” metric is revealing:  the most expensive locations require 100 hours per week or more (at the nominal $38/hour) to just get by [1].  Personally, I don’t think that’s feasible.

Sensei Seldon points out that this kind of calculation is an economic driver for “co-living” arrangements  [2]. Or, I’d say, moving out of the city.

I don’t have precise statistics at hand, but a back of the envelope calculation indicates that even the cheapest major city are more expensive than living in a small town or small city.  Assuming you can really charge NYC or Bay Area rates while living in a small city, my calculations say you can get the best space in town (with a yard for pets, kids, and a garden!) at about 25-30 hours per week.

It may not be as “exciting” as the big city, in all the unnamable ways that people like living in major urbs.  But there is an affordable opportunity.  And if you have connections to family and/or a major University, then this can be a quality lifestyle.

So, to the degree that Freelancing actually lets you actually live out here in the hinterland, and still have a good career, then it is a very interesting New Way of Work indeed.


  1. Diana Sabau, Your Work Week Could Be 10 Hours Shorter in Dallas or Houston – What’s it Like to Live and Work as a Freelancer in These US Cities?, in Commercial Cafe. 2018. https://www.commercialcafe.com/blog/your-work-week-could-be-10-hours-shorter-in-dallas-or-houston-whats-it-like-to-live-and-work-as-a-freelancer-in-these-us-cities/
  2. Tyra Seldon, The best cities for freelancers who want affordability, in Freelancers Union blog. 2018. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2018/12/10/the-best-cities-for-freelancers-who-want-affordability/