What is Coworking? Ashley Procter Still Believes It Can Transform Communities

This month Sensei Cat Johnson interviewed Canadian “coworking powerhouse” Ashley Proctor about “the potential of coworking to transform neighborhoods, cities, regions and beyond.”  [1]

The “future of work”, hell!  It’s the future of everything!

I have asked whether anyone still believes in the Coworking Manifesto.  Proctor and Johnson clearly do.

Sensei Ashley is very clear about what “genuine” coworking is and is not.

“A genuine coworking space has nothing to do with desks or wifi or space rental—it’s about bringing people together, and dismantling loneliness. We see people focused on building and strengthening communities, and inspiring and empowering members.”

Amen, Sister Ashley!

Proctor looks beyond coworking per se, to other just as valuable activities that “can make an impact on a local economy, and have a social impact“. What does this mean in practice?  If she isn’t specific, it’s because every case is specific.  Her own example is a repurposed building (a disused polices station) in a poor neighborhood.  In this case, improving the community means dealing with poverty right outside the door.

Other cases will be embedded in other communities, and thus have other possibilities and necessities.

Her guiding principle is “lead by example”.

It’s really just that simple, actually.

“Any coworking space can make an impact on a local economy, and have a social impact, as well. Every coworking space can be dismantling loneliness and helping people connect within their community. Whether or not that’s their focus, that’s happening in each space. Every space is empowering neighborhood residents.“

Proctor gets extra points from me with a call for collecting data to demonstrate the (alleged) benefits of coworking.  I see lots of claims, but little evidence to back them up.

Getting decent evidence isn’t easy, but, as she notes, there are (or should be) people who are very interested in these questions.  Find allies, she suggests.  (My own experience has been that there is very little interest is seriously studying these issues.  But there should be.  Keep trying.)


Unfortunately, Procto’s philosophy seems to be a minority in the overall coworking world.  Many workers and operators are focused on business development, of workers and of the workspace enterprise itself.  If “community” is defined to be “the (paying) members’ of the workspace, there is little impact on the street outside.  Coworking makes workers happy, which is good.  But Proctor would say that it can do a lot more than that.

And, of course, there are many people who are focused on furniture and layout , which I think is irrelevant to “community” of any sort, and certainly contributes nothing to any wider social impact.  Furniture doesn’t change the world, people change the world.

To be fair, there is an inherent tension between the needs of independent workers and the desire to serve the whole local community.  Workers need infrastructure, companionship, and child care, among other things.  A community needs jobs, public space, and decent places to live, among other things.  It is difficult to meet all the needs of everyone, in one operation, and not necessarily wise to try to do too many things at once.


Clearly, Sensei Proctor has her head screwed on right.  She has an inspiring vision, and seems to still be living out the “Coworking Manifesto”.


  1. Cat Johnson, The Social And Economic Impact Of Coworking: A Q&A With Ashley Proctor, in allwork. 2019. https://allwork.space/2019/03/the-social-and-economic-impact-of-coworking-a-qa-with-ashley-proctor/

 

What is Coworking? Kidful Coworking is Here to Stay

I’ve been writing about kidful coworking for a long time now (here, here, here, here) Almost exactly three years ago, I called this the mountain we have to climb.

Child care for working parents is a hard problem for everyone, so it isn’t surprising that many coworking spaces do not tackle the problem. But I’m glad to see that more and more are doing so.

This month, Sensei Cat Johnson interviewed Shazia Mustafa of Third Door coworking in the UK. Open since 2015, this is reported to be “The World’s First Coworking Space With Full Childcare” [2].

One reason why this is very hard is that it is really two different businesses, and you need to get both right.  My general rule of thumb is to focus on being good at one thing, but that’s not an option n this case.

Mustafa reports that they designed the space from the start as “childcare with a place to work”. She comments that, “I don’t know if having a coworking space then slotting in the nursery is going to work as effectively”.  I tend to agree that the childcare part is harder, and the workspace part is a lot more flexible–there are lots of ways to get the workspace right, so it is more likely that you can adapt to the childcare.

She also notes that working parents often can benefit from some psychological boost. (Moms and dads both have challenges, though not always identical or symmetric ones.) It is interesting to think of this kind of childcare+work community as an especially potent way to help both work and childrearing.

It’s hard to know if Third Door really was the first, but it certainly won’t be the last. New ones crop up every day  (E.g., here, here).  And locally to me, Moose International has opened an exciting new space with childcare+coworking(+food+fitness).

I would see this trend as possible a step toward a more general multi-generational, life+work spaces,  and there are more of them every day. I also find some indigenous themed Canadian spaces interesting, because they include space for elders.

It seems to me that there would be advantages to having elders and kids and workers in the community. (Don’t you think having some aunties and uncles would be a real good thing?) Basically, a whole village.

Now there’s a mountain to climb.

  1. Catie Dixon, Working From Home Never Looked So Good, in Bisnow. 2018. https://www.bisnow.com/national/news/multifamily/a-must-have-coworking-in-apartments-isnt-quite-like-in-offices-94020
  2. Cat Johnson, Inside The World’s First Coworking Space With Full Childcare: A Q&A With Third Door’s Shazia Mustafa, in Allwork.Space. 2018. https://allwork.space/2018/12/inside-the-worlds-first-coworking-space-with-full-childcare-a-qa-with-third-doors-shazia-mustafa/

 

Are Hugs a Good Idea In A Coworking Space?

Sensei Cat Johnson likes hugs, even in a coworking workplace [1].

OK, she’s from California (and Santa Cruz is California’s California!)  But I understand where she is coming from.

One of the entire points of coworking spaces is that they are a “respite from our isolation” [2]. Freelance and independent workers are even more isolated than other workers, and potentially subject to loneliness and the accompanying psychological distress.  In a coworking community, it is possible to be with other people, other like-minded people, and ideally, friends and colleagues.

Loneliness is horrible and widespread, and surely the opposite of loneliness is a hug.  So that’s good.  As her title says, “Hugs, Coworking and Health

‘Free Hugs’

Sensei Cat mentions a ‘Free Hugs’ at a Pride day (which I have seen in other similar settings).  I was even more impressed by a pop up  “Hug a Muslim” event.  The good thing about these transgressive hugs is that they are both strong and pacifying.  How do you resist a hug?  Not much you can do except back away, and that’s not too bad for anyone.

The Science of Hugs vs the Politics of Hugs

Unfortunately, this isn’t anywhere near as simple as Sensei Cat says, especially for men.

Since the 1970s, I have been rigorously trained to not touch people at work, especially females or anyone younger than me. Period. Recent headlines about workplace harassment should explain the point of this rule.

So I’d say that hugging at work is not easy or comfortable for everyone, and can even be seriously problematic if it becomes unwanted or is misperceived.

What Should A Coworking Community Do?

I guess the trick for a coworking community is to make hugs available, but not forced.  Obviously you should start with kind words, thoughtful deeds, and attentive listening.  That will probably make clear when a hug is wanted and needed, and also make sure the hug achieves the intended goal.


  1. Cat Johnson, Hugs, Coworking and Health, in CAT JOHNSON CONTENT. 2018. https://catjohnson.co/hugs/
  2. Zachary R. Klaas, Coworking & Connectivity in Berlin. University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, 2014. https://www.academia.edu/11486279/Coworking_Connectivity

 

Cat Johnson, Hugs Coworking and Health

 

What is Coworking? It could be an indigenous community

Robert McGrath’s Blog

Sensei Cat Johnson—who really gets it about “community” [1]—writes this month about a new community coworking space booting up in Winnipeg– Canoe Coworking.

Canoe aims to be a bit different, to be “indigenous-focused coworking” which above all means “creating a space that respects cultural protocol.” [2]

If coworking is all about community (and it definitely is [3]), then it is certainly interesting to look at existing communities as both models and customers for coworking spaces.

Canoe founder Tara Everett comments that this project has had to overcome mistrust of something so different from what her community is used to.  At the same time, she thinks that “Indigenous people have been coworking since the beginning of time”. Her vision of coworking is one that it maps to traditional organizations and ways..

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