What is Coworking? One answer has always been, “Community, community, community”. (See The Book)
Of course, short term, seat-by-seat rental is great for rental companies. It squeezes every last penny out of their properties, with minimal extra investment. So, of course, major real estate companies love the idea and want to get in on it. So there is now a “Service Office Industry”.
Everyone tells them that what these customers want is cheap office space and “community”. We got the first, so all we need to do is sprinkle on some community, and bingo! The future of work!
This corp-rat nonsense has prompted numerous objections from leaders of what is now called “authentic coworking”, including Cat Johnson, Liz Elam, and Alex Hillman. (Readers of this blog know where I stand on this issue.)
This winter, Saidat Giwa-Osagie takes an uncompromising stand, “No Community, No Co-working” . Apparently addressing the real estate industry, she emphasizes that “success depends on the special bonds between its members”.
As I have said, “Community, Community, Community”.
This advice is not easy to follow, because “Community is something you have to build. You can’t buy it,” (Liz Elam, quoted in ) I would add, the emphasis msut be on the “you”, which is plural and includes the workers.
Giwa-Osagie points out that community is also not to be achieved through technology. No end of companies are selling the usual surveillance software, that aims to help a workspace operator track the workers. That’s not likely to do much good, IMO. In fact, I would argue that workers already have all the digital community they can stand, and coworking is all about face-to-face interactions. “a respite from our isolation”, (per Klaas )
Giwa-Osagie agrees with Elam that real estate companies generally lack the competencies to do “community” right. This is not their lane. Therefore, they should collaborate with people who do understand community.
She also points to the success of “niche” coworking (which I consider to be the only kind of coworking that works). Community isn’t something generic, and it doesn’t really scale. There are many, many kinds of communities, and each community is specific. Think lot’s of little operations, not one gigantic one.
In short, Giwa-Osagie encourages real estate to stay in their own lane, and not imagine that they can just conjure up “community” to sprinkle on office space.
I agree. And I’s you don’t have ot look farther than the rolling catastrophe that is WeWork. Of the many mistakes WW has made, ignoring this advice is the most fundamental.
- Saidat Giwa-Osagie, No Community, No Co-working, in Propomodo, November 24, 2019. https://www.propmodo.com/no-community-no-co-working-why-your-co-working-spaces-success-depends-on-the-special-bonds-between-its-members/
- Zachary R. Klaas, Coworking & Connectivity in Berlin. University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, 2014. https://www.academia.edu/11486279/Coworking_Connectivity