What is Coworking?  Let’s Think About What Coworking Will Be

I have been observing and investigation coworking since 2015 or so.  From my earliest explorations, it was very clear to me that the key feature of a coworking space is that it is a face-to-face community.  As Zachary Klaas put it in 2014, coworking is “a respite from our isolation” [1].

As I have put it more than once: “Community, community, community

Furthermore, I have argued for more face-to-face time, and less digital “community” throughout all aspects of life.  “Turn It Off”.

I stand by these arguments.


But, of course, in the face of a global pandemic, we are all forced to isolate.  All we have at this moment is digital community, for better or worse.  (And we should all be thankful that back in the day my generation was down in the basement booting up the Internet designed to survive a nuclear war.  We sure need it now.)

It is impossible to know for sure, but I’m pretty sure that coworking as we knew it has completely halted along with practically everything else.  Freelance workers and coworking space operators are facing extreme losses, no one can work together.  It just isn’t safe.

So whatever coworking used to be, it sure isn’t that right now.


We will make it through this.

But for a blog about “What is Coworking?”, we must surely turn to the question, “What Will Coworking Be Next?

I can’t answer that question today.  But here are a few thoughts.

The gig economy will likely reboot, and there will be plenty of freelancers.  (Who knows whether there will be a living wage, though.)  These workers will still need and want places to work.

Absolutely everybody knows about digital remote working now.  A lot of people are going to be (indeed, already are) hungry—starving—for face-to-face community.

So, yeah, the basic psychological drivers for coworking is and will be there.

The big question is, how will this demand be met?

Another interesting question is how existing coworking communities may weather a period of digital only contact.  One scenario would see communities coming back together in person as soon as it is safe to do so.  But it is also possible that community will disintegrate if the separation is too long.

So, we’ll all stay tuned.


Stay safe.  Be good to each other.  Hang in there.

Peace.


  1. Zachary R. Klaas, Coworking & Connectivity in Berlin. University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, 2014. https://www.academia.edu/11486279/Coworking_Connectivity
  2. 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/

 

What is Cowworking?  What Will Coworking Become?

 

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/

 

 

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/.

 

What is Coworking? It’s So 2019, Already

The First Year

The spring of 2018 saw the publication of “What is Coworking?”  In the first year, this website and blog was launched to promote the book, with two dozen posts along with 150 some tweets (@whatiscoworking), and a book launch event.

In October, I did a Pecha Kucha talk, on the topic of “Coworking as Participatory Theater” (a topic discussed in the book.)

Some Stats

The website, blog, twitter, and other media have shown fully tens of visits (and some of those are almost certainly robots).

More important, sales of the book are also in the tens.

Why have you not bought the book already???

(If you tried to buy the book on line and had problems, please, please tell me what happened so I can try to fix it. Email to: contact@whatiscoworkingthebook.com .)

New Year’s Resolution for 2019

Let’s all join together, resolving to buy the book.

Click here to find purchase info.

6x9_COWORKING_EBOOK_COVER thumb

Peace!

What is Coworking? Architects Haven’t A Clue

What is Coworking?  Well, I literally wrote a book on that question [3], and I’m not really sure what the answer is.

But I’m pretty sure that the discussions at AIA reported by Carolyn Cirillo are totally wrong [1].

She reports that professional office designers think that coworking “needs a new definition”, essentially to match the thing that they do.

[Coworking is] about how the real estate, design and construction industry deliver that product in a more systematic or productized way.

Who cares what workers actually do?  Who cares what coworking actually is? The important thing is to “deliver that product” (in a “productized way”).

For these professionals, it’s all about building office space. So let’s redefine the whole world to fit the business model of the real estate industry.

Sigh.


I’m not the only one who strongly disagrees with this bogosity.

Sensei Liz Elam, founder of Global Coworking Unconference Conference (GCUC) replied, “Coworking Does Not Need A New Definition” [2].

She lists what Coworking really is about, with item number one being “Community”.

Exactly.

We would like to suggest that the Real Estate industry, AIA, and others that don’t like the term coworking stick to the always bland “flexible office,” or “serviced office,”

You tell ‘em, Elam!

I’ve had my differences with Sensei Liz, but she does know what she is talking about.  And she hasn’t forgotten the truly important things that make coworking coworking.


  1. Carolyn Cirillo, Why Coworking Needs A New Definition, in AllWork. 2018. https://allwork.space/2018/11/why-coworking-needs-a-new-definition/
  2. Liz Elam, Coworking Does Not Need A New Definition, in LinkedIn – Liz Elam. 2018. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/coworking-does-need-new-definition-liz-elam/
  3. 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, Self-published: Urbana. https://whatiscoworkingthebook.com/