Working in the UnOffice: A Guide to Coworking for Indie Workers, Small Businesses, and Nonprofits
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Praise for Working in the UnOffice “The Lonely Planet of coworking guidebooks.” !"#$%"&%(")%*! “A new overview on coworking and where it’s headed...” !"!"#$%&()"*+" “Coworking is a growing movement...It now has a guide.” !"+,-./0" “The newest book to arrive on the coworking scene...” !"1%234.-" “Part anecdotal narrative, part practical, how-to guidebook, this book has amassed tips and the shared wisdom of coworkers on making the most of a collaborative environment to spark ideas and enhance productivity.” !"5.46*%77"089%77.:;"5</;"=>>2%8?*%2@8>4"! ! """! #$!%&(!)*+!$+*&%,!%&!,-./0!1$2+!!"#$%&(%&()*+(,&-..%/+!/(!3$%! 4$%&!%&,$2%5&,!$/!5$)$%6./07!8.,.+!)))95$)$%6./002.(&95$49!!
Working in the UnOffice A Guide to Coworking for Indie Workers, Small Businesses, and Nonprofits !"#"$%"$"&(&)"!*+,-#&-#.&/#.0"1&2(&3-#4& Night Owls Press
Proof of Impact:Small Businesses and Organizations InterviewedReesa Abrams, TechCycle3, Santa Cruz, CA - NextSpace memberSuzanne Akin, Akinz, Fort Collins, CO - Cohere former memberJames Archer, Forty Agency, Chandler, AZ - Gangplank memberJason Barnett, The UpTake, St. Paul, MN - CoCo memberJason Beatty, 9BitLabs LLC, Santa Cruz, CA - NextSpace memberJohnny Bilotta, GUIwerks LLC, Philadelphia, PA - IndyHall memberJon Buda, One Design Company, Chicago, IL - COOP former memberBetsy Burroughs, Focus Catalyst, San Francisco, CA - The Hub memberPJ Christie, Grow Your Base, Austin, TX - Cospace memberJoey Coleman, Design Symphony, Washington, D.C. - Affinity Lab memberGrant Cupps, DGC Interactive, Chicago, IL - COOP memberKyle de Haas, FranNet of Central Texas, Austin, TX - Cospace memberChase Granberry, Authority Labs, Chandler, AZ - Gangplank memberLisa Gray, LDG Associates, San Francisco, CA - NextSpace memberAnthony Grieder, Alloy Design, Inc., Erie, CO - Boulder Digital Arts memberPhil Hughes, Clustered Systems, Santa Clara, CA - TechShop memberAnnie Lin, Brave Noise Legal, San Francisco, CA - NextSpace memberAdam Lindsay, Next Feature, Rochester, NY - Coworking Rochester memberLisa S. Malul, Action Alliance for Children, Berkeley, CA - The Hub memberMike Muldoon, Infrno.net, Santa Cruz, CA - NextSpace memberDouglas Naegele, Infield Health, Washington, D.C - Affinity Lab member
Kelani Nichole, Content Distillery, Philadelphia, PA - IndyHall memberJudi Oyama, Maximum Impact Design, Santa Cruz, CA - NextSpace memberAlan Pinstein, Neybor, Atlanta, GA - Ignition Alley memberKevin Purdy, Freelance Writer, Rochester, NY - Coworking Rochester memberJason Richelson, ShopKeep, New York, NY - Hive at 55 former memberGreg Roth, The Percy Group, Arlington, VA - Affinity Lab memberKevin Scott, Scott Labs, LLC, Austin, TX - Conjunctured former memberAnna Thomas, Loosecubes, Brooklyn, NY - New Work City former memberGreg Tindale, Tindale Team, Washington, D.C. - Affinity Lab memberLisa Van Damme, Performance Impact, Boulder, CO - Boulder Digital Arts memberParker Whitney, FlyClops, Philadelphia, PA - IndyHall memberGreg Wilder, Orpheus Media Research, Brooklyn, NY - IndyHall former member
Movers and Shakers:Coworking Spaces InterviewedPeter Chee, Founder and Kristin Eide, Community Manager - ThinkSpace,Redmond, WAKyle Coolbroth, Co-Founder - CoCo, Minneapolis and St. Paul, MNBrian DiFeo, Community Manager - Hive at 55, New York, NYKirtus Dixon, Co-Founder and Sarah Cox, Operations Manager - Cospace, Austin, TXTim Dorr, Co-Founder - Ignition Alley, Atlanta, GAPaul Evers, President and Creative Director - TBD Loft, Bend, ORJim Graham, Co-Founder - Satellite Telework Centers, Felton, CAFelena Hanson, Founder - Hera Hub, San Diego, CAMark Hatch, CEO - TechShop, Menlo Park, CAAlex Hillman, Co-Founder - Independents Hall (Indy Hall), Philadelphia, PAAngel Kwiatkowski, Founder - Cohere, Fort Collins, COShelly Leonard, Community Manager - Conjunctured, Austin, TXLynne McNamee, Marketing Manager - Milford Business Services, Milford, CTJade Meskill/Derek Neighbors, Founders - Gangplank, Chandler, AZDavid Moffitt, Founder - Coworking Rochester, Rochester, NYJulian Nachtigal, Public Relations Rep - pariSoma Innovation Loft, San Francisco, CABerit Oskey, Co-Founder - Affinity Lab, Washington, D.C.Sam Rosen, Founder - COOP, Chicago, ILJeff Shiau, Director - The Hub Bay Area, Berkeley and San Francisco, CA
Working in the UnOffice A Guide to Coworking for Indie Workers, Small Businesses, and Nonprofits
ForewordT oday, independents and entrepreneurs are becoming more connected than ever before. Digital technology enables us to work with team members located around the world. We interact with our colleagues over e-mail,Skype, and social networking. We often have the option of flexible and remote workarrangements that allow us to choose our hours and work where we want. We rarelywork for a single company for our entire lives anymore, and often reinvent ourselveswith multiple careers, making networking more crucial than ever. But despite thisincreasing connectedness, independents, startups, and small businesses, in large part,still work in isolation. Work has changed. It’s time for the office to catch up. Back in 2009, I arranged to work remotely for several months in NorthernMaine. I’d been able to escape New York City for a bit while maintaining my job andsalary. Although I was equipped with the technology to do my job effectivelyhundreds of miles away from the office, I struggled to be productive. I starteddreaming of being in a Wi-Fi-equipped art studio where I could plug in occasionallyand get my work done, while still relishing the perks of my remote set-up. I wanted to be free to travel, to work on my own terms, and to meet interestingpeople along the way. So, I set out to create Loosecubes (loosecubes.com), a platformthat would enable me to do all of these things. When I returned to New York, I joined New Work City (nwc.co), New York’sfirst community coworking space. Aside from the obvious benefits of increasedproductivity, shared amenities, and economies of scale, what was most compellingabout coworking to me was the community around it. In a city like New York wherethe pace of life can make it difficult to form lasting personal connections, I wasamazed to see that the group of independents and entrepreneurs at New Work Citywere creating thriving friendships, partnerships, and businesses. What’s more, I learned that New Work City wasn’t the only place this washappening. All over the world, coworking spaces of all shapes and sizes were alsoembracing communities born out of working together, in a way that hadn’t beenorganized in the past. Just over one year later our community of shared workspaces on Loosecubes hasgrown to over 2,000 worldwide. And while the physical spaces look different, thecommon thread that binds them is the spirit of collaboration, camaraderie, and 1
2 | Working in the UnOffice | community. Coworkers across the globe are meeting every day and sharing ideas, insights, and support with each other as we work to build our own businesses. Loosecubes had the honor of hosting the first Coworking UnConference in March of this year. And more than ever before, it was evident that the community behind the coworking movement is strong and growing fast. As the coworking movement gains momentum, expands, and redefines the traditional office environment, I hope our community continues to embrace its potential to lead something that changes the world for the better. As the group becomes more and more organized, it’s crucial that we stay true to the ideals of what coworking really means to us. It’s a serious responsibility, and my team and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be taking on the challenge. For those who are still strangers to shared workspaces, exploring the world of coworking in all its different forms can sometimes feel like spelunking in the dark. As a professional who’s gone through the gamut of options in the past and outgrown working at home, staring at cubical walls, and fighting for power outlets at cafés—I know how hard it can be to find the right place out there and make that transition. Working in the UnOffice: A Guide to Coworking works like a nifty passport. Read it and travel to coworking spaces across the country and meet over 30 independents, small businesses, and nonprofits like you who are thriving because of coworking. Part anecdotal narrative, part practical, how-to guidebook, this book has amassed tips and the shared wisdom of coworkers all over the country on selecting a space, getting settled, and making the most of a collaborative environment to spark ideas and enhance productivity. With this illuminating and no-nonsense take on coworking, you’ll get inspired to change how you work. Campbell McKellar Founder and CEO of Loosecubes August 2011
PrefaceCoworking: The Triumph of theCommonsB ack in 2009, when the Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded to Elinor Ostrom, it gave credence to a simple idea we’ve all known as kids but often forget as we get older and enter the real world: Sharing is good. In her decades of research, Ostrom wrote about things that we share, such ascollective resources like our oceans and forests, infrastructure like our roads andpublic transportation, and services like our public libraries and community centers—suggesting that a “commons”-based society was more efficient. She’s right. There is no tragedy of the commons. The debate about who was bestqualified to manage the resources of society—the state or the market—always seemedtoo simplistic. Drawing on Ostrom’s ideas, some say that perhaps the best steward is, infact, us. Yes, folks. We the people. Many of the solutions to issues we face today—such asreducing our environmental impact on the planet or figuring out the complexities ofownership in the digital age—can be traced to the fundamentals of collaboration andsharing. In many ways, Ostrom’s ideas are no longer revolutionary notions. That’s becausewe’ve been moving in this direction for years with the emergence of companies andorganizations that allow us to share, barter, or exchange goods and services. Today, theself-interested capitalist sentiment of “every man for himself” seems to ring false and hollow.What makes more sense for creative thinkers, inventors, writers, artists, and entrepreneursis this: innovation and growth are more likely to come from collaboration and the freeflow and sharing of ideas, not from lone efforts. As more people start businesses andpersonal projects, or telecommute and opt for flexible arrangements with their employers,this collaborative movement is encompassing how we work.You’re Wondering About Coworking On first glance, coworking seems like the perfect set-up for startups andfreelancers, small organizations, and the remote worker: join a collaborative or shared 3
4 | Working in the UnOffice | workspace to save money, beat the doldrums of isolation, and collaborate with other organizations and startups. But it’s the promise of innovation and community that makes coworking most appealing. Behavioral studies have long shown that sharing and collaboration can lead to instances of creativity and innovation in the workplace. It only makes sense that organizations and small businesses find that they gain more from working together, rather than alone. This type of collaborative working doesn’t mean you surrender your independence and lose your individuality, but instead share resources and space—and in the process find common ground with each other, lend expertise, and share ideas. Still, many organizations are puzzled at how surrendering their autonomy (if they owned or rented their own offices) or paying for a space (if they worked from home) would lead to any benefits. “How would coworking expand my bottom line or inspire me to innovate?” For the uninitiated, coworking isn’t an easy sell. We understand. As a small business ourselves, we started test-driving a few coworking spaces in the San Francisco Bay Area—but couldn’t make up our minds. We thought about the money we could save by continuing to work at home—and all the other typical excuses. And yet we were torn because we also felt drawn to the dynamic layouts of the spaces we saw: people working at shared and cloistered tables, the bright colors, and the cool décor. Most of all, we loved the energy and the hum: people milling about, talking excitedly with each other while swiveling in their chairs from one desk to another. Oh, and the free coffee on tap, of course. And then we realized: maybe there were other businesses and freelancers out there with the same dilemma, curious but still hesitant about making the leap— possibly missing out on an amazing opportunity. And so a book project was born. Why We Need a Guidebook Coworking spaces are popping up everywhere left and right it seems. The latest estimates from Deskmag, for example, put the count at 820 spaces worldwide, with 380 in the U.S. and Canada.1 Loosecubes counts 2,000 shared spaces and offices in its directory of offerings around the world. It shows the enormous enthusiasm and faith in the idea. In this rich environment of options, you are faced with limitless possibilities to flourish—but it can be difficult to make the right choices. There are questions to consider, such as: How can I tell whether a space is right for me? How do I make the transition from my home or a conventional office space to a shared or collaborative workspace?
| Preface | 5 & Once I’m in, how can I leverage the space—the community—in making my business ororganization better? Get the answers to these questions (and more!) inside this book.What You’ll Get We did our research. We talked to coworking members across the country, aswell as to space founders and reps, and their collective stories and insights have beendistilled into this handy volume. This book is built from the experiences of smallbusinesses and organizations tackling the same questions above. People like you. We’ve written a book that is both a dissection and analysis of coworking trendsand its rising popularity (Chapters 1-2), as well as a guidebook and narrative chroniclefrom people in the coworking trenches (Chapters 3-5). We’ve set out to help you findand select the right space, listing all the critical factors to consider when decidingwhich space best suits your needs (Chapter 3). Then, once you’ve found your space, learn the ropes to adjusting to thecoworking environment and master the art of networking among the mix ofpersonalities (Chapter 4). You’ll find tips and tricks for navigating shared spaces(Chapter 5)—measured steps to take advantage of the shared facilities, strategies toaccess your community of entrepreneurs, and optimum ways to collaborate withinand across fields—all to make your small business or organization thrive. We’ve alsoput together an annotated list of collaborative tools and resources to enhance yourproductivity and workflow as an independent worker (Chapters 4 and 5). What we’re most proud of is the collection of profiles (see the “PROOF ofIMPACT: Interviews” and “MOVERS and SHAKERS: Interviews” sections at theend of the book) that cover the candid conversations we had with members andformer members, as well as with the founders of coworking spaces across the country. The community of entrepreneurs that makes up a coworking space largelydetermines the essence of that space—and so it is also with this book. The 33businesses and organizations we talked to range from the usual digital technology andgraphic design freelancers that flock to coworking in droves, to the more unusualinventors, innovation consultants, and even telecommuters working remotely forcorporations. Some of them have been in business for years, with polished operationsand venture capital to boot. Others are plucky, bootstrapped shops, or peoplethrowing their hats into the ring as “accidental entrepreneurs” because of therecession—tough folks who are freelancing and consulting on their own. The debate on how to define a coworking space is an intense one. We knowthere are “variations on a theme” when it comes to the concept of coworking, so we
6 | Working in the UnOffice | decided to take a flexible approach and cast the widest net possible when choosing and interviewing the different shared and collaborative spaces available. The 19 coworking spaces we talked to range from more community-oriented spaces like Gangplank that balk at charging members (membership plans don’t exist there) and opt for “social capital” as its currency, to spaces with more structured environments for established organizations like Affinity Lab and ThinkSpace. Some spaces featured here offer welding tables and laser cutters instead of your usual desks and copiers (TechShop), and some have multiple locations (The Hub, NextSpace, and pariSoma). You’ll also hear from the most visible coworking advocates out there today, including Indy Hall‘s Alex Hillman, Gangplank’s Derek Neighbors and Jade Meskill, Cohere‘s Angel Kwiatkowski, and others. Why This Book is Different To our knowledge, this book is one of the first of its kind written from the perspective of the very people who stand to benefit from coworking—small businesses and organizations looking for better ways to work. Like many of you, we’re researching our options of where to work, love our independence, but also tire of working in a vacuum—and, of course, can’t afford to break the bank. These considerations have shaped our focus in writing this book. Second, from what we’ve seen, the available publications out there are somewhat limited, generally written by individual spaces that focus exclusively on their own membership pool (for a list of additional publications on coworking, see “Where can I find out more about coworking?” in the FAQ section). In contrast, the stories and insights here are sourced from across the coworking spectrum of members working in some of the more famous spaces in the coworking circuit and those working in quirky, less well-known spaces. We offer a lively cross- section of members and former members, founders and space reps pulled from the variety of coworking spaces and shared offices across the country. Couched in this wonderful diversity, you’ll see how much coworking is a part of their inspiring stories, regardless of their location, background, or size. Coworking is so much more than a backdrop, and for many people, it’s the driving force behind critical business decisions and breakthroughs. Writing this book has been a fulfilling project and one we hope will add to the dialogue on the shifting state of work today, of which coworking is very much a game- changing catalyst. Our hope is that after reading this book, you’ll be better able to consider your options, and find out if coworking is really right for you.
ONE:Sharing How We Work andThinking Outside theSpaceG oodbye office. Goodbye, kitchen table. Goodbye, Starbucks coffee counter. For small businesses and organizations, as well as indie workers and freelancers, coworking is developing into a real viable option for getting things done. Inthe past, when identifying places to work, independent workers, small businesses, andorganizations often had to choose between several scenarios, all with their attendantadvantages and disadvantages: working from home; working from a coffee shop, library,or other public venue; or leasing an executive suite or other commercial space. Well, enter coworking. At its most basic level, coworking is the phenomenon ofworkers coming together in a shared or collaborative workspace for one or more ofthese reasons: to reduce costs by having shared facilities and equipment, to access acommunity of fellow entrepreneurs, and to seek out collaboration within and acrossfields. In fact, coworking makes the traditional office set-up seem downrightantiquated and quaint, something that belongs more in a museum exhibit and issorely out of touch with today’s creative and dynamic workforce. Coworking spaces offer an exciting alternative for people longing to escape theconfines of their cubicle walls, the isolation and distractions of working solo at home,or the inconveniences of public venues. The benefits and cost-savings in productivityand overall happiness and well-being that can be reaped from coworking are alsopotentially huge. Enthusiasm and creativity become contagious and multiply whenyou diversify your work environment with people from different fields or backgrounds.At coworking spaces, the chances of “accelerated serendipity”1 occurring—those“Eureka!” moments that take place during the most unexpected turns—are greaterthan in any other environment. Members pass each other during the day,conversations get going, and miraculously idea-fusion happens with everyonebenefitting from the shared thinking and brainstorming. So what gives coworking its traction and charm for thousands of workers aroundthe world? 7
8 | Working in the UnOffice | The Making of the Coworking ‘Perfect Storm’ There are several social and economic trends that are making coworking an ideal option for independent workers, small businesses, and organizations. All these factors and opportunities have come together in what experts like to call a “perfect storm” for the growing fascination with coworking: • #1 Shift Toward a ‘Sharing Economy’ • #2 Home is Where the Work is: Rise of the Telecommuter and Home- based Businesses • #3 Digital Workers on the Cloud • #4 Where Good Ideas Come From: Working with Others #1 Shift Toward a ‘Sharing Economy’ Coworking is at the heart of the new trend toward sharing and “collaborative consumption.” Those who grew up with the children’s show Sesame Street may remember the episode with the Geefle and the Gonk who wanted to eat nectarines growing on a tree. The Gonk was too short to reach the fruit; the Geefle could reach them, but couldn’t bend his arms to feed himself. So they decided that the Geefle would pick the fruit and the Gonk would feed him half. Happy with the way things worked out, they decided to keep the system. “Let’s call it cooperation,” says the Gonk. “No,” pipes up the Geefle. “Let’s call it Shirley!”2 Sharing—be it goods, time, expertise, or even responsibilities to acquire nectarines—isn’t anything new. These days, it just goes by names more highbrow than “Shirley.” And it’s changing the way we spend, interact, work, and live. Welcome to the new sharing economy. Your Car, My Couch—A New Way We Share Admittedly, sharing may not be a virtue one readily owns up to. But chances are, you have a Facebook account, and you’ve uploaded pictures of your newest baby— human or otherwise—told your friends what you had for breakfast and posted a link for one of your current causes on your wall. What is that, if not sharing? And it’s that online sharing that’s making it easier for people to share offline, experts at Latitude Research have found.3 Just what do people share offline? Almost anything.
| Sharing How We Work and Thinking Outside the Space |& 9 If you have a spare room, for example, you can allow a weary traveler to crash in itfor a few nights, either for free (CouchSurfing) or for a fee (AirBnb, Crashpadder). Carscan also be borrowed or shared (ZipCar, RelayRides). Rooms and zooms are not theonly things up for sharing these days; skills, time, garden space, power tools, clothes, andother “stuff” are also swapped, bartered, shared, or given away. It’s all part of a risingculture and economy around a trend called “collaborative consumption.” According to researchers, the mindset of collaborative consumption veers away fromowning something to having easy access to it.4 It’s akin to say, being able to drive a carwhen you need to, without the actual burden of ownership, such as paying formaintenance and insurance. The growing trend of prioritizing experiences over materialpossessions and achieving a work-life balance has also shifted our focus away fromownership. In fact, Lisa Gansky, author of The Mesh: Why the Future of Business is Sharing,predicts that saving money will be regarded as the norm, and that the simplification ofour lives and getting off the consumer treadmill will make people happier. Collaborative consumption marketplaces are popping up everywhere: media, carrental, lodging, staffing, textbooks, apparel, custom graphic design, and even finance.And they are big. Take Groupon’s success. Harnessed on the power of collaborative consumption,Groupon grew into a collective buying phenomenon based around “tipping points” orparticipant thresholds (the deal is only “on” if enough people buy)—uniting buyers andsellers in a collaborative fashion, saving customers money, and generating revenue formany participating businesses. For local businesses, Groupon turned traditionaladvertising methods upside down by letting merchants pay only for real results—when acustomer comes in and actually buys a product or pays for a service. Like manybusinesses, Groupon is riding the collaborative consumption wave. In November 2010,Groupon defiantly ducked a $6 billion buyout offer from Google, opting to stayindependent and continue to raise its own valuation through venture investments.5 Manyinsiders have said that Groupon’s quirky, social media-fueled style built on the creativebacks of its sales and editorial forces—a decidedly people-oriented, collaborative workenvironment—would have clashed with the corporate culture at Google. ThredUp is another innovative business that has banked on trends incollaborative consumption. The company created a peer-to-peer platform reminiscentof eBay by which parents could exchange boxes of kids clothing with other parents. Itstagline, “Clothes Don’t Grow, Kids Do,” automated online what parents had done forages within their circle of family and friends—swap or donate clothes outgrown bytheir kids. ThredUp established a one-to-one swap system that manages the processbetween strangers. Parents have two options when they go online: shop for a box of“preloved kids clothes and toys” or list a box of donated clothes and toys. ThredUp
10 | Working in the UnOffice | provides free boxes over the mail for parents who become members, and donors get a postage paid label when they send their goods and free pick-up by the U.S. Postal Service. Families shop online to see the offerings like any online store, select a box, and pay for the shipping and handling plus a $5 fee; the contents themselves are actually free. Recycled clothes and sharing have saved families over $200,000. By hooking into collaborative consumption trends and connecting people, ThredUp made inroads into a secondhand market that is notoriously fragmented and inaccessible. Why We Share More Today Trust is a key element in this kind of sharing economy. After all, how can you let a stranger drive off in your car, sleep in your house, or ask for your old clothes if you didn’t somehow trust that you’d get your car back in one piece, won’t get clobbered in your own bed, and won’t get a boxful of rags in return? Trust levels are also a good indicator of quality of life. Studies show that high social trust usually correlates with low crime rates and good economic performance.6 In the past decades, from 1976 to 2008, the General Social Survey showed that the level of trust had eroded: Americans largely didn’t trust each other. However, since the advent of social media networks like Facebook and Twitter, and the proliferation of mobile technology, people have had more opportunities to interact and create reciprocal relationships that are re-building trust, albeit online. eBay is a model of online trust. You send money to people you don’t know, expect them to ship you goods, which you haven’t actually seen, in the condition that they promised. eBay founder Pierre Omidyar believes that most people are honest, and that by creating a transparent market that encourages honest dealings and is protected by safeguards through a rating system and verifications, doing business with strangers online becomes easier.7 The feedback system used on eBay—buyers and sellers give each other points and reviews after each transaction—has fostered good behavior all around. People know that the rating they have will determine whether people will transact with them in the future—buyers want to buy from sellers with positive ratings, and sellers may not even entertain bids from buyers with low ratings. In the new sharing economy, money isn’t the only thing that talks. Your “reputation capital”—the summary of what other people think about your actions in a given community—also says a lot about you, experts agree.8 This newfound trust in people—or at least in the people we do business with— would not have been possible without progress in technology. Rachel Botsman,
| Sharing How We Work and Thinking Outside the Space |& 11author of What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption, has written abouthow technologies, particularly social networking sites and mobile phoneadvancements, have transformed the usual business and social practices of bartering,sharing, renting, and trading.9 This increase in connectivity and focus on trust could also reflect a return to thebelief that community is important. Lisa Gansky, author of The Mesh, has alsodiscussed how dislocated individuals are seeking community and personal interactionin droves. The communities formed today may not be of the traditional neighbors-playing-bingo-at-the-church-social or families-gathering-for-the-weekly-weekend-barbecue type. But with each Tweet, each Facebook status update, with each reply toquestions posed on the Starbucks or Apple forums, with each contact we add toLinkedIn, we feed our “social self—the part of us that seeks connection andbelonging,” says social psychologist Marilynn Brewer of Ohio State University.10 The shift in community patterns, from autonomy to connectedness, also reflectschanges in values. The so-called Millennial Generation (ages 18-29) is moreenvironmentally aware and more socially conscious. According to a Pew ResearchCenter study, Millennials prefer a simpler lifestyle, veering away from the rampantmaterialism that they perceive bilked earlier generations. Instead of buying individualcars, for example, more choose to share bikes or cars, or use mass transit.11 People are also increasingly choosing a sustainable lifestyle, as opposed to aconvenient or extravagant one. Three in five people share or would share products orservices simply because it’s better for the environment, according to a LatitudeResearch report.12 Increased coverage and visibility of environmental issues have alsomade people more conscious of buying and disposing of goods. This shift to a sharing mentality isn’t all altruism though. The global recessionhas left a deep impact on people’s consumer habits. In the same Latitude report,researchers found that “saving money” and being “good for society” tie in at 67percent as reasons why people share or would consider sharing.13 The globalrecession forced people to rethink what is valuable to them, and many are choosingpracticality over consumerism. So given that people are willing to share and that it makes economic sense—justwhat would they share? Naturally, media and information top the list. Transportation also offers sharingopportunities (in the form of car, bike, and boat sharing, for example). Infrequentlyused, high-priced items such as power tools also present themselves as ideal productsto be shared. And finally, physical spaces: a place to stay at when traveling and a placeto store stuff is a valuable commodity—as is a place to work and be creative.
12 | Working in the UnOffice | #2 Home is Where the Work is: Rise of the Telecommuter and Home-based Businesses If you’re home on a Monday morning dressed in your sweats or in your PJs, sending e-mail to a client, and there’s no one to see you—are you working? The philosophical implication aside, the answer for the 20 to 30 million U.S.-based telecommuters is a resounding “Yes.”14 Companies are realizing that employees don’t have to be physically in their workplace to do their jobs; they don’t even have to be in the same time zone. Even traditional, large businesses are recognizing that centralized, management structures need to become more flexible to meet the needs of its employees, say experts.15 Dwayne Spradlin of InnoCentive, Inc. has described how organizations have to move away from rote and static procedures to more flexible ones to better organize and optimize infrastructure and human resources. Younger workers, especially the Millennial generation, have a fundamentally different view about work and career fulfillment.16 Many of them are interested in moving laterally, not vertically in companies, and to take on different roles. They are project-focused and thrive in environments of constant churn and change. More baby boomers, women, parents, and Generation Y-ers are also shifting to home-based work arrangements or are opting for telecommuting options, because it makes it easier to achieve the work-life balance objectives they have set for themselves. They are, for example, able to participate in family activities while still keeping on top of their work. All this is made possible by the capabilities, accessibility, and affordability of available tools and technology.17 Even the government is recognizing the shift from physical to online spaces for workers. In December 2010, the U.S. government passed the Telework Enhancement Act, which requires federal agencies to establish teleworking policies and support systems that allow qualified employees to work from home. The amount that companies can save by allowing offsite work is astounding—up to $10,000 per employee annually, in terms of reduced utilities and costs in real estate, office supplies, security, maintenance, equipment and the like, and in terms of increased worker productivity—making telecommuting even more attractive. The Telework Research Network calculates that telecommuting could save as much as $650 billion dollars a year overall.18 The environmental impact is also considerable. Telecommuting reduces the dependence on fossil fuels and lessens the production of greenhouse gases—issues that are growing in importance.
| Sharing How We Work and Thinking Outside the Space |& 13 The flexibility of telecommuting also holds great appeal: of the 72 percent ofemployees that would favor a job with flexible work arrangements over anotherwithout, 37 percent specified telecommuting as a factor.19 “What employees of all agegroups want is the flexibility to determine for themselves where, when, and how theywork,” says Kate Lister, the principal researcher at Telework Research Network.20This also rings true for independent and self-employed workers. Despite generallyworking longer, earning less, and stressing out more, independents score higher on thejob satisfaction scale because they value the autonomy and flexibility that working outof a formal office setting gives them.21 In an interview with The San Francisco Chronicle,Om Malik, founder of GigaOm, has said, “There is nothing more [liberating] thanbeing a web worker… There is no boss. You work for yourself… It’s the future.”22 Kristen Eide, community manager of ThinkSpace in Redmond, WA, tells us thatthe trend of telecommuting is becoming more appealing and has impacted their spacemembership. “I know some companies are going virtual with their employees, andcoworking can be a great solution for virtual workers who cannot or would rather notwork out of the home. I think that trend will continue for a while.” Their space hosts240 member companies, many of which are telecommuters from larger companiessuch as CPA and law firms. Both companies and workers reap the benefits. Jim Graham, co-founder ofSatellite Telework Centers, a coworking space that specifically targets this market forremote workers and telecommuters, tells us, “We’ve been able to demonstrate that wecan house an employee for about half what it costs to support them at a corporateheadquarters. Employees are happier because they’re working closer to home andthey find they’re more productive because they’re away from the interruptions thatcome from working at the main office, and they don’t have the distractions or sense ofisolation that often comes from working from home.”#3 Digital Workers on the Cloud In the aftermath of the first Industrial Revolution, we saw the rise of the efficientfactory systems and then later the cubicle farms. We know the scenario all too well.White collar workers congregated in confined spaces, working side-by-side at identicaldesks. Management hovered from corner offices, supervising and orchestrating thesteady hum of production. Many used to believe that a command-and-controlstructure was needed to get work done. Today, living in an information and computing age, where much of our workresides on the cloud and businesses outsource work—is this closed system relevantanymore? The old system worked largely because personal computing was expensive
14 | Working in the UnOffice | or inadequate, Internet connections and web access weren’t so pervasive, and moving and dispersing information was difficult (hence, the need for physical meetings for collaboration and team briefings). Technology is redefining the borders of the spaces where we work. We have laptops, iPads, and smartphones. The information and tools we need to work exist in digital form—as apps that function on mobile devices anywhere. Meetings and briefings are less centralized and can be more efficient over chat or Skype with little need for face-to-face time. We don’t necessarily need the traditional office structure to connect with our colleagues and be productive. Daniel Pink, author of Free Agent Nation, has written about how infrastructure that has evolved—from laptops and smartphones to Starbucks and other coffee shops that offer Wi-Fi—has increased the number of independent workers. Information age jobs lend themselves naturally to web working and telecommuting. Technical professionals such as software developers and architects, web and mobile app developers, and technical consultants top the list. People from creative fields such as writing, graphic and web design, and photography also telecommute. Lawyers, salespeople, accountants, and other professionals are starting to break out of the confines of the office, too. And of course, independent homepreneurs, solopreneurs, and startups—there are about 10-15 million of them, though not all work at or from home—comprise the rest of the telecommuters.23 The decline in lifetime job security has shifted the balance towards self-employment. After all, if you can’t depend on a big corporation like General Motors for your future, why not depend on yourself instead? Besides, bagging a full-time, full-benefit job will be difficult in the coming decade, many experts say.24 Companies are not only letting people go, hiring has also slowed down, as they depend on technology, outsourcing, and a leaner workforce to get the same jobs done. Independents who freelance with several clients are no longer bound by location restrictions. They work for anyone (global outlook), anywhere (local source) through virtual channels, such as e-mail, Skype, and virtual networking. With easy connectivity and tools on hand, independents and employees can now work anytime, anywhere, and in any way that they choose. David Bollier, author of The Future of Work: What it Means for Businesses, Markets and Governments, has said, “Digitization has changed the economics of creating and distributing products, services and content across a growing number of categories.”25 Technology has essentially amplified worker performance—and changed the game for both employees and independents. With the rise of the cloud, more people will have access to computing power and will leap over the obstacles of infrastructure and connectivity to start focusing on what really matters in business: innovation and creativity—the things that improve and enhance services.
| Sharing How We Work and Thinking Outside the Space |& 15 It might have been a tough pill to swallow initially, but many companies arecatching on to these flexible work arrangements with the assurance that their employeesare working out of professional venues and have access to facilities with the righttechnology to make virtual working possible. Satellite Telework Centers co-founder JimGraham tells us how two of their members working as remote employees of largercompanies use the coworking space effectively. “We have one member whose company isbased in San Diego. He brought in a Flip camera and filmed the facility and his cubicle toprove to his bosses that he’s actually working in a professional office environment. Wehave another member who works for a huge telecommunications company and spendsher day giving Webex-based trainings to sales teams all over the world.”#4 Where Good Ideas Come From:Working with Others At the same time, there is also a realization that people are more productive on aresults-output basis, rather than on a time-clock basis, which has led to new workarrangements like flextime and has even encouraged workers to pursue privateprojects. Giving smart and creative people the space and time to pursue a wacky ideaoverturns the industrial workplace model. At Google, employees are given a creative license to devote up to 20 percent oftheir working hours to personal projects. Many of Google’s flagship products—Gmailand Google News—were dreamt up and developed during these downtimes and beforeemployees punched out. Google has since deployed “grouplets” for initiatives that coverbroader changes through the organization. One remarkable story of a successful Googlegrouplet involved getting engineers to write their own testing code to reduce theincidence of bugs in software code. The problem was how to push the idea across a largeorganization like Google and get buy-in at a level enough to make a difference. The intrepid grouplet came up with a campaign based on posting episodesdiscussing new and interesting testing techniques on the bathroom stalls. “Testing onthe Toilet” spread fast and garnered both rants and raves. Soon, people were hungryfor more, and the campaign ultimately developed enough inertia to become a de factopart of the coding culture. They moved out of the restrooms and into the mainstream. This represents the power and culture of sharing in the workplace. Somethingthat started as an idea among a small group became viral. Bharat Mediratta, asoftware engineer at Google, told The New York Times in an interview, “These groupletshave practically no budget, and they have no decision-making authority. What theyhave is a bunch of people who are committed to an idea and willing to work toconvince the rest of the company to adopt it.”26
16 | Working in the UnOffice | According to a recent New York University Stern Business School study, sharing information about work tasks with colleagues and even members outside your immediate work circle, pulls employees together, builds relationships, and even increases productivity over time.27 They even found that giving employees a communication forum such as blogging increased productivity after about seven weeks. The mechanics of sharing commentary on both work-related and non-work related matters had a profound effect. The study further found evidence of “migration from blogs to real life.”28 As workers developed ideas over conversations online, they tended to spill over into conversations offline. What the study ultimately revealed was that connecting with people around us beyond work—through casual conversation and interaction, such as on company sports teams and during company-sponsored volunteer projects— prompts us to work better as individuals. Keith Sawyer, a professor of psychology and education at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, has written widely on collaboration and innovation. In his study of jazz performances, Keith Sawyer made this observation, “The group has the ideas, not the individual musicians.”29 Some of the most famous products were born out of this moshpit of interaction—in contrast to the romantic idea of a lone working genius driving change. According to Sawyer, more often than not, true innovation emerges from an improvised process and draws from trial-by-error and many inputs, “with sparks gathering together over time, multiple dead ends, and the reinterpretation of previous ideas.”30 Unexpected insights emerge from the group dynamic. If increasing interaction among different peer groups within a single company could lead to promising results, imagine the possibilities for solopreneurs, small businesses, and indie workers—if only they could reach similar levels of peer access as those experienced by their bigger counterparts. It is this potential that coworking tries to capture for its members. ::: Coworking’s promise for today’s creator, thinker, worker, and employee is an ambitious one. It claims to help us harness innovation, as well as to unite the laptop- toting telecommuters and independent businesses and organizations out there into a cohesive but fluid community. Such diverse communities under one roof can create thriving places to work. But is coworking just buzz, a novelty? Or, is it part of the greater zeitgeist of our time, a profound shift in how we do things?
| Sharing How We Work and Thinking Outside the Space |& 17 Let’s dive in and see how coworking started, where it is today—and mostimportantly—how you can make the most out of the coworking opportunities out there.
TWO:Coworking DeconstructedT hings are changing. Look around. Most likely there is a coworking space or, at the least, collaborative working groups like a Jelly or Meetup in your area already. We are on the cusp of a working revolution, moving toward a“free-agent” model with people engaging in their work in very different ways. Overthe next couple years, we will see a massive shift in how we work. Coworking is onestriking example of this change in action. So, how did it all begin?Free, Un-tethered—but Alone (andother travails of the indie worker) Innovation is one of the drivers of today’s knowledge economy. But for the smallstartup, freelancer, nonprofit worker, or telecommuter working independently,cultivating homegrown innovation can be a challenge. That’s because almost everyindependent worker will eventually encounter—whether working from home or at apublic venue like a coffee shop—the greatest drawbacks of telecommuting and webworking: Isolation, lack of productivity, and distractions. The nemesis of every independentworker and telecommuter, this pesky trio, in turn, stifles innovation, creativity, andworker productivity. Studies done by American Express and British Telecom showed thattelecommuters can be 30 to 40 percent more productive than office-bound colleagues,possibly because telecommuters are known to start work earlier and end later.1However, the studies found that productivity eventually suffers without face-to-facecommunication. Isolation and achieving work/life balance are issues that stem fromworking alone at home. IBM employees allowed to work outside the office, forexample, suffered from low morale. They felt that strong ties to their colleagues weremissing, and that they didn’t receive adequate mentoring and passed-downinstitutional knowledge.2 The inside joke among employees in these situations wasthat IBM stood for “I’m by myself.” 19
20 | Working in the UnOffice | The difficulty with non-traditional work set-ups is that workers feel disconnected; and feelings of alienation and loneliness are common. Employees may also feel bypassed or overlooked for promotions. Most home workers, whether working for themselves or as telecommuters for other companies, have also discovered that it takes extreme discipline and self-control to ignore distractions at home—be it the laundry that needs to be done or a couch that begs to be napped on. Making business calls with squabbling children in the background also presents a problem, as does presenting a professional front when you have to entertain clients in your dining room. You can lose your edge by not being around other people, slacking off with your appearance (e.g., wearing your PJs and bunny slippers all day), or neglecting to step outside for days at a time (perusing Facebook and Twitter doesn’t qualify as contact with the outside world). Home-bound workers also report missing the stimulation of having other people to bounce ideas off of. So what are the 375 million independent and mobile workers around the world to do?3 Most have stepped out of their homes and into the field of libraries, cafés, and other public places. While these venues allow independents to be among other people, they still don’t offer much in terms of quality interaction. After all, in libraries you’re expected to keep silent; and it’s difficult, if not awkward, to start random conversations in a coffee shop with other patrons. And besides, in coffee shops and cafés, you also have more prosaic issues to deal with, like how much coffee you should buy to justify loitering all day, and how to safeguard your laptop and table beside the only socket in the room when you need that inevitable, caffeine-induced trip to the bathroom. Serviced offices or executive suites, while providing the needed amenities and space, can seem as if they were cloned from the cubicles of corporate offices. Other independents, usually friends or colleagues working on similar projects, sometimes decide to meet and hang out together while working. In San Francisco, a group of nomadic workers calling themselves “Bedouins”—after the Arabian desert wanderers—wander from coffee shop to coffee shop, mooching off Wi-Fi and table space in exchange for bought cups of latte and plates of pastries.4 Then there’s Jelly (workatjelly.com), the informal gathering of independents at a designated place, usually someone’s house, a coffee shop, or borrowed office, to collaborate, work, and socialize. Roommates Amit Gupta and Luke Crawford started Jelly in March 2006 from their New York City apartment because, as with other home-based workers, they missed the dynamics of being around other people.5 Anyone can organize a Jelly; you just have to arrange for Wi-Fi and the space. Jellies happen all over the world (in Philadelphia, the gatherings are called “Cream Cheese”), usually for a day, every other week. There are no fees, other than the cost of your own coffee, if you meet at a coffee shop.
| Coworking Deconstructed | 21 As the Google “grouplets,” business accelerators, and local Jellies and Meetupshave demonstrated, the community of others around you, doing things related to yourwork or completely unrelated—it doesn’t matter—and just being among othercreative people can enliven your own work. It was in this “I-want-to-work-alone-but-with-other-people” kind of environmentthat coworking as we know it was forged and born.Ditch the Dash, Rev Up aRevolution—Coworking Begins In the late 1990s, “co-working” was a term applied to web workers and theiranything-goes-strike-anywhere style of working. Then came the dot-com bust and theroad warrior lost some of his mojo; people slunk back to the cubes. But then Web 2.0and mobile technology happened—and something fundamentally changed.How Coworking Gets its Start The term “coworking” (minus the dash) made its debut into popular parlancearound 2005, around the time software programmer Brad Neuberg decided that hewanted both the structure and community of an office job and the freedom andindependence of a freelancer. He resuscitated the term “co-working”—a play on thecorporate, cubicle-tinged word, “co-worker”—removed the hyphen, and effectivelyjumpstarted the coworking revolution.6 Neuberg’s first coworking cooperative, the Spiral Muse Coworking, shared anold Victorian house with a wellness and massage center in San Francisco, CA.7Finally, in January 2007, Neuberg’s Hat Factory, the unofficial granddaddy of allcoworking spaces, opened its doors to the public (Sadly, it passed away in 2010.Under new management, Hat Factory is no longer available for coworking).8 Otherpioneers in coworking include Affinity Lab9 in Washington, D.C., Indy Hall inPhiladelphia; San Francisco’s Citizen Space; and Gangplank in locations in Arizona. Coworking spaces since 2005 have mushroomed in more than 50 countriesaround the world, numbering more than 64 in the Western U.S. alone.10Deskwanted, a coworking marketplace and directory, listed 820 spaces globally as ofMay 2011, a 17 percent increase between February and May alone.11 Deskmag’slatest findings show that coworking’s 380 spaces in North America are thriving—experiencing a 12 percent growth spurt in that same period. By the end of 2011,
22 | Working in the UnOffice | experts predict that the number of spaces will increase by 50 percent worldwide, a veritable coworking boom.12 Coworking Defined All in all, coworking has evolved into different formats and iterations. Coworking has acquired multiple definitions, with people defining it in their own way. According to Loosecubes community manager Anna Thomas, coworking is essentially a business model still in flux and trying to solidify its identity. “As coworking expands and morphs, I think larger ‘franchise’ models and small ‘grassroots’ spaces and communities will benefit from honing in on the discrete membership bases that need them to be productive in whichever way works best for them,” she tells us. “Coworking still isn’t a mainstream concept, and expansion of spaces and footprint will certainly help promote awareness of the movement.” So, there isn’t an official definition of coworking. It is a concept that continues to mature and find its bearings.13 But in general, coworking refers to the set-up and dynamics of a diverse group of people who don’t necessarily work for the same company or on the same project, working alongside each other, sharing the working space and resources, such as Internet connection, office equipment, and coffee. However, what sets coworking apart from mere shared office space is its focus on building community and collaboration, as well as the other values of openness, sustainability, and accessibility. Enshrined in the coworking movement is the philosophy that seemingly disparate groups of people with different projects and goals, working together yet independently in a single space, sharing facilities and establishing rapport with each other—can lead to mutual benefits. Differences matter. Coworking hinges on the belief that innovation and inspiration come from the cross-pollination of different people in different fields or specializations. Random opportunities and discoveries that arise from interactions with others—also dubbed “accelerated serendipity”—play a large role in coworking. The Appeal of Coworking For many, it might be puzzling to pay for a well-equipped space teeming with other people, even with the chance of free coffee and inspiration. You might ask yourself, “Well, why pay for a place to work when I’m perfectly comfortable at home and paying nothing?” Or, “Isn’t the whole point of telecommuting or starting my own business a chance to avoid ‘going to the office’?”
| Coworking Deconstructed | 23 Coworking may sound like an unnecessary expense, but let’s consider what youget from being a part of the space. First, there’s the sense of belonging that we derive from being part of a broadergroup. You aren’t just renting a desk or office space, and you aren’t just around peoplefor the sake of being around people. Throw people in a room—you may get a lot ofstaring and then a quick shuffle to hunker down with our laptops and smartphones.Throw people into a coworking space—something else happens entirely. What you pay for is membership, the right to belong. At the heart of coworking isbeing part of a larger community than even your existing colleagues and clients, but alsobeing part of a group of people just starting up or with similar goals. Others might seecompetition, but more people see potential connections. It’s good not only for yourmental health (no more sitting in pajamas alone at home), but also for your business.Affinity Lab claims that members “often partner with one another, backstopping andexpanding each other’s capabilities and skills or forming entirely new ventures.”14 Second, coworking takes freelancers, indie workers, and entrepreneurs, who feelthat they have been dormant or isolated working alone at home or who have beenmigrating from a coffee shop to a friend’s garage or languishing in a sterile businesscenter—to a space where they can truly roost. “We can come out of hiding,” acoworker tells us, “and be in a space that’s comfortable, friendly, and has an aestheticappeal that’s a far cry from the typical cookie-cutter office environment.”Coworking’s Core Values While coworking spaces may differ in their culture, amenities, design, and in-house rules, they share these same core values:15 • #1 Collaboration • #2 Community • #3 Sustainability • #4 Openness • #5 Accessibility#1 Collaboration One of the selling points of coworking—and something that will be hard to findanywhere else—is the wealth of knowledge that you can get working among a diversegroup of people with different skill sets, backgrounds, and experiences. Whether it’s
24 | Working in the UnOffice | making sense of your website’s HTML, hammering out a killer proposal, or even just making a barista-worthy pot of coffee in the kitchen, you’re bound to encounter someone who can help you. When Affinity Lab in Washington, D.C. decided to revamp its logo and business cards last year, it turned to its coworking space members. Berit Oskey, one of Affinity Lab’s co-founders recounts, “We used a Lab member designer to do the design work and an Affinity Lab brand expert to help us with refining the logo and finding us a high quality printer that could print and cut our unusual cards.” Felena Hanson of newly minted Hera Hub in San Diego, CA, a coworking space for women, emphasized how important it is for small businesses to find support. Not surprisingly, coworking makes finding help easy. Usually, someone in your community has what you need or can refer you to someone who can help. Felena—also an executive director of the San Diego chapter of Ladies Who Lunch, a national organization committed to supporting entrepreneurial women through education and community—describes how, “At least a dozen new business connections have been made since Hera Hub launched on April 15, 2011. For example, a woman in our community who is starting a line of women’s golf wear (Vivacity Sportswear) needed an experienced consultant to advise her on product development and distribution. Such an expert happened to be within the Hera Hub community (had over 20 years experience in the fashion industry) and the connection was made.” Group projects are often successful not because of one person’s technical prowess or brilliance, but because of how well the entire team functions as a whole. But building this fluency as a group can take time. Coworking offers the right environment to build and invest in that team-building. Alex Hillman of Indy Hall in Philadelphia describes how coworking allows people to get to know each other on a personal level first before linking up professionally. “[Coworking] has allowed us to form relationships with each other before a transaction takes place. I get to know my coworkers based on what they are interested in, what they like, what they do well, what they don’t do well, beyond just core competency. Then, when we’re working together it’s in a context that is more enjoyable because we have common interests beyond the money at the end of the rainbow,” he tells us. “Of the works that I have done in the last four years, I can tie them directly back to a relationship that was formed because of the Indy Hall community.” The collaborative opportunities in coworking spaces abound—and are a worthy investment. Jeff Shiau, director of The Hub Bay Area, says that prospective coworkers should look at the benefits beyond cost-savings. “You’re not just saving on rent, but you’re also able to make connections, to build a community around your ideas quickly—at a creative level that’s beyond what you would be able to do if you were
| Coworking Deconstructed | 25just working by yourself in a single office space, if you were working out of a coffeeshop, or working at home.” In essence, coworking enables the freelancer or the solopreneur to reach acertain level of creativity more quickly because of collaboration. Jeff Shiau uses themetaphor of density and critical mass cited in Stephen Johnson’s book Where GoodIdeas Come From to describe the benefits of coworking. “You look at these bigger cities,these condensed cities where people are frequently colliding, where people arefrequently having to compete against each other. Whether it’s friendly competition orfierce business competition, people are constantly interacting. There is a lot moreinnovation and creativity in these areas,” Jeff tells us. Jeff also notes how density in thenatural world forges biological ingenuity. “If you look at the Galapagos Islands, it’s asmall, condensed area, but it’s one of the most richly creative, innovative, evolvedcenters on the entire planet.”#2 Community There’s something to be said about being more productive when surrounded byother hopefully like-minded, driven, and creative people. Peer pressure, perhaps? Or,just plain encouragement and a recharging of mind and spirit. At CoCo based in Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN, members with a specificproblem can simply turn to neighbors and ask for advice. According to its founderKyle Coolbroth, who also runs creative design agency Unlimited Options out of thespace, “I’ve seen this time and time again where an individual is working on a projectand hits a wall or runs into a problem. Often, we see it with folks who are doingdesign work and run into a technical glitch or problem, and they’ve been able to pulltogether two or three programmers and ask for help. And within 15 minutes to anhour of exploration, they get the answer that they were looking for and othersuggestions. That’s a daily occurrence we see.” The community is really what sets a coworking space apart from any othernondescript shared office suite in a building somewhere. Cohere in Fort Collins, COhas been described in such glowing terms as “a safe place to be weird” to a “hotbed ofawesomeness” by its members. There is almost a communal pride in being part of thecoworking environment. Founder Angel Kwiatkowski tells us, “None of thesedescriptions would ever be said about a physical space.” And she’s right. “They’redescribing a feeling that they get from the community when they get here. In short,they’re talking about the soul of the community, which just happens to be tethered tothis physical space.”
26 | Working in the UnOffice | Angel Kwiatkowski points out how a member’s business dilemma spontaneously prompted outreach from members of the Cohere community. “Recently, a member shared on our Facebook group that she got burned by a client because she didn’t have a contract to use. The community immediately jumped in and started sending her copies of their contracts. By the end of the day, she had three examples of contracts. Later, I asked and scheduled a member to teach a lunch session on writing contracts. The class was full by the end of the day!” That’s what makes the coworking community so valuable and such an attractive option for small businesses and organizations—it provides daily learning experiences. A member makes a mistake, shares it with members directly or through the coworking space’s built-in forums—and everyone benefits. Jeff Shiau, director of The Hub Bay Area, tells us how access to its 800-member listserv solved a problem. “There was one member who was organizing a conference around solar energy. She had been working on the conference for six months before she joined the network. After six months of trying, she still could not lock down this one particular keynote speaker.” She sent an e-mail out to Hub members through the listserv. In the course of a day, she got a response from another member. “I’m actually friends with her,” the other member wrote back. They connected over e-mail and within two days she locked down the keynote speaker. Johnny Bilotta, a co-founding member of Indy Hall, calls his coworking space a “second home” for his graphical user interface design company GUIwerks LLC. He tells us about the strong community spirit that permeates the space. “It’s become a place that I believe in, and we show it with pride. We believe that members who come here and start to work with us also get that same buzz about the place.” The feeling of camaraderie that has developed through the community is similar to the fellowship and pride that sports fans often feel for their home team. When Indy Hall started selling apparel with the space’s logo on it, members eagerly snapped them up. “There’s nothing more rewarding than walking into your local bar and seeing six or seven of the same jackets just hanging out. It’s kind of like when you were in high school and you were part of a team; you know you’re part of that soccer team or that football team and you’re wearing your letters with pride,” Johnny enthuses. #3 Sustainability Rallying together for the environment, whether through using renewable materials, recycling, or conserving gasoline by biking, all coworkers are encouraged to do their part in helping Mother Earth.
| Coworking Deconstructed | 27 Cohere prides itself on the location of its space. Nestled in Fort Collins’ historiccenter, Cohere members have access to an array of local businesses. Founder AngelKwiatkowski tells us “Being near other local businesses is a perfect way for us tosupport our local economy. We go local for everything we need down here: coffee,food, groceries, vegetables, clothing, bicycles, and more!” Satellite Telework Centers in Northern California are “certified green” facilities.Co-founder Jim Graham tells us that the offices use “motion sensors on lighting, LEDand energy-efficient fluorescents, motion-sensing hand washing, natural lighting,recycled paper, and recycling baskets at every station.” By opening its doors to corporate employees and company consultants lookingfor a professional working environment, Satellite Telework gives workers “the optionof working closer to home, reducing time lost sitting in traffic, not to mention the cost-saving considering the price of gas,” says Jim Graham. This allows companies toreduce their facilities footprint and reduce costs. In small towns where you would think coworking would be an odd fit, not only isSatellite Telework Centers thriving (they are located in two towns outside Santa Cruz,California—Felton and Scotts Valley—and will eventually set up a space in Truckee inlate 2011), it is revitalizing the communities. Jim commented on how bringing peopleinto the centers can impact the small communities that surround them. Coworking isn’tsolely for big city and urban residents. It’s also a serious option for residents in smallercities and suburbs whose companies are based elsewhere. Jim explains, “The industry-accepted formula is that one full-time equivalent(FTE) employee supports 14 sq. ft. of retail space,” he explains. “It might not soundlike much, but each Satellite can support up to 40-50 FTEs (representing upward of200 members, since most of our members use the Satellite part-time).”Redevelopment agencies and city officials with an eye on sustainability often findcoworking spaces attractive for these reasons. The Hub Bay Area director Jeff Shiau talks about The Hub’s 31 locations, a globalnetwork that is ideal for international enterprises and business travel. “In the end, thewhole objective of the shared workspace is to become more sustainable. Large corporateoffice buildings where you have ten people using 50,000 sq. ft. are not sustainable.”#4 Openness The transparency and openness at coworking spaces may leave some peopleleery, especially those who worry about exposing trade secrets and risks toconfidentiality. But, proponents of coworking believe that everyone can benefit when
28 | Working in the UnOffice | ideas are freely shared; hence, they encourage open spaces and discussions. Some spaces, like Citizen Space, don’t even allow non-disclosure agreements.16 Think the spirit of community only comes from coworking members? At many coworking spaces, the boundaries of community are quite fluid. At Coworking Rochester, its founder offers the space free of charge to groups whose goals and visions he believes in. Founder David Moffitt tells us, “BarCamp Rochester is one of the groups we host. They gather at Coworking Rochester to discuss technology- related issues in an ad-hoc gathering born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment.” Meetings culminate in an event each spring with technology discussions, demos, and interaction from attendees. In this way, David’s coworking space becomes a perfect launch pad for bigger events. Many organizations also use his space as neutral ground to hold meetings. “Many of the board members, CEOs, and other higher-ups of larger businesses would find meeting in their own offices too difficult,” David explains. Coworking Rochester provides the perfect venue. Satellite Telework Centers also does something similar. “A key part of our business model is we open up the facilities to community groups to use for their meetings and events, although events here could be anything of interest to the general community—not just tech-related,” says Jim Graham, its co-founder. “We live in a small town, and we understand how tough it is for groups to find places to meet. This increases utilization during off-peak hours and gets a lot of people through the door that might not otherwise come in.” #5 Accessibility An important feature of coworking is providing a space to work that is financially affordable, as well as physically accessible. In particular, coworking spaces ease the burden for small businesses just getting off the ground. They provide the necessary infrastructure without the heavy out-of-pocket financial investment. Rather than every business buying their own photocopy machines and laser printers, they can share the equipment with several businesses. Berit Oskey from Affinity Lab pointed out, “If you’re lucky enough to qualify for a lease (as we were) you get locked into 5-7 year terms and you’re not sure if you will grow into the space in that time or grow out of it by the middle of the term. Also, as a small business, you end up spending a lot of your time focusing on your business infrastructure—getting Internet set-up, troubleshooting your wireless, setting up cleaning services and trash pickup, getting a copier lease, fighting with the local phone
| Coworking Deconstructed | 29company when something goes wrong. These issues take you away from your corecompetency and keep your business from being more successful.” 24/7 access is also important. Jim Graham describes how the use of RFID-baseddoor locks on the outer doors, private offices, and meeting rooms enables theirmembers at Satellite Telework Centers to access buildings and facilities any time ofthe day. They can track when people enter and leave the building for extra security,and they can also charge people only for the time they are inside the building. Thiskind of RFID-based access is used by many coworking sites to give their membersaccess outside peak hours during evenings and weekends. “The goal is to allowmembers to work where they want, when they want,” Jim tells us. ThinkSpace founder Peter Chee tells us that coworking’s accessibility amounts toa paradigm-shift in the concept of work. “I think that companies themselves arerecognizing that they need to be a little bit more flexible for their employees. Theydon’t need their employees to work in a central headquarters building anymore.Employees can get the work done at a remote location somewhere closer to theirhomes. I see coworking spaces popping up and filling that need,” he says. This makes coworking appealing to companies looking for telecommutingoptions for their employees: to save money and to give their workers more options.“Also, our energy crisis is going to have an impact on this as well. I think that peopledo not want to travel as far to work. With the cost of gasoline going up, people wouldrather work closer to where they live,” Peter adds.State of the [Coworking] NationA Very Happy Bunch Just how satisfied are coworkers with their coworking experience? Deskmagconducted a first-ever Global Coworking Survey to find out. Of the 661 coworkerssurveyed from 24 countries, almost 75 percent reported being “very happy” with theircoworking space; only eight percent was disappointed.17 Only 12 percent reported nothaving better interactions with others, and only 15 percent said they were not bettermotivated working with others. “Happy” doesn’t even begin to capture the brightened moods of members whorun their businesses and organizations out of coworking spaces. Here’s AngelKwiatkowski’s take on a typical bad day at her space. “A ‘bad’ day at Cohere is whenthe weather is awesome and everyone skips out on work to be outside! It makes for apretty boring day, and we’ve been known to shut down early when stellar weatherhits,” she tells us.
30 | Working in the UnOffice | In general, coworkers feel good about the way they work. About half of Deskmag’s survey respondents in the same study said they started working in teams more often. Work/life balance seems more achievable, with 60 percent organizing their day better so they can spend more time at home, and 60 percent indeed relaxing more at home. Income for 42 percent of the respondents increased when they joined their coworking space—a good reason for buoyant moods—and only 5 percent reported income loss. Coworker Envy Coworking is also causing a stir among those who haven’t tried it yet. According to Deskmag, 65 percent of non-coworkers expressed serious interest in coworking, but about a third said there were no coworking spaces nearby. On the other hand, 12 percent said that lack of finances kept them from trying out a space, since a number of them were looking for jobs.18 Paradoxically, it’s the people who can’t afford the space that need it more, since joining a coworking space has proven to increase job opportunities, develop networks, and increase income. Founder David Moffitt of Coworking Rochester points out how many uninitiated get hooked. “Many of our members have come here to just try it once instead of the coffee shop or other area with free Wi-Fi they would usually go to,” he tells us. “But after their first taste, they were hooked on the idea and have remained with us ever since. They’ve reported it’s difficult to go back and have to fight for space or rely on slow, spotty Internet connections when they know we’re right downtown in a convenient location with all the amenities they desire available.” Mostly Men, Mostly Freelancers, and Independent Workers (for now…) There are two male coworkers to every one female coworker, and 54 percent of all coworkers are freelancers (working solo).19 Twenty percent are entrepreneurs who have their own employees and another one-fifth are telecommuting employees from small companies. Most of the coworkers are web developers or programmers, who are also the best paid, according to Deskmag. The lowest incomes go to the artists. Mid-range earnings go to the rest: graphic designers, press agents, architects, journalists, and those engaged in non-commercial activities. Despite this wide range of earnings, 55 percent of respondents think that they are in the middle-income bracket, less than 20 percent live on below-average income, and 25 percent earn above national average.