The changing nature of work and the workplace has led to the booming growth of coworking spaces around the world, catering to the self-employed, remote workers and innovation-minded entrepreneurs. For instance, in a city like New York, there are over 70 coworking spaces in Manhattan alone, and more than 50 in Brooklyn according to Crain's.
But that proliferation has resulted in what some are calling "sterile" coworking spaces that provide the basic amenities, but don't offer much by the way of intangibles like community building and professional development, laments Amanda Schnieders over at Entrepreneurship:
There's been a growing resurgence of working areas of long tables with copious amounts of whiteboards. They call them co-working spaces. Since the coining of the phrase in the early 2000s, they've grown into warehouse size places with cubical conference rooms and modern furniture, becoming a hip thing for entrepreneurial ecosystems and startups across the globe. But recently, I've come to a realization: Co-working spaces are lame.
How are vibrant coworking spaces created?
But there are exceptions, and Core77 highlights one example, namely Brooklyn's Friends Work Here. Founded by NYC-based Swiss-born designer and entrepreneur Tina Roth-Eisenberg, who's also behind the international lecture series CreativeMornings and Tattly, the space came as a response to Roth-Eisenberg's negative experiences in "soulless" coworking places that are more focused on making money than cultivating inspiration among its members.
Roth-Eisenberg's secret? "I don't run Friends like a business," she says. "I need to cover my costs, but my ultimate goal is not to make money; my goal is to create what I call my 'happy place', the environment that keeps me creatively excited and stimulated."
To create this kind of inspirational coworking community space, Roth-Eisenberg says that Friends does have a preliminary screening process -- the reason being that one needs to surround oneself with inspiring people if one is to become inspired:
Their goals become your goals, their measures become your measures. So we want to make sure the people are super talented here. It sounds elitist, but you know, I want to look up to the person who sits across from me. So there's that, and then it just comes down to personality. Like humility: people who are kind, resourceful, helpful. I look at Friends as a community, a very intentional work community.
Coworking space as intentional communityThe most intriguing point here is that a successful coworking space is envisioned as an intentional community of sorts, embedded in the city. Whether they take the form of cohousing communities, ecovillages, cooperatives or tiny house pocket neighbourhoods, intentional communities are just that: a group of people who have come together under a common vision, sharing resources and developing communal cohesion through mutual aid and teamwork.
It's fitting too how an outstanding coworking community is described with terms we might be more familiar in the sustainability movement: Roth-Eisenberg also adds that sharing a workspace is also about having members take care of each other in an "ecosystem" that values beneficial interactions, whether it's networking or sharing skills. Monthly potlucks certainly help, ensuring members get to know each other informally. Size matters too, as Roth-Eisenberg points out in another interview:
Unlike most co-working spaces, I believe in keeping things small. Small community, small space. I don’t believe in looking at it like a business. A co-working space should have a value system in place that everyone understands, that creates a kind, safe, supportive environment where people feel at home. In our workspace agreement, we have a line that says, Don’t be a douche. And I’m serious about that.
It's an interesting way to look at this growing trend; there's more to coworking than just "sharing desks". To make a coworking space actually work, there has to be a common vision, a shared identity of sorts, allowing for deeper connections between its members to happen, and a desire to develop an underlying support system that keeps people engaged and makes them feel like they belong. We might be used to hearing this in regards to alternative communities of all stripes, but it's refreshing to hear it too to describe the new workplaces that we now see emerging.