While coworking was developed to be something anyone could take and run with, the people who are responsible for shaping it into a global movement recognized the need to articulate some of the key elements that make coworking the special thing that it is.
To that end, these leaders, along with the participation of the global coworking community, adopted a set of five core values that collectively epitomize what coworking is about.
These values are important, because they’re what stand between coworking as a unifying movement and simply a different kind of way to rent office space. To really get at the core of what makes coworking so transformative and important, one must look to the ingredients behind the word. These are the ingredients.
In the context of coworking… I believe that a focus on community means putting emphasis on the people, their interactions, and the relationships that form above everything else. At Indy Hall, every decision we make considers members and their opportunities to interact with one another.
– Alex Hillman, of Indy Hall, in his post about this core value.
When I think of openness, I think of “freedom”, “forkability”, and “interoperability.” Regardless of the definition of “open” or “openness” that you use — yes, you must always fight for openness, and you must always fight for decisions to be made that are more transparent, more expansive, more liberal, and more inclusive. This should be the case for both moral and economic reasons. When I think of openness I also think of biology and the human body. The human body is an “open system” and thrives because of its openness. The human body is constantly exchanging things it values little for things it values more. Whether you’re talking about oxygen and CO2 or nutrients and waste, the body cycles – value in and waste excreted. It requires openness to live.
– Chris Messina, one of the founders of the coworking movement, in this interview
See more in-depth thoughts from Indy Hall’s Alex Hillman on Openness here.
Coworking spaces are great places to learn how to be a better collaborator. The founders of the best coworking spaces tend to look to their members as collaborators more than customers… the members who work together – not just with each other but with the space itself – tend to have the deepest bond with the community.
New members see this as something they want and can have for themselves, and along the way not only learn how to model good collaborator behaviors from other members but become new models themselves.
– Alex Hillman, of Indy Hall, in his post about this core value.
When one hears the word sustainability, “green” or “eco-friendly” often comes to mind. It certainly does for me, and that sort of sustainability is definitely, in my opinion, an integral part of coworking.
… But, there’s a lot more to “sustainability” than buying recycled paper. Look up the word “sustainability” in Webster’s (online) dictionary and you’ll see “of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged,” and, of course, “capable of being sustained.”
Exploring further, we see that “sustain” means:
- to give support or relief to
- to supply with sustenance: nourish
- keep up, prolong
- to support the weight of
- to buoy up
And, THIS is where sustainability starts to get really interesting. Sustainability in a coworking community is about supporting, nourishing, about “buoying up” our fellow coworkers. It’s about giving, about contributing, for it is through these actions that the community itself – made up of individual people – is sustained. Much of this happens organically, serendipitously, as members of a coworking community work in close proximity to each other. Conversation turns into collaboration. One member overhears a conversation about website content curating and joins to offer some tips he learned in a recent class. Another needs a PHP programmer for a project and finds one looking for work at the next table. A member with a well established business and local connections sees promise in a new member and takes him under her wing. Next thing you know, that new member’s business is growing and he is now reaching out to help others. There’s a “pay it forward” vibe to a sustainable coworking community.
Sustainability is also about continuity, about keeping something going over time, about a “method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged”. I love this little dose of wisdom from Ron Finley in his TED Talk, “A Guerilla Gardener in South Central LA“: “The thing about sustainability is you have to sustain it.” Sustainability requires a contained system or process that can continue without drawing upon resources outside that system. Put plainly, as applied to coworking spaces, it means making sure our businesses, our communities, are structured in a way that a continuous loop of giving and receiving balances out so that the community can persist.
– Julia Ferguson, of Cowork Frederick, in this post.
One of the unique elements of coworking is that anybody who can work from anywhere can do it. You don’t even need a special coworking space to do it. You can cowork in a living room, or a park, or even somebody else’s office. But the key element here is self-selection.
If you think about it, it’s actually pretty remarkable. A coworking space is one of the only places in the world where every single person in the room is there because they chose to be. An environment composed of willing self-selected participants is a remarkably positive and productive place to work, as you’ll find out talking to anybody who coworks. I think that many people who cite unusual productivity levels from working at a coworking space are actually feeling the benefits of a) choosing for themselves where to work for the day and b) being surrounded by others who choose where they work for the day.
The key to this interaction even being possible, though, is that the coworking space allows the members and participants to self select themselves in.
An application process, is the “baby with the bathwater” scenario for this problem. While an application process may keep people out, or keep things “balanced”, you are also likely to be keeping out people that you don’t intend to because you hadn’t considered them viable members.
Over the last 4 years, we’ve had many people surprise us. Maybe their experience level seemed lower than average. Maybe their social skills needed a little work. Maybe they were shyer. Maybe they were boisterous. Maybe they were snarky. Maybe they were know-it alls. In time, most of those attributes vanished. They started to be themselves, instead of the person they thought they had to be. And in the best cases, they improved themselves over time. When you have the vantage point of watching somebody progress their personal and professional skills over the course of a few years, you’ll surprised how much people can grow. If you let them.
Coworking as a melting pot allows all of these extremes to normalize on their own. It trusts that when people have to actually deal with other people instead of have managers, mediators, or human resources solve their problems for them – most of the time, things work themselves out.
– Alex Hillman, of Indy Hall, in this post.
What about other values?
To be a coworking space, you don’t need to espouse these exact values, but the more you align with the social needs among your would-be members that are behind what makes these values so popular, the more coworking you’ll be.
In other words, you don’t have to adopt the 5 Core Values to be a coworking space, but do adopt some values, and make them yours.
Along the way, a Coworking Manifesto project has sought to go further to articulate the values and intentions behind the coworking movement. It emphasizes:
- collaboration over competition
- community over agendas
- participation over observation
- doing over saying
- friendship over formality
- boldness over assurance
- learning over expertise
- people over personalities
- “value ecosystem” over “value chain”