People who cowork – Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Hacking your job: Exploring the individuals involved and their motivations.

For many people now is the moment to explore new ways of creating opportunities for themselves and finding new solutions to work and work spaces, here I explore the individuals involved in these workspaces, The decisions that lead people into coworking spaces and what types of people use these new workplaces. The reasons that motivate the people who work in new spaces and the reasons they create the spaces.

I interviewed a number of space owners during my research and asked them what lead them to create their space:

“At the time it wasn’t really about coworking it was just about getting people together and sharing and getting to know each other and the result of doing that, for the better part of a year, was that we all wanted to be around each other more often including when we where working and so a physical place started to make more sense… and along the way one of the people I’d met was interested in partnering with me on that.”

Alex Hillman Interview 3.11

“Basically since I was just going crazy working out of my house and if you go to a coffee shop the wifi sucks, Luckily some guys that were involved in the old space here they still wanted to see coworking happen, so we ended up in a space above a coffee shop.”

Nick CoworkBuffalo Interview 3.9

“A transitional stage in my career, looking to do something different and at the same time our other investor Brian was working out of a space similar to this, a shared office setting. We’ve been friends for a long time and we’ve always talked about doing something out of the norm of the corporate business world because we’ve both had jobs in a corporate setting. Coworking feels like your taking a step away from that world and into a world where you’re more in control of your own surroundings, your own lifestyle, your own work environment so the general feel of it was appealing to us so after learning a bit about the space that Brian was in and what was inciting about it and what was not so inciting about and we thought this is a good opportunity to create something we really do like.”

Patrick Onward Coworking Interview 3.3

The common story with space owners is that they create the space firstly from a personal need and secondly from viewing the people around them with a similar need. I gained an impression of the people who work in coworking environments and their backgrounds by observations in The Coop, Observations at spaces visited, data from DeskMag’s Global coworking Surveys, The coworking google group and other anecdotes from Working alone together and Working in the Unoffice. The people in these workplaces are driven by common circumstances, I have put together this infographic showing the common paths that I have found lead to coworking. FIG 6


FIG 6 – Common paths to coworking infographic

According to DeskMag’s Third Global coworking Survey **2.2** 53% of all coworkers in 2012 where defined as Freelancers, The rest where made up of: Entrepreneurs with employees 14%, Employees of small companies 5 or less people 9%, Employees of companies with 6-99 employees 9%, 100 or more employees 6% and Other 8%. These freelancers, 1,2 and 3 in our infographic here, are what is classed as the independent workforce, A recent report by The MBO partners independent workforce index reported in September 2012 that the independent workforce in America had grown by almost 1 million workers in the last year, from 16 to 17 million and is expected to reach 23 million in 5 years.

“The total independent workforce grew, and so too did the projected future size of this workforce, to be as many as 23-million strong in the next five years.”

These independent workers are typically what’s known as knowledge workers, people who ‘think for a living’ a knowledge worker typically spends 38% of their time looking up information, the task of their work being – “non routine problem solving involving convergent, divergent and creative thinking.”4.24 With a what tends to be a background in education and often also the creative industries. This is echoed in my case study at The Coop where the job spread of my 7 subjects was: Service Community manager, P.H.D Student, Consultant Statistician, Software Engineer, Web Developer, UX/Product designer and an Illustrator. Coworking spaces suit these people because they get the opportunity to work the way that suits them without the pressure of the office environment or the boss standing over your shoulder, for a creative thinker and problem solver it can be more inspiring to be surrounded by people in other fields, with varied knowledge than to be in the same space with other people working on the same thing. As stated by some of the participants at The Coop. 3.10

“Coworking is a good way to interact with people outside of my own field”

“You meet people you would never come across normally”

One of the most interesting questions around coworking especially for the uninitiated is what motivates people who have a home office to pay for a coworking space instead? For the most part people are driven by the social aspect of coworking. We are social beings, we can’t help it. As we see in the infographic it’s a frustration of lack of companionship and inspiration from others which could include advice, feedback or just someone to brainstorm with.

“Our social nature even shows up in negation. One of the most severe punishments that can be meted out to a prisoner is solitary confinement; even in a social environment as harsh and attenuated as prison, complete removal from human contact is harsher still. Our social life is literally primal, in the sense that chimpanzees and gorillas, our closest relatives among the primates, are also social.”

(Here comes everybody) 1.5

Christoph Fahle a Founder Betahaus in berlin makes an interesting statement in the film ‘People in Beta’ filmed by KS12. 2.7 

“Most of my time I spent at university. I didn’t particularly study there but I liked spending time there, and at the end of my studies I thought, how could I have a similar surrounding or similar place without studying. The things that are good in university should continue in our lives. The way you meet people… you spend time together on a course for like 3 months, 4 months and then you split, and then you meet new people for 3 or 4 months, you do projects together and that was an excellent pattern in my opinion, I never got bored.”

2.7 Christoph Fahle – Founder Betahaus

Though it hasn’t been mentioned much in research, I can see exactly what Christoph is referring to as being a more underlying driving force for the majority of people in these spaces, especially seeing as the demographics currently in coworking spaces are mid twenties to late thirties and the current population spends longer in school than it has ever in history 4.2 University, especially with group work is a place where your responsibilities are to yourself and to your peers, which fosters more self expression and even productivity. From a personal point of view I can see very much why he would want to recreate that kind of structure for himself, coming from a university situation where it was very much a community, having also been in a more traditional work situation, the benefits of a good communal, sharing, classroom environment you become aware of the pace of renewal and learning that you can achieve in short time spans.

Why do I have to wake up early, why do I have to live and work on someone else’s terms, we know how to work, we’ve spent all that time in our lives self motivating, to do hours upon hours of school work, college work, university work, yet we have to wake up for “The Man” and thats what it is, an old school fight back against “The Man”, but it’s a fight that can be won by working hard, proving ourselves and thriving.

“Boomers (ages 50-66) chose independent work because they’re fed up with the politics and lack of security in the traditional workplace.”

2.3 The MBO partners state of independent workforce index

Trust plays a big part here, a remote worker is trusted to spend the amount of time working he or she says they will and to do the tasks correctly and efficiently, to communicate and be honest. It is this that will allow us to have a happy working situation, a bond of trust between company & worker, freelancer & company, freelancer & customer, coworker & coworker.

“The transition from Organization Man to free agent is both a cause and a consequence of another profound economic and social change: Power is devolving from the organization to the individual. The individual, not the organization, has become the economy’s fundamental unit.”

1.3 Free Agent Nation 2002

There are other people who’s first priority is not the social aspect but the advantages it can bring to their company. It’s currently not a common thing but it’s increasing. In some instances people are placed, or place themselves in coworking environments because it benefits their work to be around, knowledge workers and start-ups or tech businesses. For example Susan Sobbott, president of American Express OPEN says:

“We try to learn from companies,” she continues, speaking of the customers she serves. “Not only because I’ve fallen in love with them, but because they inspire us to get to know them better.” To that end, American Express OPEN took up residence at one of the co-working spaces owned by tech incubator WeWork Labs. “We do that so our team can walk outside their little glass cube and interact with business owners who are around them and say, ‘What do you think about this or that?’” Her team also works closely with another co-working space, General Assembly”.

Susan Sobbott in Google Think 4.1

Gigoam 4.20 points out the 5 reasons to put workers into coworking spaces:

  1. Coworking is like a non-stop trade show.
  2. Coworking provides office structure without office stricture.
  3. Coworking encourages work-life balance.
  4. Coworking is creative.
  5. Coworking is human.

Spaces like 1871 in Chicago encourage residents from other institutions and companies at the mutual benefit of their members, they have a number of universities and brands who spend time in the space, give lectures and in turn gain direct access to potential investments and talent.

In chapter 1, on structure, I talk about what i’ve called “Coworking labs”, Coworking spaces created as a means of innovation for bigger companies like ING, StateFarm and Google to have access to their customers. The driving forces here are mixed, these spaces tend to be free drop-in coworking, which means no one is paying for a monthly membership and the customers are less regular which provides a more coffee shop, internet cafe type environment. Some of these spaces offer free events and advice, for example Statefarm and ING both offer free finance advice within their space, no obligation to take it but it has been extremely popular, people prefer the environment, how approachable it is in comparison to their bank branch. Currently there seems to be no real downside to either party in this exchange and they are a particularly good solution for smaller neighbourhoods and communities, the community get a place to work with free wifi, cheap coffee their not obliged to buy anything or take the free advice, the space owners get a place where they can study how best to treat and advise their customers, they can innovate outside the confines of the normal structure of other branches. And other things come along with this like brand awareness and brand loyalty.

Take aways

When you cross digital natives with knowledge workers what you get are individuals who are ready to engineer their own opportunities. People cowork because other people cowork, it’s biggest selling point is social, the idea benefits all parties, when you choose to work on what you love and you choose to do that around people who can broaden your mind then you have a happier work life balance. The benefits are also starting to be seen by other industries and big companies and coworking could become something you are asked to do a few times during the week or month as part of your future employment.