Coworking communities – Chapter 4

Chapter 4

Let’s get together: Communities and culture in the workspace.

Our workplaces are communities, our colleagues are our neighbours, but where did neighbourliness go? Our new workspaces are exploring community once again and waving goodbye to the cubicle. This chapter looks at community-building, openness and collaboration.

Some recent research I did on neighbourhoods for another recent project has a lot of parallels with our coworking environments, the relationship between members in a coworking environment is often a neighbourly one – a view also shared by C. Spinuzzi in his paper Working alone together (see infographics from chapter 1). What we found When we looked at neighbourhoods in urban environments was, that people where disconnected to their neighbours. They had more trust in the people they would interact with on the internet, They sometimes wouldn’t interact with their neighbours at all. We found that every community could be dissected into Community Leaders, Supporters and the Crowd, and that at each level required a different kind of empowerment and action that was required of them. Because people had no connection to their neighbours they where not always compelled to look after their building or surrounding area.

Neighbourliness was often successful when there was a champion, a community leader who would act and inspire others to act much like described by Clay Shirkey in Here comes everybody, the easiest step is to share, action becomes the most difficult:

“You can think of group undertaking as a kind of ladder of activities, activities that are enabled or improved by social tools. The rungs on the ladder, in order of difficulty, are sharing, cooperation, and collective action. Sharing creates the fewest demands on the participants.” 1.5 Here comes everybody


FIG 8 – The ladder of community activity

Also neighbourliness was successful when people needed the resources of others, when you need to borrow something – Here are the people who are need me they do all these things that could be of value to me but if i don’t speak engage them i will never know and it will be a missed opportunity.There are many projects out there trying to solve this problem of disconnect out there and they all come to similar conclusions of inclusion and empowerment, but also of shared resources of skill share the ability to view the skills of others, to see what available resources could be round your corner, interestingly Alex Hillman mentions in my conversation that,

“The difficulty was being able to find people to add to that network, because it was very dependant on having trust and relationships with people that I could collaborate with so I started looking elsewhere beyond my own backyard and found that it was easier to find people in other cities than it was in my own and that was weird and frustrating.” 3.11

Creating a coworking space was his way of bringing the right people around him, building his own network of available resources. Because of the nature of the space and its selling points, this is not one organisation but it is a group of many and organising groups the bigger they get get’s harder. and it can’t be done by command and control either, because the success of the space relies on the success of the people and the community within in it and to allow people to flourish you have to empower them to create that community themselves.

“The key thing is to get the social engagement. Community-building has to happen first; people need to articulate what’s broke, and then what they want.” (Dr. Jackson Designing Healthy Communities) 4.26

In creating that community the desired effect is one of decentralisation, where there is no one person who can leave the space and destroy the community much like a city according to Steve Johnson 2.6

“The power of a city is their decentralisation from function. There’s no one place you could destroy to make it fail. The system still thrives after 9/11.” The web as a city – Steve Johnson 2.6

In-fact the coworking movement use this decentralisation in their group “logo” they use the starfish and the spider metaphor, inspired by the book The Starfish and the Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom, which “explores the phenomenal and unstoppable new power of the starfish organisations and will change the way you look at the world.”

The metaphor:

“Cut off the leg of a spider, and you have a seven-legged creature on your hands; cut off its head and you have a dead spider. But cut off the arm of a starfish and it will grow a new one. Not only that, but the severed arm can grow an entirely new body. Starfish can achieve this feat because, unlike spiders, they are decentralised; every major organ is replicated across each arm.” 1.6

The coworking movement itself is decentralised but the spaces themselves should strive for the same ideals – Empower people to build their own community, everyone in your space should be an instigator of something, of starting random conversations, of being the one who sends funny links on you tube of being the party starter, the cake bringer, the luncheon organiser the lecture giver the networker there are many roles to play and a space is full of people with many talents for instigating community. The benefit of our current state is that we don’t have to be all doing the same thing, every coworking space has a different mix of vocations.

“For too long we have had doctors talking only to doctors, and urban planners, architects, and builders talking only to themselves. The point is that all of us, including those in public health, have got to get out of the silos we have created, and we have got to connect—actually talk to each other before and while we do our work—because there is no other way we can create the environment we want.” 4.27 How “Small Change” Leads to Big Change: Social Capital and Healthy Places

A successful space doesn’t actually require a lot of staff, and a big budget, Indy Hall with 2 floors of a building in Philadelphia only have 2 staff to keep Indy Hall going because they have a culture of self leadership

“I haven’t actually run my space in close to 4 years now, and we’re a little over 5 years old. About one and a half years into us running a space I brought on help for the first time and have been working really hard to make sure that Indy Hall does Beautiful things without me. So that’s a combination of whoever is working here as well as our members and for the first time we’ve actually hired a second person, so there is now a team. But we run a pretty light operation and still manage to do a whole lot.” Alex Hillman Interview 3.11

1871 In Chicago have a 7 staff to 500 visitors daily,

“There’s 7 of us and 500 people here everyday, so its a lot to manage and a lot to handle. But because our staff is so small I think a lot of the members take it on themselves to be a starter, to create a group for developers or a luncheon for women.” Caity Moran 1871 3.4

A successful community in a coworking space will be one that self organises, where the members are empowered to act in the groups interests – One where the group takes charge of it’s own culture and where it wants to go, defining their own subtle rules of play. The larger the group gets, the more important it will be that they can self organise, that they feel empowered to create their own gatherings and events and that they feel it’s their responsibility to make the connections needed to sustain the community.

“Who decides that SoHo should have this personality and that the Latin Quarter should have this personality? There are some kind of executive decisions, but mostly the answer is — everybody and nobody.” 2.6 Steve johnson* The web as a city

“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.” 1.2 Working in the Unnoffice

Take aways

Community is the key to the new workplace, culture is king – A shared goal and identity, where the individual CAN be an individual is what separates the new from the old workplace. Everyone can be an instigator.