Future of Coworking – Chapter 7

Chapter 7

Outward not inward: Communes for the digital age.

What does the future hold for the working environment? In this chapter I will explore the future and some suggestions as to what could lie ahead based on my research and observations. Excuse this chapter for being overly grandiose and utopian. Looking at coworking’s history is a little too short to reveal the pattern of what might come next but looking instead at the history of the workplace and also our employment can tell us that it is always evolving and that we have reached the tipping point of the current standard set up and people are now exploring new options – it’s time for new workspaces..

The idea of sharing and of collaborative consumption makes sense to people again, after years of consumerism we are possibly and hopefully on the brink of another evolution in our behaviours – sharing in the digital landscape.

“In the UK, there are more than 100,000 people on the waiting list for an allotment (a plot of land that can be rented by an individual for growing fruits and vegetables) and in some parts of London the wait is up to forty years.” 1.1 What’s Mine Is Yours

There is a hunger there for a better way of life (a ‘good life’ you might say) but like I said the current situation is that it is a little bit the privilege of the middle class and before it can move forward it needs to cross more borders and become a viable option to more people to become a success. This is where I think content will come in to play. My final question to my interviewees was “what’s next for your space?” and almost everyone specified providing content in some form. From just wanting to have more speakers lecture in their space, to provide classes (Grinders have skillshare classes http://grindspaces.com/blog/) to the more advanced undertakings like 1871’s notion to provide content both offline and online, paid for and free for the public.

If the “global economy is in transition to a ‘knowledge economy’” 4.5 then how will coworking fit into this? Well if our main protagonists are Knowledge workers then it stands to reason that they will seek to educate themselves and with this many spaces have sidelines in lectures and providing content along with ING and NextDoor and many many others. Sharing knowledge and resources is a motivator for many coworkers, it creates value in the community.

Education will play a big part in the future of spaces and educational institutions will blend between online (skillshare) and offline but amongst communities large and small. With traditional education lagging in some parts and flourishing in others like MIT online lecture series, Code academy, Starter league, General assembly, education is becoming more equal in it’s accessibility, the best education in any subject can be gained over the internet already and that part is only going to get better.

“Teaching must be a shared assignment” 4.32 willworkfor.org

It’s not yet here on a grad enough scale but we are definitely edging towards Daniel’s vision in Free Agent Nation, in 2002,

“Lego careers. Instead of climbing a prefabricated ladder, rung by rung, in a predetermined order, careers will have much greater variety. People will assemble and reassemble them much as kids play with Legos. The pieces will be contacts, skills, desires, and available opportunity—and people will build impermanent structures with infinite, idiosyncratic variations.” 1.3 Free Agent Nation

Cospace is one of the number of online directories available for finding coworking spaces, younger than some of the others, Cospace’s aims merge searching for collaborative spaces with education and talent acquisition. The test for them though will be whether they can reach critical mass to run an effective service.

“We all fundamentally agree education, particularly continuous education or lifelong learning, is the key to innovation and the vitality of our communities.” 3.33 Cospace

Think about the neighbourhood research from chapter 005 what we saw there was that neighbourliness was about allowing people to interact again and creating tools to allow people to share and contribute in their own ways creating value through community and through shared resource and skills this has been taken further by the Internet shoe superstore Zappos with their ‘Downtown Project’. Zappos core values centre around the best customer service, their company is built on the goal “Regardless of our structure, our goal is to position Zappos as the online service leader”

The downtown project Las Vegas – mega coworking spot. A $350 million dollar investment in Downtown Las Vegas Fremont East, It will be the large Internet superstore Zappos new headquarters but with marked differences from other large corporate headquarters, Investing that money in Small Businesses, Tech Startups, Education, Arts & Culture and Residential and real estate. The goals of the community* are to create the most community focused large city in the world and the coworking capital of the world. Accelerating serendipity – creating new third places trying to build them into urban areas to create a better balance and avoid the city being the places where only people work and not live. The ideal is that ‘The small businesses should contribute to the community in some way’. 4.34

And where are these new centres likely to be, we can predict Tel Aviv, (Second top of the Start up genome’s study FIG 10) where Google have opened their second ‘Campus’ or any other Start-up Ecosystem. 

“Unsurprisingly, atop the rankings sits Silicon Valley, which remains the mecca of entrepreneurship and was used as a baseline from which to compare the rest of the list. Coming in second is Tel Aviv, followed by Los Angeles, Seattle, New York City and Boston, before crossing the Atlantic to London — which ranked as the largest ecosystem in Europe. While five of the top startup ecosystems in the world are in the U.S., the rest of the world is catching up.” Techcruch.com 4.23


FIG 11 – Start up ecosystems chart from The Startup Genome

Coworking spaces and in-fact all of these distributed groups and networks we have right now from everything between online forums and spaces like betahaus berlin are like communes for the digital age the difference between these communes and the ones of the 1840s until the 80s is that they are outward facing rather than inward facing a commune meant that people would share common interests, resources and labour and barter and trade with no need for a currency other than reputation, there is very little hierarchy in the traditional commune but none of this ever stretched beyond the borders of their own group, it was very difficult to agree on many rules without hierarchy and difficult to keep that reputation within large numbers, they where particularly selfish out with their own community. Now what we see with our current communities that have evolved online and through digital means is an outward facing proposition the individual creates a community for the good of the wider community the small commune befits everyone like coworking space ‘Downtown Project’ and NextDoor Chicago, can all be part of more than one commune. even more so when it comes to online communities like Craigstlist, ebay, Facebook or Spotify.

The Federation of intentional communities. Which can be ecovillages, Farm cooperatives, communes, urban housing cooperatives, student coops, co-housing communities states this on their homepage:

“projects where people strive together with a common vision”

sound quite familiar?, well that’s because it’s what coworking is about. Within our lifetime 75% of all people will live in cities. These people with have need for new kinds of third spaces. More of these spaces like Zappos the Downtown project replacing the long gone community centres and village squares of the past to create new third places where coworking is one part of a whole environment, focussed around the local community needs. If government doesn’t catch on then big businesses will look to follow Zappos’ lead.

Take aways

The movement is thoroughly underway there’s no denying it and no going back either, so the important thing will be what will make it better, what will keep it firmly at it’s roots of community because if it doesn’t then of course there is always the risk that it becomes another place we don’t wish to spend our time, just another form of the office for a new time.