Today, the word “coworking” is used to describe everything from a building full of private offices to “flex desks” to people gathering in someone’s living room to put in a good day’s work.
Coworking – movement or marketing hype?
When I first became acquainted with the term back in 2008, coworking was a grass-roots movement that grew from ideas like BarCamp, hackathons, and open source code. The pioneers of that movement sought to bring the spirit off those shared experiences into the work world – to merge the best of being a part of a team with the structure and support offered by employers and the autonomy of working for yourself. They defined a set of core values to help unify and guide members of what would become a global community of people opening coworking spaces around the world. Those values were later expanded in a Coworking Manifesto that thousands of people signed.
Fast forward seven or so years, past the rise of WeWork and long-time office space providers like Regus adopting the term “coworking” as the term became increasingly popular. Now it seems “coworking” spaces are everywhere, and the meaning of the term has become diluted to the point that it’s confusing (if not meaningless) – like simply using “dwelling place” for everything from a frat house to a tent in the woods to a penthouse suite. The experience of each is quite different. Descriptors are needed. That’s where values come in.
Values matter now more than ever
With the continued focus on teleworking, shared office space, and coworking during the COVID-19 pandemic, this seems like a good time to revisit the Core Values of Coworking. Some might see them as outdated or stale, but I believe such values are even more important now. In a world where the term “coworking” has come to mean many things, values define the kind of coworking someone is talking about. Values are the force behind everything else – space design, pricing, operations, events, and the people you’ll encounter in the space.
Coworking core values – revisited
People in a coworking community can be seen teaming up, sharing ideas and learning from each other. They do this because they want to – not because they have to conform to a program or corporate structure. Over time, they build up social capital, trust, and a feeling of connection, a feeling of belonging. They connect on a personal level. Those connections often extend beyond the coworking space. After all, community isn’t about the space at all. It’s 100% people.
While we occupy a building at 122 E Patrick St in Frederick Maryland, Cowork Frederick was never meant to be just a place to work. You’ll see us use “coworking community” far more than “coworking space”. Our “Meet Our Members” page showcases people, not businesses. Our emphasis is always on people, above all else.
Openness, in this context, isn’t about high ceilings or no walls. It’s not really about the space at all (though this value and all the others can drive space design). Still, I find speaking metaphorically helps create the right feeling of this value. It’s open, not closed doors. It’s having an unobstructed view. Openness is transparency and unrestricted access to knowledge. It’s collaborating on decisions and cooperating in our efforts.
Openness allows people to develop trustworthy relationships. It lets people be themselves without worrying about judgment Openness is about ideas, freely shared, and about welcoming all to our community. All people and ideas are welcome (when shared in a non-abusive, kind, positive way). This is not just about being open-minded. It’s about being open-hearted.
Collaboration is one of the essential underpinnings of coworking. And why not collaborate, when you’re surrounded by people with so many different backgrounds and skills? Whether it’s a quick chat about an idea or a months-long project, collaboration almost always yields more creative, better results. The key is you get to decide when, how, and with whom you collaborate. Nothings is forced.
Cowork Frederick’s space and activities are designed to encourage interaction between members with the goal of fostering connection, collaboration, and “organic” incubation of member businesses. Our 8-year history holds many great examples of people coming together. Freelance writers, marketers and website developers have worked together on websites. People have teamed up on podcasts or a series of educational classes.
From a core values perspective, sustainability isn’t necessarily about operating in a “green” fashion (though many coworking spaces do). It means members supporting, nourishing and lifting each other to greater levels of success.
By giving, contributing and helping, individual members sustain the community they share – and each other.
Sustainability is also about continuity, about keeping something going over time. A metaphor helps here too. Think about a garden. If we want health plants and an abundant harvest, we must put nutrients in the soil. There’s a continuous loop of giving and receiving that balances out and sustains the garden. Same with a coworking community.
In the context of coworking, accessibility means having the freedom to work where you want. You don’t even need to join a special coworking community. You can cowork in a living room, in a park, or someone else’s office. It also means having access to opportunities, people, and things. At Cowork Frederick, we’re not into closed doors, silos, or barriers. We share space, office supplies, equipment, break room goodies and advice. Accessibility in coworking is also about individual members of the community being accessible to others, being available to help, to share. After all, what good do the other values do if we shut ourselves away from others?
Cowork Frederick is accountants and attorneys, marketers and managers, scientists and software developers, artists, bloggers, social entrepreneurs, and more. We could work anywhere, but we choose to come together to do our work – to cowork. We share a set of values and beliefs that unify us and define how we approach all we do. At the heart of those values is the belief that together is better. During a pandemic, “together” looks different, but it feels much the same. Work is better. Life is better. Together.