This morning I heard an instrumental version of John Lennon’s “Imagine”. Setting aside my internal conflict about imagining there’s no heaven, the song is one of my favorites. Mentally singing the words as the instruments played, I drew a parallel to the “dream” Glen and I had of Cowork Frederick.
Ten years ago, when we began spreading news that we planned to open Frederick’s first coworking space, we found ourselves explaining the concept of coworking quite a bit: “No, it’s not a telework center”; “No, it’s not a bunch of offices”; “Yes, we’ll have high-speed internet and desks and good coffee and a cool workspace, but it’s not really about the building or the desks or equipment. It’s about people and connection and growing and learning. It’s about connecting and being part of something.”
Imagine all the people, sharing
Being part of that “something” meant embracing a set of values and beliefs that define who we are as a community. We adopted the core values of coworking (link) defined by coworking pioneers before us: community, collaboration, sustainability, openness, and accessibility.
Cowork Frederick members worked together to further define our own values. Among them are Authenticity (being real, truthful, open), Boldness (taking risks, working through fear), Curiosity (thirsting for knowledge, exploring ideas), and Generosity (helping others, giving back). The complete list is here.
Whatever we do or however our values evolve over time, our emphasis will always be on people above all else. Our kind of coworking is communal. Cowork Frederick actually is our collective members (cue “of the people, by the people, …”) who share things like the space and equipment, but also ideas and expertise and help each other for the collective good.
We see a future where together we, and other like-minded coworking communities around the world, have reshaped our economy and society through social entrepreneurship, bringing people from diverse professions and backgrounds together to build a more human-scale, networked, and sustainable economy.
Collaboration and innovation thrive in a free and open environment. People cooperate more, share, and learn from each other.
We see a world where work is increasingly autonomous and flexible, with people independently pursuing their craft, choosing when, where, how, and with whom they work. And, that work isn’t just about profit, it’s also about improving our communities and our planet.
As we made plans for launching Cowork Frederick a decade ago, we imagined a community of people who shared that vision coming together in a little historic building in downtown Frederick. Those people would work for themselves, but not by themselves. They would telework, but still be able to join others for lunch. They would connect over food at cook-outs and potlucks. They would attend lunch & learns and practice their pitches. They would trade skills, and team up on projects. They would become friends. They would help each other and have fun together. And they have. It’s been a beautiful thing.
Here’s what some of those members, past and present, have said:
“Cowork Frederick was exactly what I was looking for.
“The energy, location, and environment make it a great place to get things accomplished. I believe surrounding myself with talented people from industries that may have very little in common with my own provides a great way to gain refreshing perspectives and innovative ideas.” – Brandon Mason
“I love the community.
“I liked what I saw the day I took a tour, but it’s even better than I expected. There’s no catch – just people who really support you and are interested in what you’re doing.” – Wayne Dorsey
“The connections I have made have been invaluable.
“I like working on my own. I like it even more since working at Cowork Frederick.” – Tom Semmes
“This is a wonderful way to work in the new economy.
“I was working from home in my basement and was too isolated. Here I can be around people. The people are awesome. There’s more energy, more excitement. I get to learn from people in other industries: lawyers, book authors, etc.” – Thomas Talbot
“I joined Cowork Frederick because I need interaction.
“I tried having a studio, then working from home, then studio, then home. Coworking spaces provide the best of both worlds, shared work areas where collaborative conversations readily strike up and quiet places to focus.” – James Hersick
I’m not the only one.
“Coworking” started in 2005 in San Francisco with a guy named Brad Neuberg. He had worked for himself (alone) and also as an employee. Not happy with either, Brad decided to create something that would provide the community and structure that he hungered for. In an August 9 blog post he announced, “This week is the first week of coworking, something I am setting up.”, and went on to describe the problem coworking would solve:
“Traditionally, society forces us to choose between working at home for ourselves or working at an office for a company. If we work at a traditional 9 to 5 company job, we get community and structure, but lose freedom and the ability to control our own lives. If we work for ourselves at home, we gain independence but suffer loneliness and bad habits from not being surrounded by a work community.“
Brad invited “free spirits and creators” to “come together in community, sitting at tables or relaxing on couches as we do our work.” and noted that “even though each of us is doing separate work, perhaps programming or writing a novel, we can feel each other’s presence, run ideas by the community, or take breaks together at the watercooler.”
It was about much more than a desk. It was about connecting with and helping others. It was, and still is, for many coworking communities around the globe, a way of working that is healthier and happier.
Today there are over 15,000 coworking spaces (differentiated from office suites and telework centers) who remain remarkably true to that original vision. A 2018 global study conducted by Emergent Research revealed that independently owned and operated spaces (like Cowork Frederick) make up 93% of them. Over 1 million people were members of those community-focused coworking spaces back in 2018. That number is expected to be more than twice that in 2022.
The dream expands
It may come as no surprise that Cowork Frederick’s vision has been bigger than the walls of our current building can contain. And so it is that we’re expanding in 2022. We’re taking all we learned from the past 10 years and creating a new and improved coworking environment – and more.
Existing offerings, which include meeting rooms, quiet rooms, work desks, break rooms, workshops, classes, and networking events, will expand. We will add gathering spaces aimed at facilitating connection: spaces to play games, have conversations, brainstorm, and share meals.
We’re also adding short- and long-term “coliving” rooms. Coliving provides a living situation that emphasizes community, collaboration, sharing, and intentional living. Just like coworking isn’t just a desk. Coliving isn’t just a room. Coliving connects people. It offers flexibility and “plug and play” simplicity. Our coliving options will be an extension of coworking, emphasizing our shared work environment and community.
I hope someday you’ll join us.
If all this has made you curious about coworking or about Cowork Frederick in particular, I’ll return to a phrase we learned to say in our early days: It’s hard to explain exactly what coworking is or what it’s like to cowork with us in particular. The best way to understand it is to give it a try.
Special thanks to John Lennon and Yoko Ono for the beautiful song, “Imagine”, and the inspiration for this blog.
About the author
Julia Swanson Ferguson has over 30 years of business experience. After earning a B.B.A. in Accounting and an M.S. in Management Information Systems, she began a fast-growth career that included business process re-engineering, system design, project management, and ultimately running a global consultancy division for a Fortune 500 software company.
Along the way, she launched several small businesses of her own. In 2012 she and her husband, Glen, opened a coworking space in Frederick, Maryland and in 2016 she left “corporate America” to focus on that business. She’s also a real estate investor and property manager. When not working, she loves to travel, hike, and write songs.