Kicking off an experiment today

Today, I’ll be joining my new friend Jen in organizing a gathering that merges coworking with a museum tour. The Met Museum, it turns out, has really really great wifi… and a lot of brilliant, inspiring art.

It will take about half a business day, from 1:00pm to 5:30pm. It’s currently at capacity, with 15 spots filled by friends, NWC members, and newcomers, with about a dozen people on a wait list.

Later this week and next, this experiment will be followed up by one at a wine bar, one involving a pot-luck brunch, one at a friend’s house, one at a cafe & kimchi restaurant, and more, all of which are at or near capacity now.

The point of all this? Twofold: to give more people a way to become part of a coworking community, and to wrest coworking from its perceived marriage to office space rental as its only delivery vehicle.

My hope is that people have a lot of fun, get a lot of work done, make some new friends, and, most importantly, want to get together to do it again soon. Good things should happen from there onward.

If you’re in NYC and want to dive into a deep talk about this topic, my friend Drew and I are hosting a talk at New Work City this Thursday to promote his new book, the Fifth Age of Work. Join us!

(Also, it should go without saying, but if you want to hear about future experiments, join my Meetup group. If you’re interested in organizing or hosting an experimental gathering, email me at tony at nwc.co!)

Crazy idea: 14 days, 14 different coworking experiences. Who wants to help organize?

You could be appreciating art and then channeling your inspiration into your work in a museum café. You could be meeting with a few people who are committed to focusing hard on the tasks they need to get done, for short bursts of time, so you all get a ton of work done in a compressed period. You could be touring a new neighborhood, sampling the best of the cafés and restaurants, while stopping to work along the way. So what’s stopping you?

I think we can take this coworking idea so much further. It’s awesome to have coworking spaces to count on as reliable, consistent workspaces. Hell, the free coffee can sometimes be worth the price of admission alone. But we are in an unprecedented age of mobility. For so many of us, so much of our work can be done from just about anywhere. We should celebrate that! We should explore that! We should mess with that!

I think we could be taking this coworking thing a lot further. I think we could be having wonderfully diverse experiences that ultimately make us more productive, while having fun and meeting like-minded people all at the same time.

I’m going to push in that direction and see what happens. I’m super curious to see what would happen if we conducted an experiment where we tried coworking in the most wildly diverse ways we could think of… no one experience being too big of a production or obligation, just people getting together to work in a way that has a creative twist.

Most of the gatherings could follow a basic format:

  • 2-4 hours
    (Long enough to get something accomplished, but short enough to not take up one’s entire day. Most could get by without having to plug in their laptops.)
  • 5-10 people
    (Enough people to constitute a critical mass, but few enough that everyone could get to know each other without taking a huge amount of time to get around the table. Also, keeping gatherings to this size makes it easier to use a cafe or other public space with limited seating.)
  • A particular theme or focus
    (No gathering should simply be about working on laptops in the same place. There should be a twist that makes that gathering unique and special. This could be very simple. And there’s no shortage of ideas!)
  • Between January 27 and February 9
    (Ambitious? Hell yes. But doable. The ball is already rolling on a few gatherings, including one at a museum and one involving drinking sherry while working.)

To get primed up for this, I’m hosting a Work Sprint and a talk about collaboration in coworking spaces next week.

Am I totally crazy? Who wants to organize a gathering? Comment below or email me at tony at nwc.co!

Interested in learning more as gatherings are posted? Join my Meetup group!

Tony

 

Unearthing a hidden movement

Coworking’s big, and it’s getting bigger by the day. As it continues its evolution from nascent concept to established industry, the original spirit of what made it special inevitably becomes more and more distant from the people who encounter it.

If all coworking ever did was birth a new industry of on-demand low cost workspace, it would already have made a huge impact on how people work and live. But there’s something far deeper happening that merits continued attention. If you’ve ever spent time in a coworking space, you know: the people who are migrating to these communities, what they’re doing, and how they’re organizing and interacting is all… well, very interesting. Coworking, the industry, is a powerful and valuable thing. Coworking, the movement, is another story altogether.

While nobody controls “coworking” and its many interpretations, one of the things that was agreed upon by the early members of the movement was that, while everyone can have their own take on what this new thing is, there are some basic elements that make it what it is. Anyone could do anything with the word, but if certain elements were weak or missing, it wouldn’t be embodying what this thing really is about. Conversely, people who use the word “coworking” to embody something that fully represents these basic elements would be on the right track to embodying what makes this thing really special.

They’re not precise. They’re not perfect. They’re open to interpretation. But they are a really really handy construct.

They’re called the Coworking Values. Here they are:

  • Community
  • Openness
  • Collaboration
  • Accessibility
  • Sustainability

If you’re organizing something around the word “coworking,” odds are you’d benefit from seeking to address each of these values in your own way.

If you don’t like them, you can of course set your own values that are specific to what you want to do. But if you ignore the values driving the trend that you want your business to be a part of, you expose yourself to missing the mark and failing to engage the people who you want to help.

You might not mind one day finding yourself managing a big boring room of people sitting at desks with their headphones on all day, but you might want something better.

Let’s talk about what something better looks like to you and to the rest of us.

The industry, right now, is overshadowing the movement that’s driving it. But maybe it doesn’t have to. Maybe the two can fuel each other.

A new effort is forming to advance the core values of the coworking movement. Get a sneak preview here.

What could happen if every member of a coworking community committed to supporting each other’s efforts?

So many great things happen in coworking spaces, just sort of by accident. I wonder so much about how those phenomena could be developed into deliberate efforts.

One example: when a member launches a new project, all the other members in the space are potential supporters and evangelists. In one recent case at New Work City, a member offered her new Skillshare class free to all members and kindly asked everyone to sign up. As a result, her class got a ton of students in it, lots of people were exposed to her teachings who otherwise wouldn’t have been, and we all felt an emotional investment in the success of her class.

Same goes for Kickstarter projects. What better way to get a project’s momentum rolling than having 150+ people ready to help? If all of the members of a given coworking community put their collective weight behind something that one of them is working on, the concentrated impact could be enormous. A simple pledge of a couple of dollars to a campaign, or a retweet, could have an awesome snowball effect. (One of my friends, Brian Papa, is garnering support from fellow members for his new wrestling game app’s campaign right now!)

This could be done in a lightly structured way. Members can nominate projects they’re working on for collective support, and those who opt in can commit to supporting each other’s efforts at the appropriate time.

Pretty simple, potentially very powerful.

 

Work Sprint at Brooklyn Roasting Company

27 ideas for hosting a coworking gathering that’s more than just people sitting around on laptops

A few years ago, I participated in an experiment called the Breakout Festival, in which we organized coworking gatherings in public spaces. It was awesome. I wonder what it would be like to revisit efforts to gather in new ways? Some potential gatherings, off the top of my head:

  • … go to a museum, appreciate art, then do our own creative work in the museum cafe
  • … get up really early and get a bunch done before 9:00am
  • … go on a photo safari, then settle somewhere to edit and publish
  • … pomodoro work sprints
  • … late night coworking with a DJ
  • … coffee snob coworking. meet at a high-end coffee roaster. order coffee. discuss coffee. drink. work.
  • … wine snob coworking. meet at a high-end wine bar. order wine. discuss wine. drink. work.
  • … commit to doing something you dread. do a pomodoro. reconvene. recommit. repeat.
  • … cafe crawl of (insert neighborhood here)
  • … coworking space crawl of (insert neighborhood here)
  • … coworking + drinking (infinite possibilities)
  • … coworking + brunch (no explanation necessary)
  • … coworking + saturday morning cartoons
  • … coworking + watching football games on Sunday
  • … everybody bring your pet
  • … enjoy a podcast / TED talk / etc, talk about it, then work in a way related to that topic
  • … co-workout. coworking + yoga/cardio/soulcycle/etc
  • … coworking while you wait for your stupid laundry
  • … inbox zero sprint (using the Email Game?)
  • … coworking road trip – split the cost of a zipcar, ride out to somewhere obscure and fun, work, ride back. maybe use the car time for brainstorming.
  • … coworking at a cool company’s office. fun experiences crafted around the cool company.
  • … shared interest coworking. pick a category: a particular programming language, photography, design, marketing, anything. Each person is there to work on something relating to that interest. Before starting, each person states the thing that they’re working on and one challenge they’re hoping to solve. Everyone coworks and checks back in with each other periodically to help each other out.
  • … coached coworking: one expert offers up some advice or guidance to kick off the session, then everyone works on that while they go around helping out.
  • … coworking in an Apple store until someone kicks you out
  • … coworking on a BoltBus to Philly
  • … coworking field trip: meet in a neighborhood you might never have been to before. immerse in the local culture during a group lunch break.
  • … combinations of the above

What would you attend? What would you organize? Tony

Work Sprints: Let’s do better work in less time, and love it.

I’m running a high-energy, high awesomeness productivity sprint at Brooklyn Roasting Company on Thursday, October 3. Grab a spot here!

A funny thing happens when we start working for ourselves that I think too few of us recognize: we implicitly hire ourselves as our own bosses. We’re suddenly the CEO, the middle manager, and the worker bee all wrapped up in one little brain.

What happens next is even more curious: our inner bosses often find themselves imitating the very behaviors that we tend to despise in traditional industrial-era bosses.

We tend to, for instance, value face time as a measure of performance. If we sit in front of our keyboards for 10+ hours a day, we figure, we must be satisfying our inner bosses, right?

We know intuitively that it’s wrong, yet we struggle against it constantly. And we egg each other on, too. We can get into a competitive loop of who can lament about working more hours than whom. It’s honorable to bust your ass day and night. And that can be an awful way to live. (Many folks in the startup world struggle with this mightily.)

But we’re in charge. That means it’s up to us to define the rules. If we are intentional about the boss we’ve created for ourselves in our heads, then we can create a working relationship with ourselves that is nourishing and healthy. We can break the culture of treating work like a cross to bear.

But doing it alone is hard. It’s also no fun. So I propose we work on being better bosses for ourselves together.

There are a lot of ways to tackle this, but the most simple and obvious one to me centers around time management. (The guy who kicked off the modern coworking movement was hip to this, by the way.) If, by virtue of gathering and setting some intentions for ourselves and each other, we can get a better handle on our workdays, we can build on that.

To that end, I’m going to organize an Intentional Coworking gathering where the attendees commit to shifting their focus away from the number of hours worked and toward the quality of hours worked. Tony Schwartz, of the Energy Projectframes this mindset perfectly:

“For my first three books, I sat at my desk for up 10 hours a day. Each of the books took me at least a year to write. For my two most recent books, I wrote in three uninterrupted 90-minute sessions — beginning first thing in the morning, when my energy was highest — and took a break after each one… Writing just four and half hours a day, I completed both books in less than six months and spent my afternoons on less demanding work.”

He continues:

“More and more of us find ourselves unable to juggle overwhelming demands and maintain a seemingly unsustainable pace. Paradoxically, the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less.”

Let’s commit to helping each other do better work in less time. Let’s celebrate our successes and enjoy the freedoms we’ve afforded ourselves. Most importantly, let’s do great things together.


RSVP

Intentional Coworking

For a long time, I’ve been trying to hone in on something that’s been bothering me about the way the coworking concept has been growing over the past several years. It’s awesome that, in such a short span of time, it’s gone from an obscure thing to a nearly household name, but I can’t help but feel that some signal has been lost to noise over time.

In my perception, most people see coworking as not much more than a different way of splitting up office space. This isn’t the worst thing in the world: this allows people to associate coworking with something already familiar, which can be necessary to get non-early adopters to stomach a new idea. You have to start somewhere.

But I’m constantly thinking about how to drive more of the spirit behind what coworking is really about. Thinking back to the earliest iterations of coworking, the Brad Neuberg kind and the Jelly kind, there are some intriguing clues. In both cases, there is an explicit intent involved. You’re not just a member of a space; you’re choosing to attend on a specific day with explicit expectations that are shared with others.

The earliest versions of coworking were heavier on intent.

In the case of Neubergian coworking, you’d arrive and leave at a designated time. You’d do yoga and take a lunch break as a group. You were essentially opting into a structured day of activities with others. This wasn’t just you showing up and sitting on your laptop with your headphones on for 10 hours straight alongside others doing the same. Your interactions weren’t restricted to the occasional trip to the bathroom or the coffee pot. The intent to interact with others was baked into the thing from the start.

In the case of Jelly, it is an event that happens on a specific date. When you RSVP, you add your name and what you will be working on to a list where others will see it. While it’s far more loosely organized than a Neubergian coworking gathering, with Jelly it’s clear that you’re not just going there to sit and do work. You’re there to share a bit about what you’re working on and see what others are doing too.

In both cases, there’s a clear mandate for valuable interaction that extends the base model of sharing common space while working. The issue with modern coworking is that, because of its workspace-based business model, someone could go to a coworking space, sit and work, and leave without ever having spoken to anyone else– and they could think that’s a perfectly acceptable way to cowork.

A good coworking community, of course, has safeguards against this. They make it rather hard for you to be anonymous, because the staff and the members are so engaged. But it can be a constant fight, as each new person who walks in the door has to be educated why, really, this is more than just an office space!

So what would happen if we made an explicit effort to practice “Intentional Coworking”?

To combat this, I gravitate to the concept of “Intentional coworking.” I’m borrowing from the world of intentional living communities, which face a similar challenge. Any living community– any neighborhood– should, obviously, be one in which its residents intend to live near one another and interact with each other, right? Intuitively, that might be the case, but we know that in reality many people are total strangers to the people who live around them. The theory of a neighborhood falls victim to various failures of urban planning and such.

So intentional living communities emerge as a way of compensating for the shortcomings of any community which fails to be intentional. (You could argue something similar for “social enterprise,” but that’s another conversation.)

What would an Intentional Coworking community look like? It would take the base vanilla model of coworking and add at least one explicit layer on top of it: some clear expectation of a shared interaction. It could be as simple as agreeing to all show up at a specific time or as complex as a completely choreographed workday. It could be centered around a shared activity or a similar goal. It could be a lot of different things.

I’m keenly interested in exploring this concept further. I think at the other end of this conversation are concepts that would advance the whole movement and help coworking spaces continue to claim their rightful place as champions of a new way of defining work as we know it.


I’m going to ask you to go ahead and come in on Saturday.

But Sunday… Sunday you can stay home.

OK, seriously though, I’m sick of beating around the bush. We work for ourselves, we’re on our own, and we secretly suffer from so many things that wouldn’t be so damn hard if we just bothered to open up and share with each other a little.

You haven’t done your taxes in four years? The very thought of it makes you want to crawl under your desk? Guess what. You’ve got plenty of company. Maybe it wouldn’t be quite so hard if you fessed up and found other people who were in the same boat, and banded together to commit to getting it all over with.

You’re a freelancer but you’re not comfortable trying to go out and get clients? Then when you do, you’re afraid to charge what you think you’re really worth? You’ve got tons of company there too. Maybe you can feel more secure putting yourself out there and giving yourself the respect you deserve if you find other folks to pump you up a bit.

You don’t know what the hell to do next? Of course you don’t. You don’t have a boss setting quarterly goals for you to hit. You don’t have a promotion to gun for. You’re in charge. That means you can steer the wheel in any direction, captain! The ocean has a lot of bearings. 365 of them, in fact. Did you know it’s okay to not know exactly where you’re going? Do you need someone to remind you and help you stay on course, even when all you have is your own intuition and the stars to go by?

You start work too late, work until too late, have no concept of a lunch break, weekend, or vacation? Of course you don’t. You don’t work at a job where someone tells you when to start and stop. That was the point of forgoing that lifestyle, right? But being the boss and the employee at the same time is sometimes not so easy, especially when it’s 2:00am there are so many episodes of Dexter to catch up on and nobody to remind you that you’re probably going to regret starting your workday at 2:00pm the next day.

Your client refuses to pay you? You have no idea how you’re going to make next month’s rent? You don’t really even know how you made last month’s rent? You’re worried you’re going to get sued by that crazy former client? Being able to make as much money as you want sometimes feels like a double edged sword. If you could step back from the day-to-day and stick to a plan that helps you stay steady, maybe the tumult could be mitigated.

You forgot to eat breakfast *and* lunch again and now it’s 4:00pm and you need to eat more quickly than Seamless can get the food to your belly? You don’t even want to think about health care or that toothache you’ve been ignoring? You’re wondering if you made a mistake going out on your own, because having to figure all of this out yourself is starting to wear on you?

You.
Are.
Not.
Alone.

But you might think you are, because the millions of us who identify with the above scenarios have no good way to gather and work on these things together. That’s a problem, because our ranks are growing every day as traditional 9-to-5 salaried jobs are going away and opportunities for us to make a living doing things in different ways continue to grow.

The fact that so many of us can be in charge of our lives now is awesome. But if we learned one thing from Spider-Man, it’s that with great power comes great responsibility. It sucks to have to figure all of this out ourselves.

It’s time for us to change that. I’m hosting a brainstorming session on Saturday, September 7 to gather independents to share their best practices for how they manage their lives, and to learn from each other. But I’m also hoping to have a bigger conversation about how we can organize to support each other in ways that we would struggle to do on our own, while still preserving and reinforcing the independence and freedom we value so much.

Could we have a replacement for a 9 to 5 without feeling like we’re dragging ass to an office every day? Could we replace the idea of management, bosses, quarterly goals, or any of the other things that we kind of hated about the old office but now maybe kind of miss a little?

I don’t know the answers, but I do know the questions are ones worth asking. Let’s ask some questions and play with the answers.

 

IndieCon – An unconference for independent workers!

Saturday, September 7 from 12:30 to 5:00pm

Location: New Work City – 412 Broadway, Floor 2, NY NY 10013 (map)

If you can’t make it but want to stay up to date, grab a “I can’t make it” ticket or just reply below!

Cotivation Season 4 starts today with a new format!

I just sent this out to New Work City’s discussion group and cross-posted it here for observers and non-members who might be interested in joining!

Howdy folks! We completed our third “season” of Cotivation last Monday, which means today is time for a fresh start! If you’ve never participated in Cotivation before, or would like to re-engage, now is a great time to do so! It’s free to all subscribed members and super easy to join; just show up and we’ll go from there!

We discussed a lot of really good ideas last week around how we can make the next around better. Today, I’d like for us to experiment with adding some more structure to the conversations, so we can keep things moving and set proper expectations up front. Based on what we discussed, I propose a format as described below (using the 4:30 group as an example):

Cotivation Season 4 – New Meeting Format
4:30 – Quick standup-style checkin
  • Limit 15 people – if more, split up
  • Each person has one minute to do a fast recap:
    • What you did since the last meeting
    • What you’re going to do before the next meeting
    • What’s holding you back
4:45 – Breakout support sessions
  • Max 5 people per group, 9 minutes per person
  • Each person will have an opportunity to discuss their own goals and challenges in more detail
  • Identify key issues & ideas to bring to the group
5:30 – Regroup
  • At least one person from each group reports back with ideas and challenges
  • Group brainstorm session around common themes
6:00 – Go home!
  • Or to dinner, drinks, or whatever you prefer to do on a Monday at 6:00.
  • We’ll aim to strictly be done by 6:00, if not sooner.
Goal Tracking
 
I’m also going to work on some ideas for better and more detailed goal and progress tracking in the space. I’m still thinking it through, but here’s a fuzzy idea of what I’m angling towards:
  • Three stages of goals:
    • Long-term aspirations - Can be very clear or very fuzzy, but something in the big picture to guide you
    • Medium-term objectives - Well-defined achievements you want to work towards achieving on a finite time frame
    • Short-term goals - Specific things to focus on now
  • Each stage provides a different lens from which to view what you’re working on and where you’re going with it.
  • In paper, on the walls, where we can all see it and update it.
  • Goals can be professional or personal.
Still working on that a bit today.
I’m really really excited by all of the great things that have been coming from the past few months of experimenting with this. I believe that, over time, we can develop some sustainable structures that can really help us achieve better balance and greater success with our respective independent efforts.
Hope to see you later today!
Cheers,
Tony

 

New memberships, now with more awesome.

For the past four months, something remarkable has been happening in lots of individually unremarkable moments. Members, largely though our new experiment in Cotivation (like “motivation” but with a ‘c’), have been helping each other advance themselves in countless and increasingly valuable ways.

It all started with a simple premise: get a group together once a week to talk about what you want to accomplish and what’s holding you back. Inevitably, people identify challenges they share in common. They find themselves naturally discussing ways they can help each other tackle these challenges.

Members have been getting work done that they’ve been putting off for months. They’ve been figuring out how to find and engage customers after struggling for ages. They’ve been figuring out how to chart a course for themselves and set clear goals when they’ve been lost. They’ve been self-oganizing sessions around business development, visual brainstorming, maker time, and even just to force themselves to do things they really really want to avoid.

They’ve been sharing their thoughts and hopes and dreams and, perhaps most importantly, their fears. They’ve been building stronger bonds, celebrating successes, and maybe sharing a few beers and whiskeys along the way.

In short, they’ve been doing all of the things that embody what New Work City is all about. It’s literally my dream come true.

Our community has always done a good job of helping each other with things, but now it’s at an entirely new level.

Coworking is about far more than finding new ways to share space. It’s the foundation for a new infrastructure for the in(ter)dependent workforce. Now, we’re taking another step in that direction.

New Memberships 

Today, we’re launching new memberships that incorporate what we’ve learned with Cotivation into the onboarding process, so every single new member of New Work City can more easily get the most out of (and give the most to) the community they’re joining.

The real value we have to offer each other here, after all, is in the form of Participation. It’s one of the five core values of the coworking movement, and is perhaps the most important, because it’s the active ingredient that catalyzes everything else.

From now on, no one should be joining New Work City simply because they’re looking for a cheap desk to rent. Every new member will be invited to participate in a way that works best for them, whether by attending an in-person gathering or introducing themselves in our online discussion group. Regardless, we’ll be focusing our energy on making it clear that our community is here to help people accomplish their goals and achieve a better balance in their lives.

The new memberships cost a little bit more than the previous ones did. Since making some adjustments shortly after launching in our new space, we haven’t raised prices or really done much of anything with our membership structure in the last two and a half years. We don’t generate much profit, so every few bucks goes a long way in ensuring we can stay sustainable as we go. Given all of the improvements we’ve made to the community and to the space, I have little doubt that anyone who signs up for membership can get far, far more than their money’s worth out of their experience here.

Current members will be grandfathered at the current rate for the foreseeable future.

We’re still not treating New Work City as a growth venture. We’re still not trying to maximize financial profitability. We’re still a community first and a business second. We’re still doing it our way, and answering to no one but each other. And we’re having an awesomer time than ever.

I’m looking forward to continuing to work with Peter, Danza, and the rest of the community to continue making New Work City a better place to be.

Let me know your thoughts!

Tony