Towards the end of 2013, I found myself wracking my mind thinking about a major question that’s been bouncing around the coworking world for some time: how do we stop coworking from losing its identity to the workspace industry with which it is so deeply associated?

Coworking’s been continuing to grow into an established industry, with no signs of slowing down, but as it grows it seems to continue to lose its identity to its primary delivery vehicle: the office space rental business model.

This is important to me, because I (and many others) see in coworking so much more potential to help people than simply to allow it to become a slightly different way to cut up and rent office space.

For some reason, on January 1, 2014, I saw something I could do next from the moment I woke up. I told Amy I had an idea for what we could do now to make real progress in advancing the conversation. We immediately got to brainstorming and, shortly thereafter, I published a post entitled “27 ideas for hosting a coworking gathering that’s more than just people sitting around on laptops,” and followed up a few days later with “Crazy idea: 14 days, 14 different coworking experiences. Who wants to help organize?” — which led to the kicking off of an experiment in which I found people to lead coworking gatherings in the most diverse circumstances possible.

The objective? Develop a way to show people that coworking is about the act of gathering with people of similar interests, and that it’s NOT just about working at desks. And, further, to answer the obvious questions people have about whether one can truly get work done in sometimes very unusual circumstances.

Six months later, 13 organizers have hosted 21 events in 10 venues around the city, with more coming up. 242 people have RSVP’ed to meet up and work in places like a bed-stuy cafe that serves excellent kimchi, a wine bar with an insane sherry happy hour, the Q train, a high-rise Fort Greene apartment,  a fancy apartment in South Slope, the Met Museum, the Queens Museum, a super cute cafe in the East Village, and New Work City itself at less-than-normal days and times.

To help prove that work gets done at these gatherings, we developed To-DONE lists and challenged attendees to beat high scores from previous gatherings. The results?

People get a lot done when they gather with intention. Regardless of where they do it.

To-DONE Lists

The To-DONE list provided hard empirical evidence that people could be wildly productive in the most unexpected of circumstances.

We got work done. We got inspired. We had fun. And we formed healthy bonds discovering fun new places.

What’s next?

For one, more of everything. For example, two organizers, Nate and Jen, are now conspiring to mash up their respective gatherings to host a work-on-a-train-to-a-museum experience.

In the meantime, I am looking at how we can advance these efforts towards something more mature and sustainable. Three of the people who I collaborated with to develop events are now co-organizers of the Coworking Community NYC Meetup group, so they can schedule their own coworking gatherings now. We’re developing processes to help make it easier for current and future organizers to run great gatherings.

Ultimately, I’d love to shift what it means to be a member of a coworking community (starting with New Work City) away from one the emphasizes the space as the primary value and towards one that emphasizes the value people can generate by engaging in the act of gathering with intention.

The big challenge with that, I think, is that it’s not something that people know they and (and know they want to pay for). Space is tangible. It’s something we value. What I’m talking about is, I think, going to take some more work to prove out as a viable business model for a coworking space to successfully shift its direction.

By developing a network of sustainable, ongoing coworking gatherings around the city, we’re creating space to see how we might go about making progress in that direction.

If you’re in NYC and want to get involved, join our Meetup or consider a membership at New Work City (membership starts at $35/mo). If you’re outside of NYC, stay tuned here. I’ll have more to share soon.

Oh, and if you’re up for it, on July 9, join us as we go coworking on a train to a museum. We’ll also be visiting our friends at Beahive, a coworking space in Beacon, while we’re there.

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