The epic battle is underway. It’s not being fought with weapons by soldiers; it’s not even being fought by people who are really fighting with each other at all.

It’s the battle between the people who run spaces and the unconscious forces that pull them into a workspace rental malaise. In an earlier post on this site, a reader commented:

Thank you for writing this! I think a lot of us in the coworking world feel that our spaces are useful for something more than just coffee and wifi, and this blog post really puts into words. Definitely agree that “A local community of like-minded people” is a powerful resource for anyone. #coworking

Coming from the early days of the movement, it’s absurd to me that anyone would think of coworking as just coffee and wifi. But that’s the state of affairs today.

Let’s be clear: there are no villains here. At least not human villains. The villain here is simply a lack of leadership, a lack of purposefulness, and a lack of direction.

Anyone running a workspace must contend with the temptation to coast.

It’s just far too easy to slide into a mode of maintaining a tidy workspace where people come and go and nothing much happens. Building something otherwise requires the kind of constant attention a gardener would put into their crop to ensure it yields fruits and not just weeds.

And gardening isn’t easy. But the fruits in the case of coworking aren’t just nutritious foods; they’re the flourishing of a population of people who would otherwise struggle to find their way.

The stakes here are high. As more and more of our neighbors join the ranks of the independents, by will or by layoff, the need for community support continues to rise.

But most people aren’t going to simply walk into a coworking space, rent a desk, and instantly know everything they need to know to start working for themselves. If coworking spaces commit to providing not just workspace, but the ability to find the resources, education, and people to help them succeed, then the true potential of this movement will start to be realized.

Shifting the narrative

This is already underway in many spaces all over the world, but that hasn’t been the storyline of coworking. Media in recent years has focused on the mass-market consumptive coworking model led by WeWork’s meteoric rise. It’s been a lot of about real estate and dollars and not so much about impact and civic activity.

To that end, I am looking to develop efforts that highlight those who are doing more than just running a workspace. I want to challenge operators everywhere to pledge to do more to support their neighbors and to strive to truly become centers for the new workforce in their respective municipalities.

What can be done

I envision two starting activities:

Conduct interviews with people doing awesome things. There are so many people working on so many great, inspiring projects relating to gathering the new workforce. The more we can share and learn from each other’s stories, the better.

Develop a pledge that challenges organizers to do more than just operate workspace. People who sign the pledge will commit to a series of basic conditions. In exchange, they’ll be provided support and their efforts will be highlighted.

I could go much further, but I want to start somewhere small and actionable.

What do you think?

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