Coworking has served to unite millions of people around the world who share a common interest. Over seven years ago, when I was living with my parents, working from home and losing my mind, I was able to discover Jelly in NYC and a global movement with a simple Google search. Once I saw the word, I knew that whatever coworking was, it was what I needed.
Zoom way, way forward to present day, and coworking is now quickly seeping into the collective consciousness. As an ardent champion of coworking since I first discovered it, I see this as a tremendously good thing.
That growth was made possible by a simple fact: the guy who invented modern day coworking freely offered it to be taken and shared and copied and remixed by anyone anywhere. While that simple act ignited massive rallying by people all around the world, it came with one critical tradeoff: no one person or entity can control the direction or perception of the word now that it’s out in the world for anyone to use.
As a result, the meaning behind the notion of coworking has undergone an extremely long game of telephone, wherein a little bit of the original signal is lost every time it gets passed along from one to another.
Along its journey from obscurity to household name, coworking found a powerful delivery vehicle in a business model that relies on renting space and then charging people to share that space.
Over time, the deep, meaningful, purposeful power behind the word got overwhelmed by the business model. Coworking, to many people, has been reduced to simply another way of renting workspace.
Those of us who have experienced what is possible with coworking, however, know that it speaks to something far deeper and more important. Experiencing it illuminated to me the direction that work as we know it is going: away from traditional employment and even from independent models toward something that mixes the best of both.
Coworking gives us a peek way ahead, to a world in which people are empowered but not isolated. In some ways, it’s way ahead of its time.
But so long as coworking remains outside of anyone’s control, we can’t use it by itself without some additional help.
I’ve seen this in a number of stories I’ve heard and experienced myself when coworking spaces in the same city try to get together to support each other. They struggle to find ways to collaborate, because ultimately their businesses rely upon them renting space, and there’s little room for their ultimate interests to align.
If coworking spaces such as those could be united under a more specifically articulated, higher purpose, we may have an opportunity to go further.
Idea: Articulate a higher purpose people can rally around.
If the aspirations of a coworking space can extend beyond simply getting enough members to pay the rent, new opportunities for collaboration come into play. Neighboring coworking spaces have a better chance of working together, while each individual space also has an opportunity to re-cast its relationship with current and future members in the context of their shared efforts toward this common purpose.
It’s what most of us are already in the business of doing—we just need to call it out in a way that invites others to participate.
I didn’t dedicate myself to New Work City because I thought it was a fab way to make profits trading space for cash. I’d venture a guess that most coworking space owners would agree.
We got into this business because we want to help people. We want to help ourselves, and future generations. We see a way of working that is made better when we gather and organize together.
What would it look like if we articulated, in a specific way, why we’re doing what we’re doing and started speaking and acting with that in mind?
Potential higher purposes, just off the top of my head:
- Making your town a more welcoming place for independent creatives
- Improving your city’s economy through increased commerce between citizens
- Growing the number of people who are successfully working for themselves
- Reducing economic inequality by providing low-cost access to education and resources
- Making it just as easy to work for yourself as it used to be to work for someone else
- Helping 1,000 people in the region make their first $100 working for themselves by the end of 2014
- Building a support infrastructure for the emergent interdependent workforce
I’m keen on developing my own take on these higher ambitions. I want to see coworking spaces around the world working towards a shared mission in a way that’s more explicit and exciting.
How can we go about better fostering this greater sense of purpose?