Act IV

This fall, New Work City will celebrate its sixth anniversary since first opening for business in 2008. It’s hard to believe it’s been six whole years; building and sustaining a small brick-and-mortar business for that long is no small feat!

The current version of New Work City, the one located at 412 Broadway, is in what I would call Act III of the overarching narrative of our story.

As we look to the future, it’s time to think about what Act IV will look like for us. Before we get to that, let’s go over how we got here.

ACT I – Jelly & CooperBricolage

Back in 2007, coworking was this obscure thing that happened in a Williamsburg artist collective and five-bedroom loft apartment on 39th Street. When I attended my first Jelly, my life changed forever. It was the first time I’d been exposed to a world of my peers who were working for themselves, doing creative work that was in alignment with their souls.

Soon thereafter, I moved into that apartment and eventually picked up where the original organizers had left off, hosting Jellies and helping others do similar. At the same time, I started working with my new friend Sanford and a bunch of other new friends on building a dedicated coworking community, dubbed CooperBricolage in tribute to Peter Cooper and Nate Westheimer’s vision of a cafe-based coworking concept called CafeBricolage, using East Village cafes as our home bases.

Between these two communities, we were able to develop a sense of consistent culture and critical mass that would be necessary for us to take the next step. Act I: Culture: Set!

ACT II – New Work City

While working in cafes was great, one can only take so many conference calls on the sidewalk before feeling some wear and tear. We needed a place we could count on to be ours. By late 2008, there was still a tremendous need for someone to build a central coworking space in Manhattan, so when NWC opened its doors, it was a boon for the people who needed it and for many who would be inspired by the example it set.

We didn’t have any investors, but we did have a lot of friends. Sanford found a startup that had more space than they needed and helped convince them to give us a chance.

We conspired to develop an arrangement that would allow us to open for business with minimal risk. With a little bit of cash and a trip to Ikea, we were in business. Act II: Business: Launched!

ACT III – New Work City 1.5 and 2.0

The space we shared with our startup friends was a fantastic incubator for what we were building. What we really needed, however, was a home of our own. Sharing space with our sublessors felt, at times, like living with our parents. Fortunately, we were able to be just successful enough with what we had there to get ourselves to the next level: a place of our own.

When it came time for us to leave that space, we set our sights on just that. After a life-saving four-month stopover sharing space with our friends at Greenspaces, a Kickstarter campaign and an overwhelming amount of support from hundreds of loving people, we got our own space open at 412 Broadway in September of 2010. We’ve been there ever since. Act III: Mission: Accomplished!

ACT IV

Next June, our current lease will expire. It gives us an opportunity to revisit why we’re here and what we want to do next. The end of this lease will constitute the end of the third act. What does Act IV look like? That’s for us to ascertain together.

As we consider what Act IV might be, I gravitate towards two main areas of focus: purpose and sustainability.

Focus 1: Purpose

Our purpose for a long time was to build and sustain a great coworking space in a central part of Manhattan. That mission is largely accomplished. So, what’s next?

Every business should be aspiring to something more. It’s no fun to just try to tread water. How, then, might we go about articulating a higher ambition to strive for?

We’ve always had a general ambition of better supporting the needs of the growing ranks of the independents. Considering the litany of things we still each have to deal with on our own without any external support, there’s no shortage of opportunity there.

New Work City as it’s currently constituted isn’t organized around working towards that purpose. It was designed to get us to where we are today. In order to develop a mandate that aligns us with the larger mission in a more specific way, we must consider how to develop a proper vehicle for that.

Focus 2: Sustainability

I very deliberately shaped New Work City into something that wasn’t to be treated as a business venture. Back when it was getting started, I thought doing so would dirty it. I wanted to see New Work City become something that people could trust to have their interests in mind, not the interest of profit-minded investors or other entities with their own agendas.

Now, as we look ahead, I’m revisiting that philosophy. A sustainable entity has a robust structure around it to ensure its vitality beyond the constraints of any one individual. NWC, as it stands, depends way too much on Peter and myself to be sustainable as a long-term entity.

So if this thing is to continue to live on in some form for the foreseeable future, it seems worth considering how we might best develop such a structure to wrap around it.

What happens next

We know that whatever Act IV looks like, it’s something more purposeful and more sustainable. That could manifest in the form of a new business entity, or a partnership with a like-minded organization, or something else we can’t yet see. What we can do, now, is take action that creates space for those possibilities to become more real.

Here are some of the things I’m currently working on:

  1. Exploring new ideas with Project Bossless – I recently launched this site to create a clean slate from which new approaches could be explored. The core of the project focuses on the emergence of the larger ecosystem that I believe coworking is a part of—an interdependent support system for people who would otherwise be on their own.
  2. Organizing IndieCon, an unconference by and for independent workers – We did the first one last fall, and it was an amazing way to rally people around finding new ways to help one another. This year, we’re planning on doing it again, bigger and better, with intention to continue building on the ideas after the conference is over.
  3. Facilitating Meetups – We’ve ramped up self-organized coworking gatherings this year through our Meetup group, which has been hugely helpful in giving us a better understanding of the different ways we can play with the coworking model. We should continue to explore how we can use this group to try new things.
  4. Talking more – So much of what helped make New Work City survive and thrive in its transitions from one act to the next came from a commitment to share and engage openly in the process as we went. The more we invited people to buy into the conversation and participate in shaping its direction, the better it got for everyone involved.

Now that the next act is coming into focus, it makes sense for us to be talking more openly about what happens next.

We know that coworking represents an important part of the future of work. As more and more people join the ranks of the never-again-to-be-traditionally-employed, the importance of coworking spaces as support systems rises accordingly.

We can’t just all be trying to figure everything out on their own. We need each other to make this shift a healthy one. Coworking is a vessel for that.

Let’s look together in earnest at how we can take what we’ve got and build on it, for ourselves and those who follow us.

If you’re reading this, you’re a part of the effort already. Comment below with your thoughts, join IndieCon (stay tuned), attend or propose a coworking gathering through our Meetup group, or of course join as a member of New Work City and help shape our future with us together.

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.

 

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

Work Sprint at Brooklyn Roasting Company

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

Coworking spaces have become a crucial piece of disaster recovery infrastructure.

A very compelling story is unfolding in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, as hundreds if not thousands of people are flocking to new and existing coworking spots to get online and get back to work amidst the disruption.

In the early moments after the storm passed, Charlie O’Donnell created a #sandycoworking hashtag which succeeded as an instantaneous quick and dirty way to connect people with space to people who needed space. Shortly thereafter, Noel Hidalgo created a CrowdMap that made it possible for anyone to add spaces they knew to be available to an easy to navigate directory with a map.

Now, nearly 70 spaces are listed on that map in locations all over the city. In addition to our having moved New Work City temporarily to Brooklyn, existing spaces that were unaffected by the storm like Secret Clubhouse, Bitmap, Bat Haus, AlleyNYC stepped up in a big way and others opened up their offices as temporary pop-up locations for displaced workers.

I witnessed and received several communications from people with displaced teams who were desperate to find a way to get back to work. By having a place to point them to, I could easily get them hooked up with a location within biking distance that could help them get online in a timely fashion.

I don’t know the precise scale of it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the economic impact of Sandy on small businesses was mitigated by the fact that a network of coworking communities popped up almost instantly to give people a place to maintain continuity.

I know it helped me.

What happened here in New York is a lesson that should be taken into account when planning for and responding to future crises.

NYC is the biggest coworking city in the world. Here’s why that’s important.

Today, WNYC’s New Tech City published a piece that declared New York City the world’s biggest coworking city, tracking over 80 spaces on a map they’ve posted here.

Five years ago, I was working to bring one– just one– space dedicated to the coworking movement to fruition in Manhattan. Seeing what has happened between now and then, I couldn’t be more excited for the prospects.

I was so drawn to coworking not just because it gave me a way to get out of my home office to be around some incredible people, but because it represented a fundamentally new way of approaching our relationship with work.

While NYC is unique in many ways, it is also often a harbinger of what’s to come for the rest of the world. The speed and fervor with which it has taken to the coworking movement is no fluke: coworking is growing at an exponential rate everywhere. We just happen to have a lot of it in a relatively small space.

Why did NYC take so well to coworking? There are lots of reasons, but the most important one can be summed up in two words: self-sufficiency. In the concrete jungle where dreams are made of, people quickly learn how to take care of themselves.

Coworking spaces give those kinds of people a place to gather and help one another, so it’s natural to see New Yorkers are jumping on them so readily.

But this is bigger than just those enterprising early adopters who are already able to hack it on their own. As the job landscape continues to shift from full-time employment to contingent workers and small businesses, more and more people are finding themselves with this kind of responsibility. It’s not something most people are used to, but it’s where things are headed.

As technology continues to change everything in the workplace, previously taken-for-granted notions like full-time employment, the 9 to 5, commutes, and dedicated offices are all in question. As those structures continue to erode, so too does the consistency associated with them. Without a sole provider (employer) to dictate and manage these things, the responsibility increasingly shifts to the individual.

The result is a more independent, flexible lifestyle. There are downsides to this increase in responsibility, but ultimately the benefits outweigh the costs. We are, after all, big fans of our freedom, right?

Regardless, being self-sufficient is something that more people are going to have to get good at.

What better way to tackle that than by taking a trek down to your local coworking space? There are, after all, over 2,000 of them worldwide, depending on what you include in the count.

Coworking spaces are becoming a decentralized, highly local network of centers that support the needs of the new workforce. People looking to join the ranks of the independents need look no further than around their corner, where a coworking space– which, if it doesn’t exist yet, will likely be appearing soon– will be full of friendly folks to befriend, work with, and learn from.

They’re helping people make the transition, simply by existing. I wonder what they could accomplish if they were helping people make that transition on purpose.

We are only beginning to appreciate the implications of this. Here in NYC, we have an opportunity to get a head start in exploring that, using the many coworking communities within the reach of a subway ride as a starting point. The potential for job creation and economic development is enormous.

And last time I checked, we still need a lot more of that to be happening, and soon.

If coworking can help fix the economy and make the world a better place, NYC is the place for us to start finding out. I look forward to exploring the possibilities in earnest.

****

I’m cofounder and Mayor of a coworking space called New Work City here in NYC. I’m also teaching people how to build better communities. Learn about the Community Builders Masterclass here!

 

 

Resolving the battle of work vs. life

From Christopher Alexander’s landmark book, A Pattern Language:

“If you spend eight hours of your day at work, and eight hours at home, there is no reason why your workplace should be any less of a community than your home.”

When someone tells you where he “lives,” he is always talking about his house or the neighborhood his house is in. It sounds harmelss enough. But think what it really means. Why should the people of our culture choose to use the word “live,” which, on the face of it, applies to every moment of our waking lives, and apply it to only a special portion of our lives– that part associated with our families and houses. The implication is straightforward. The people of our culture believe that they are less alive when they are working than when they are at home; and we make this distinction dubtly clear, by choosing to keep the word “live” only for those places in our lives where we are not working. Anyone who uses the phrase “where do you live” in its everyday sense, accepts as his own the widespread cultural awareness of the fact that no one really “lives” at his place of work– there is no song or music there, no love, no food– that he is not alive while working, not living, only toiling away, and being dead.

As soon as we understand this situation it leads at once to outrage. Why should we accept a world in which eight hours of the day are “dead”; why shall we not create a world in which our work is as much a part of life, as much alive, as anything we do at home with our family and with our friends?

… If a person spends eight hours a day working in a certain area, and the nature of his work, its social character, and its location, are all chosen to make sure that he is living, not merely earning money, then it is certainly essential that the area immediately around his place of work be a community, just like a neighborhood but oriented to the pace and rhythms of work, instead of the rhythms of the family.

I wonder what Christopher Alexander would think of coworking communities.

Did you grow up thinking this way? That living was something you did outside of work? Note the way Alexander casts this not as a reality but as a cultural perception. Work isn’t categorically an undesirable drudgery, it’s more about how we treat it.

But it’s changing. The notion of where you “live” and where you work is breaking down. As our cultures reevaluate our relationships with our work once again, we have an opportunity to alter this perception. If we find ways to think of work not as a something that takes us away from our “lives,” but an integral and healthy part of what makes us complete people, we’ll set up future generations to think of work differently.

Incidentally, you see this phenomenon in startup culture too. Hustle hard and make sacrifices to build a startup that gets successful enough to sell for big bucks. But where in that process does one develop a healthy relationship with their work? If you’re lucky enough to make it to the other side, and get rich, to what end and at what price has that status gotten you?

It’s a path that’s certainly appropriate for some, but I fear more people are chasing that than there should be. This balance, what Alexander describes, is more in line with what many people should be aspiring towards- one that emphasizes finding and doing work you believe in as an integral part of your healthy life.

As he suggests, that becomes possible when we build communities around our work like we do around the rest of our lives.

Community Membership Update

It’s been a month since I launched our new Community Membership and made a push to focus on growing the participation in the space. So far, here’s what’s happened:

Sales Process

When someone shows up at NWC to check out the space, whoever’s working the front desk at the moment gives them a tour and tells them a little about membership. At the end of the tour, we used to direct them to a special page where they can pay for a Day Pass or sign up for a membership. We left it up to them to decide from there.

The vast majority of the time, people would purchase a Day Pass. We didn’t push membership on anyone, but made it available to those who sought it out.

In the new way of doing things, we ask for the visitor’s email address before they go to set up and get online. We then send them an email with information about how to either purchase a Day Pass or sign up for membership, and include some basic information. In this scheme, the visitor sees the two options as equally viable paths.

More importantly, we talk to them about their options and let them know that signing up for a membership gets them in on all of the online and offline benefits of being a part of the community. We make it clear to them that they’re in total control, and it’s up to them when to sign up and cancel– all we really do is keep track of things.

What I’ve noticed is that, with the new membership, it’s a lot easier to help people understand that membership and space are two different things– and even if you don’t need the workspace on a regular basis, you can still be a member. It’s a subtle shift that has had big effects in how I talk about things with newcomers.

New Members

11 people have signed up for the new membership. If you include the folks who had the original community membership, we’re up to 19 members at that level. We also added 12 new people at other membership levels, making April a surprisingly big month in terms of growth.

Participation

The last few weeks have been incredible from a participation standpoint. More and more members are stepping up to organize some really awesome things, and fellow members are showing up and helping out. In just the past month, the following things happened:

  • I hosted a Town Hall in which I had no big announcements to make, and expected a small turnout. 22 people showed up, and we had a really great conversation about a lot of things– including some gatherings that members were inspired to plan.
  • Brian organized a Show & Tell and lassoed together five members to show off what they were working on. He put everything together himself, and even set up the space and got the projector working– and the turnout was nuts. There were something like 30 people there, all members– probably the most NWC members in one place for an event ever. Also, the presentations were amazing. Check out a summary here.
  • Harry organized a happy hour at a local bar for a small group. Some folks left early; other’s arrived late. I ended up sharing drinks with some really amazing folks who I’ve been trying to grab a drink with for the longest time, and thankfully we managed to have some really fun conversations about stuff other than work and tech.
  • Claudina organized NYC’s first Sass and Compass meetup and it was a huge success!
  • John and Jacqueline and I started an experiment in behavioral gaming, each picking a healthy habit we want to develop and assigning a point system for us to track each other’s progress. John’s an incredible designer who has put together some really beautiful stuff to help us manage things; I can’t wait to share our experiment with the rest of the group in a few weeks!
  • Alex organized a Startup Support Group last night. I wasn’t there, but I do know that they are meeting again in a week and are putting together an internal wiki for sharing resources for startups. Awesome!

Upcoming 

I’m really loving the direction we’re heading and thinking a lot about where we can go from here. When you separate membership from space, it becomes possible to grow the community without having to grow the space. Which is a good thing, because the community is the thing I care about making awesomer!

I’m not much of a salesman, but for $30 a month, all of that and a day pass sounds like  a pretty sweet deal to me. Not focusing on maximizing profits makes it easy to offer something that’s worth more than we charge.

And all signs point to it getting better. All of the above gatherings are going to be happening again on a regular basis, which is super awesome, and there’s more to come.

Also: you don’t know what Boomshakalaka Ball is yet, but you will.

Boomshakalaka!