intentional coworking

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!)

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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

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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.

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