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!
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.