In the past, when trying to find places to work, independent workers, small businesses, and organizations often had to choose between several scenarios, all with their attendant advantages and disadvantages: working from home; working from a coffee shop, library, or other public venue; or leasing an executive suite or other commercial space.
Is there a better way to work? Yes. Enter coworking.
Coworking takes freelancers, indie workers, and entrepreneurs who feel that they have been dormant or isolated working alone at home or who have been migrating from a coffee shop to a friend’s garage or languishing in a sterile business center — to a space where they can truly roost.
“We can come out of hiding,” a coworker tells us, “and be in a space that’s comfortable, friendly, and has an aesthetic appeal that’s a far cry from the typical cookie-cutter office environment.”
What Makes Coworking Better
For many, it might be puzzling to pay for a well-equipped space teeming with other people, even with the chance of free coffee and inspiration. You might ask yourself, “Well, why pay for a place to work when I’m perfectly comfortable at home and paying nothing?” Or, “Isn’t the whole point of telecommuting or starting my own business a chance to avoid ‘going to the office’?”
Coworking may sound like an unnecessary expense, but let’s consider what you get from being a part of the space.
At its most basic level, coworking is the phenomenon of workers coming together in a shared or collaborative workspace for one or more of these reasons: to reduce costs by having shared facilities and equipment, to access a community of fellow entrepreneurs, and to seek out collaboration within and across fields. Coworking spaces offer an exciting alternative for people longing to escape the confines of their cubicle walls, the isolation of working solo at home, or the inconveniences of public venues.
The benefits and cost-savings in productivity and overall happiness and well-being reaped from coworking are also potentially huge. Enthusiasm and creativity become contagious and multiply when you diversify your work environment with people from different fields or backgrounds. At coworking spaces, members pass each other during the day, conversations get going, and miraculously idea-fusion happens with everyone benefitting from the shared thinking and brainstorming.
Differences matter. Coworking hinges on the belief that innovation and inspiration come from the cross-pollination of different people in different fields or specializations. Random opportunities and discoveries that arise from interactions with others play a large role in coworking.
Coworking and Google
To see this in action on a large scale, think about Google. Google made the culture of sharing and collaboration in the workplace legend. It deployed “grouplets” for initiatives that cover broader changes through the organization.
One remarkable story of a successful Google grouplet involved getting engineers to write their own testing code to reduce the incidence of bugs in software code. Thinking creatively, the grouplet came up with a campaign based on posting episodes discussing new and interesting testing techniques on the bathroom stalls. “Testing on the Toilet” spread fast and garnered both rants and raves. Soon, people were hungry for more, and the campaign ultimately developed enough inertia to become a de facto part of the coding culture. They moved out of the restrooms and into the mainstream.
Keith Sawyer, a professor of psychology and education at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, has written widely on collaboration and innovation. In his study of jazz performances, Keith Sawyer made this observation, “The group has the ideas, not the individual musicians.” Some of the most famous products were born out of this mosh pit of interaction — in contrast to the romantic idea of a lone working genius driving change. According to Sawyer, more often than not, true innovation emerges from an improvised process and draws from trial-by-error and many inputs.
Unexpected insights emerge from the group dynamic. If increasing interaction among different peer groups within a single company could lead to promising results, imagine the possibilities for solopreneurs, small businesses, and indie workers — if only they could reach similar levels of peer access as those experienced by their bigger counterparts. It is this potential that coworking tries to capture for its members.
Do you agree? Let us know if you’ve experienced coworking and if so, how did it go?
Read Part II of the series here.
Photo by Werkheim.