Bear with me, this is a post about an abstraction of coworking as you know it into the concept that underpins the movement.
In February 2016 at Coworking Unconference Asia, I delivered a keynote address to a gathered audience of Asian coworking professionals entitled ‘Coworking 2.0: The Coworking Pivot.’ It was a keynote designed to address the palpable shifts that were starting to occur. The presentation was also intended to confront coworking operators’ mindsets around coworking being purely a commercial office real estate product and bring more awareness to what we were doing.
One of the most common questions the people in the coworking industry receive from outsiders is “How is Coworking different from Serviced Offices?” - It a question the comes from a totally commoditised view of the industry - after all Coworking is just desks, chairs and some paint right?
The main message of my keynote address was that the essence of coworking is not a real estate product. Coworking is a community base approach or technique to solving problems. The people that work in Coworking are part of a movement that believe in a more human centred approach to living and working. That was the first time I shared my theory on the coworking methodology with the industry at large and the presentation drew whoops of applause from the audience.
Coworking is so often thought of as a physical product; a working environment where people share space and where multiple business operators co-locate for lean gains and operational efficiencies. But the thought process behind coworking is not actually about the physical space. Using a community-as-a-solution, coworking has enabled buildings and companies to behave in ways they previously weren’t able to.
The Shift in Mindset
The shift in mindset from ‘Asset-focused’ to ‘Human-centred’ has already been enormously disruptive to the real estate industry and it's starting to disrupt others.
Let me explain. If you were to define Coworking as just serviced office environments instead of as a community based methodology, it fails to explain why there are now so many different types of coworking: coworking spaces, co-living communities, members clubs, incubators, accelerators, even coboating (Yes collaborative sailing and working is a thing); all of these different businesses use coworking systems and fall under the big umbrella category of coworking. The link is the common methodology not the common product. With the understanding that coworking is not an outcome, it is a methodology backed by a series of values and principles, we can move forward and start to look at ways that the coworking methodology can be applied to other industries and areas. And we can address some of the common misconceptions about the coworking industry. (Hint - its not just desks, chairs and paint)
The coworking methodology overlaps with some of the values of the sharing economy: It is first and foremost a solution based on subscription membership not ownership - Members join tribes and subscribe to the community of their choosing. The size and duration of their subscription matches their needs, not an arbitrarily predefined term. It’s a methodology that assumes a social approach is better than an isolated one. Because it is a social approach, coworking is values led to foster collaboration and align everyone. One of those values is to encourage internal collaboration before competition. The coworking methodology requires users to acknowledge that sharing a solution with others everyone enjoys a better outcome.
Most critically it is a business approach that is Human Centred and User Experience focused - one that addresses people as individuals.