Coworking vs. Open Spaces

Generic Coworking stock photo, must contain iced tea and Moleskin notebook.

The overwhelming number of people at the library today shocked me. About 40 people were waiting (on a Monday) for the library to open its door. The lady at reception seemed to stare, slightly in frustration, and slightly in bewilderment for the sudden popularity of library.

People entered as if boarding the delayed 8.40am express train into the city.

So the question I pose is, are there enough spaces that truly support the self-employed, the unemployed, and the new entrepreneurs?

  1. Where on Earth do people go to express creativity and productivity? Where do these people go all day? And what are the spaces that allow them to feel part of a community.
  2. Spending all day, and then all night at home is not much fun at all. You might get a kick out of it for a couple of days or even weeks, but long-term, you’ll start finding excuses just to leave the confines of your rented one-bedder.
  3. Wasted time. How much time do we spend simply wondering from locale to locale, avoiding expensive coffee, and the temptation of pastries which will increase their daily outgoings, perhaps making today an unprofitable operation.
  4. Where does self-employed mother go to work and allow themselves and their children to feel comfortable in a space that is not their living room. Imagine being a Mum with newborn, but with aspirations to start or grow an enterprise. Where do they go to get a sense of outing, adventure, community, support, and productivity? (I’m genuinely asking a question here, because I have no idea where I would go in this scenario).

Office Space.

Maybe there’s is a physical or virtual space that can unite us again, to allow us to work and play, to replenish our quota for human contact, to express, to ideate, to gossip, to insight debate & discussion. The modern-day town hall, or properly funded and integrated community centres.

Coworking costs.

Coworking is a great first step towards this, but as anyone who is trying to start their own business will know, unnecessary outgoings have to be restricted to near $0.00 in order to keep the business (or the dream of business) going for a couple more months, or even days.

Some Coworking spaces can cost from $25-$99 a day. Which is not a problem if you’re a consultant on $150 per hour. But what about the video editor who may have one client, paying $30 per hour.

You’re only collaborating with people who can afford it.

Coworking is built around a premise of connecting and collaborating with the people around you. One problem, this is an exclusive community that you have to pay to be part of it. A Soho House for the elite Sole Trader or Startup, if you will.

This form of paid-for collaboration creates a vacuum, a vacuum of which only hinders innovation & diversity (gender, race, socioeconomic groups), and promotes segregation, isolation, and a new form of elitism.

Your traditional Coworking space does not allow for non-traditional forms of work. What about the painter, the musician, the theatre director, the furniture restorer, the therapist, the private teacher.

A/D/O in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, offers a glimpse of a framework that could work to enable accessibility for all, although having spent about 10-days of working out of this space at the end of last year, it’s clear that the heavily male, 30-year-old (caucasian), customer-base doesn’t really reflect the true beautiful diversity that exists in the New York area.

The New Lab and Pioneer Works (also in Brooklyn) are also pushing Coworking into new territory. But they too seem to promote the idea of facilitating pre-established professionals, entrepreneurs & start-ups who are worthy (in monetary or status terms) to be included, and are not too interested in promoting projects or collaboration at the grassroots.

The blacksmith and the microbiologist.

So we find ourselves in an interesting space. Is there a space where the blacksmith and the microbiologist can meet? Is there a space that helps single-mothers work on their business without fitting the cost of childcare + coworking space? Is there a space that allows for the barista and the engineer to meet to ideate a new subscription product for coffee lovers?

You can find them in a coffee shop (most likely for one and a half hours) until they’re kicked out. You will likely find them at their home, isolated in their bedroom, longing for the walls to fall down around them, hoping for the to be replaced by same walls they had once loathed at school/university. You may also find them in a library, which is where I sit as I write this.

The library is great when you remove the shoddy wifi situation, the (hungry) competition for space, and the innate silence (how dare I discuss political ideas with the stranger I’ve been sitting next to for 6-hours, which is more time than I will spend sat next any other person this week in one sitting).

The Open Space

For anyone still reading, I’m proposing a conversation about the Open Space. What opportunities do we have (publicly or privately) to create productive and inclusive spaces for the the many new entrepreneurs, the self-employed, the unemployed, who are trying to navigate this new world of automation and digital innovation? The Corporate refugees who are now going it alone.

I really love what Lentils As Anything are doing in Australia. A pay-what-you-can nonprofit restaurant, where anyone can eat, donate, and if you can’t afford to donate, you’re welcome to work for your food. What a fantastic concept!

What about the properties that lie vacant for years on end, the old shopfronts waiting for a renter, the large office spaces that lie vacant as a Corporate company downsizes and awaits to attract company with enough Cisco phones to fill the space.

What might the benefits be for the mental health in the self-employed if we looked to build more accessible spaces of community, connectivity, productivity, creativity, trust, and support. One that is not dictated by arbitrary opening hours, but instead facilitates the night owls, the early risers, and the one-off “sidegiggers” whatever their productivity cycles.

Now clearly my observations of one library, 50 people on a Monday, in Melbourne (a compact city), is not enough to bring conclusive insight, but I do see value in expressing observations that may be part of something bigger.