Coworking, a movement for inclusion

A hot topic that is simmering away in the world of coworking is inclusion and I feel this year it is going to boil it’s way to the surface and become a big part of this year’s discussions surrounding the continuing evolution of coworking.

So we are still a little bit hooked on the physical space as a growing movement, we still ask ‘how many desks does your space have?’ as the opening question between two coworking space operators at the coworking conference. This ‘how big is your ____ (fill in the blanks)’ question is as old as time and has dominated the industrialised world as we have been told that BIG is better.

We obviously have totally overused the word ‘community’ although most of us still are not entirely sure what that is, but hey! we are all building one on a platform or something. Plenty of ‘onboarding’ mixed in too.

A few of the smarter ones have built the magical unicorn of ‘community’ first and then focused on the physical space that would best suit the needs of that group. A growing number are now waking up to the success stories and focusing their energies on the people first and less about the space.

There are of course the anomalies created by the growing number of real estate desk factories that are dominating the skyline of coworking in big cities, where it’s often about the yields, REVPAW and REVPOW (Regus anyone), pot plants, fancy art, beer and hammocks and less about the fluffiness of serendipity, humans and group hugs.

As with any growing movement, and I do see coworking as a movement rather than an industry, there are teething problems, splinter groups, politics, factions, and so on, which is normal in any human endeavour.

There are conflicting views on definitions, optimum space sizes, how to promote your space or community, what’s the best software to manage your space, or spreadsheet in my case until very recently!

Amazingly though, very few of us until more recently, are debating or discussing inclusion, and more to the point how many of us are inclusive. I am not talking about pricing here or what benefits are included in our membership deals.

So what is inclusion?

“Inclusion is seen as a universal human right. The aim of inclusion is to embrace all people irrespective of race, gender, disability, medical or other need. It is about giving equal access and opportunities and getting rid of discrimination and intolerance (removal of barriers). It affects all aspects of public life.”

This was one the best and most succinct definitions I could find online.

This where coworking as a movement rather than an industry for me is an important distinction. Martin Luther King was head of a movement that was trying to create a dream where all people were equal. So I am not saying that coworking is the same as the Civil Rights Movement, but in a way it is.

As the unquenchable march towards freelancing gathers it’s unstoppable pace, we are faced with a uniquely challenging and different society, not just a different way of working. We are changing how people come together in the biggest way since the agrarian and industrial revolutions.

The world is also changing with this and there are the challenges of race, poverty, wealth inequality and the politics of hate-fuelled behind our screens and played out on our keyboards.

The coworking movement is society and us as the coworking community and anyone who is looking to be a leader within that movement must take on the responsibilities that comes with that. We need to be inspirational not just as gathering places, workspace and forums, but to society as a whole.

We have to set the example, we have to be brave enough to include all. That means all humans, as we are all born the same, it is only our environment, opportunities and resources that then separate us sadly and creates judgement and discrimination.

If we are looking to build community, then what good is that community if it excludes? What good is creating something that is only partially representative of the world that we are sharing? What point is there having something exclusive?

If we want to simply run a space and do that for our ‘own’ then that’s a choice, but if we want to see a growing movement bring about real change, then we too have to be open, diverse and inclusive to all.

I would ask anyone within this coworking movement to look at what they contribute, to look at how they lead and to ask the question, is every human unconditionally welcome in my community?

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