My coworking journal week 1: Remind Me What Coworking Is?
Greetings! My name is Emma Fenstermaker and I am a 20-year-old American student currently studying abroad in Berlin. In the U.S., I am majoring in English and Creative Writing and Sociology with a French minor. For the next six weeks here, I will be studying different coworking spaces and keeping a blog about my experiences and impressions. This project falls under the umbrella of Coworkies, an online platform that connects people between coworking spaces globally (www.coworkies.com ).
My study abroad program connected me to this project through Rainmaking Loft, the first coworking space that I was exposed to. I must admit that before I was interviewed, my knowledge of coworking extended as far as an association with co-workers and a general term for any type of work environment.
Part One: My Previous Knowledge
Upon seeing Rainmaking Loft, I quickly realized that “coworking” referred to a different type of work environment. Everything that I observed aligned with my knowledge of more modern, experimental workspaces that lack strict hierarchy and encourage equal exchange of ideas.
When I stepped through doorway from the stylish cafe connected to the loft, into the workspace, I have to say that my first feeling was confusion. I had entered a room lined with skeleton furniture covered in cushions, and a ping pong table. I was told offhandedly that people could come to the room to play some ping pong if they were stressed and needed a break. If I had any doubts about how different coworking was from traditional work spaces at that point, they were laid to rest. As we explored the rest of the loft and I saw the open floor plan, the comfortable scattered all around, and the open kitchen, I predominantly felt excitement to dig into the process of coworking and learn more.
I had never had a term for this different style of work before, and had never even seen it in action, for that matter. I simply had a vague conception of new-age work theories about what leads to the best levels of productivity and mental well-being of the workers. I imagined that such a working environment would include communal spaces and open work areas. I thought there would be few or no clearly defined bosses, and that anyone could propose an idea and have that idea taken seriously. I assumed that workspaces like these would involve free brainstorming sessions in order to stimulate ideas and start productive conversations.
I envisioned a more relaxed and informal atmosphere than a traditional work environment where the workers can move about freely and are not chained to a single desk or cubicle for hours on end. This imagined atmosphere always appealed to me more than what I thought of as a normal office space. I have always known that I did not want to go into a line of work that would land me at a desk all day long. I feel claustrophobic just thinking about being in a sterile environment of strict deadlines and meetings and a cramped work space. Seeing Rainmaking Loft made me feel like my options have opened up a little bit, and there is another realm of work possibilities that I now have the chance to explore.
Some of my so-called knowledge of this other style of work comes from movies or TV shows depicting this kind of environment, where there are comfort and game areas in which the workers can unwind or de-stress. After seeing the different rooms of Rainmaking Loft and receiving a small glimpse into how people here interact, I think that my ideas of what coworking is may be along the right track, but I have much more reading and exploration to conduct on the subject before I have a clear-cut, concrete definition.
Part Two: What I Learned
After two days of reading about coworking, my head is swimming. I went from having the vaguest conception of what it means to move away from the traditional workplace structure to seeing an entire arena of information and innovation that redefines what it means to work.
Now, if someone asked me what coworking is, I can say that it is a set-up in which different entrepreneurs and start-ups share a communal space and develop their own projects while lending assistance and community to each other in the process. The development of coworking spaces seems to me to be a natural development in the human pursuit of happiness. I have always shuddered at the thought of working in an office cubicle day after day, and after everything I have read in the last couple days, it is clear that the traditional workplace has a clear and detrimental effect on happiness and mental wellbeing.
From various blogs and analyses I read, as well as what I can easily infer, the benefits of coworking seem to be enumerable. Being in an environment where everyone is equally as passionate as you are creates greater productivity, and not being in direct competition with those around you helps the work to feel more meaningful and less stressful. Coworking spaces provide you with a community, creating social bonds and decreasing the loneliness that can dog employees at more traditional companies. In addition, the natural flow of ideas throughout a coworking space means that different groups working there can rely on each other to provide information or this or that specialty skill when needed.
Though coworking seems like an intuitive idea, when I researched its conception, I learned that it did not really emerge until the 1990s. In 1995, the C-Base in Berlin, a hacker space, became a precursor to coworking spaces. In 1999, the term was officially coined, but the definition differed from its current iteration as it did include the idea of people working together, but focusing on individual projects.
In 2005, Brad Neuberg created the first official coworking space in San Francisco, and the term remained in the U.S. until around 2009 or 2010. In reading up on the future of coworking, I found a few predictions such as the fact that coworking spaces will partner with building owners instead of leasing buildings, renting hostel properties in cheaper locales will become popular, and coworking spaces with a single, unifying theme will begin popping up.
Everything I found seemed to point to the fact that the nature of work is transitioning away from hierarchy and the view of workers as cogs in a machine. Even many older, established mega-corporations are moving more towards a coworking style in order to attract talented and specialized workers, as more traditional work models just don’t seem to be cutting it anymore, particularly amongst younger generations. In going forward, I am excited to explore coworking spaces in Berlin. I am curious to see whether they are all set up in a similar style, or if there is a large amount of variation between them. I am also interested to see how spaces that have a specific focus compare to the more general atmosphere of Rainmaking Loft.
Although I have been able to observe the Rainmaking Loft in these past couple of days, I have mostly been focused on my own work and readings. I am therefore ready to observe and chat with coworking space owners, and ask questions about what made them want to go into this line of work, what it takes to establish a space like this, and what benefits they receive from it.
I think my favorite piece of information from the last few days was reading about JuggleHub and envisioning the cozy image of children and their parents mingling and going about their activities in tandem. I can’t wait to find more coworking spaces like JuggleHub, where humanity and relationships thrive alongside innovation and creation.
The Coworkies team has traveled to 110 coworking spaces across 12 cities and interviewed coworking space owners and teams, collecting stories along the way. They forge connections between coworking spaces and open doors to a more global coworking community.