Guest post by Marc van Sittert, Better member
With the phenomenon of coworking prompting a consistent doubling of available, geared coworking spaces across the globe each year over the last decade, there is nowadays lots of valid commentary and information around the issue. Facts and figures, however, can only do so much justice to what is always a rather loose association of users of coworking facilities. While the obvious parallel can be drawn between the rise of freelancing as a career path (freelancing grew 38% in the UK in 2016, and not due to a shrinking economy either, as over 80% of respondents had chosen to exit formal employment), coworking as a concept has far deeper roots and greater value than current freelancing trends indicate.
It was Steven R. Covey who said that the synergy of interdependence is an unknown and potentially huge benefit of right living. Taken down to the minutiae, every time you step into a coworking space, you’re faced with an unknown potential that is a wonderful, mysterious gift to the gregarious. It’s as though coworking spaces have arisen as the logical answer to humanity’s inevitable disillusionment with the rote factory production that sparked the Industrial Revolution all those years ago and changed the world as we know it. Not only do coworking spaces adopt a point of departure that both assumes and fosters professional integrity, competence, enjoyment and trust, they also enable something synergistic, something wonderful.
Interestingly, it was Covey who pointed to how the most important things seem never to get done, what he called Quadrant 2 activities. Coworking is precisely such a framework, just the space, to enable this life balance we all deserve and make us all, in his words, highly effective people. It reaches deeper than any other employment format – whether one “coworks” alongside a thousand colleagues a day or not in a formal employment setting – as it evokes the massively empowering and soul-warming human need to choose our environment, to choose our association, especially in the name of work. Far from the inevitable allegiance (read: ownership) that Company X demands of its employees as they file into that giant temple to its success every day, coworking is almost delirious in its meeting of the human need for unfettered, autonomous choice. Far from a melodramatic, pop-psychological observation, returning to the facts and figures, the last point is demonstrably true as cowork is, wonderfully, on the rise. And, since coworking spaces need to make money too, they are rising on the field where capital plays. They just play nicer! Free of the politics, status and tinselly considerations of a formal employment space, coworking portals shine bright into the cosmos.
Coworking does away with all of the negatives and enables all of the positives. When you put it that way – put it like that, look at it and realize it’s true – it can surely only be the slow, fearful wind-down of traditional models that inhibits the entire world rushing into their nearest coworking venue.
A glimpse of the ill-defined wonder and latent, huge productivity of coworking is probably best intimated by looking at two divergent outlets’ comments on the issue. Very much like religion and science are often saying the same thing and pointing to the same reality, but with different words, in these two snippets a similar theme is apparent.
In an article for Entrepreneur¹, author Ann Smarty lists six benefits to the business world of coworking spaces. On another site, the Coworking Handbook² lists 26 reasons why coworking is legitimately great, with the 27th being happiness. While one is a nod from formal employment and the other an unashamed “how-to” manual for the liberated mind, both point to the same growing, enjoyable and productive reality. Coworking is starting to be valued even by formal business, though business isn’t geared for the far looser, standalone freelancer’s space a typical coworking environment is.
It is interesting to note that the term “coworking” is credited as the invention of San Francisco resident Brad Neuberg, circa 2005, and in that city coworking spaces have proliferated ever that since. Looking for a model that encompassed both the outright freelance insistence on freedom of choice as well as the communality and equipped space of formal employment, recognizing as he did that in that marriage a sinless child would be born, Neuberg first brought the concept into sight of official recognition. If coworking was a dotcom, considering it’s explosive growth over just more than a decade, it would be a Silicon Valley blue chip by now, worth billions.
What will you find when entering a coworking space? Nothing! Everything! Who knows? And that’s the magic of it, the variable, the unknown, and the ultimate value. You may sit alone some days, pondering in the quiet of the place. You may need earmuffs on other days as it’s so busy. You may find yourself holding the floor at times, regaling dozens of strange faces. And you will very surely glean snippets from others in both suits and dungarees that could change your world forever. Simply because no one can cap the potential of the synergistic choice in you, coworking becomes another, different, amazing planet. That, is the thing. To try to overly define the magical essence inherent in sharing a diversified, voluntary workspace it is to have it elude you. To experience it, is to open yourself to the possibility of the greatest “work” of your human life.
Coworking holds a promise that’s hard to define yet, once known, mighty hard to live without.