Coworking: Exposed

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Source: HUB San Francisco, http://www.designaffects.com/tag/hub/

We have been making all this buzz about coworking recently, but what exactly is it?

Coworking makes it possible for a collective of individuals to work together rather than alone.  By sharing workspace, coworkers have the opportunity to increase collaboration while cutting down on office expenses.

The concept of coworking is not new.  Currently, there are around 700 coworking offices in the United States.  However, coworking offices are typically concentrated in cities, where the high price of office real estate and lack of space makes coworking a compelling opportunity.

A coworking office will typically rent out workspace to individuals for a monthly fee.  Members share the cost of utilities and added expenses like coffee, cleaning, office supplies, etc.  Most coworking offices have conference rooms and lounges that members have access to for meetings.

What does a coworker look like?  Well, coworkers come in all forms, but a majority of them are individuals who want to be a part of an energetic community that motivates and invigorates their working style.  Coworkers are entrepreneurs, small business owners, freelancers, designers, developers, writers, artists, scientists, educators, marketers, videographers, and more.  Many of them have worked out of their homes and local coffee shops for awhile and are just ready to be around more people.

The point of coworking is not to just share costs; rather, the real focus is to create a community.

Coworking is happening all over the world, not just this country.  One can say there is a bit of a coworking movement growing.  There is a large online community generated through a coworking wiki focused on connecting space owners, catalysts, and coworkers from all over to share their experiences and learn from each other’s growth.  How can spaces with entirely different languages, businesses, and cultures connect?

They all commit to the same five core values, that fit in swimmingly with the New Leaf vision:

  • Collaboration – The organizations and institutions we work with are doing great things, but often form silos. Over the past few years, we have recognized the importance of neutral connectors joining individuals and their ideas to a supportive community.   The New Leaf office itself is an effort to create space that builds bridges across these silos, bringing awareness to the good things that our friends and neighbors are already doing.
  • Openness – Physically, our new office has an open floor plan to host the space for organic connections and collaboration to emerge.  Managerially, our approach will be horizontal in structure.  No top down authority will exist.  Culturally, the norms will emanate neutrality, respect for different opinions, and receptiveness to new ideas.
  • Community – The space is just a portal for our goals to emerge.  What we are really building is a community – a community with strong beliefs that a better world is possible and the desire to support each other in achieving that vision.
  • Accessibility – Our new location in the State College Municipal Building on South Allen Street is right in the heart of downtown, accessible to both students and community members.
  • Sustainability – Our organization was founded on the principles of environmental sustainability and sustainable practices will always be entwined into our values.  However, we have realized we also value sustainable communication and collaboration.  We aim to create a culture where no work or connections go to waste, but where initiatives and relationships are constantly recycled to increase the efficiency of our community’s efforts.

The coworking wiki has also started a page for the Coworking Manifesto expressing the “The Code of Conduct of the Community”:

“We have the talent. We just need to work together. Different environments need to overlap, to connect and to interact in order to transform our culture. In order to create a sustainable community based on trust, we value:

  • collaboration over competition
  • community over agendas
  • participation over observation
  • doing over saying
  • friendship over formality
  • boldness over assurance
  • learning over expertise
  • people over personalities”

Bottom line? “We are about creating better places to work and as a result, a better way to work.” This coworking community knows what’s up.

Coworking is not our only focus for the new space, but it is a large component that fits in very well with our existing model.  Bringing in coworkers will not only bring in revenue to create a much needed sustainable business model for New Leaf as an organization, but it will also increase opportunities for effective collaborative partnerships. 

Many of our potential tenants intend on renting desks from us not for the physical workspace, but for the value of the not so physical aspects of the space: opportunities to build synergistic relationships with similar initiatives, the chance of colliding with others from different sectors, and exposure to new ideas and mindsets.  These individuals can work from anywhere, but they choose New Leaf for these reasons.

So we officially joined the coworking community this week when we started our pilot.  How’s that going?  Overall, pretty well.  Within the first day, we realized what this collaboration thing means that we keep talking about because it unfolded right in front of us.  Eric was meeting with the affordable housing team he has been working with on the couches, while coworker Meagan, a Borough employee, sat a few feet away at her desk.  Not too far into the conversation, Eric realized Meagan may have the answers to a few questions they were asking in their meeting.  Eric invited Meagan to join the meeting and the four of them spent the rest of the hour exchanging information and ideas.  So there you have it folks, collaboration at its finest.

What does the office look like now? Empty. Except for me and Eric.  But that’s okay! This is a good challenge to have in our pilot and the exact reason why we are doing it.  We are experimenting with the intention of figuring out what works and what doesn’t.

We started the experiment open ended.  No time restrictions, no requirements.  Just come in whenever you like.  Should we manipulate the schedule so we can coordinate opportunities for everyone to connect at the same time? Maybe and that’s an idea we will probably try soon.  If that works, great! If not, we will try something else.  But we have already seen the value in coworking and are excited about its potential at the next level.

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