Thursday, January 7, 2010

thoughts on design and coworking

A very good interview with Tony Bacigalupo, the owner/founder of New Work City, a New York City CoWorking community. I think the questions are good, and Tony's answers really capture the main ideas of CoWorking in a clear way. Some choice quotes:

I’ve found that when people say they want to work from home, they really mean they want to be able to choose where they work and in a circumstance that works best for them. What we’re moving towards, in terms of the workplace, is to be in a position where each person can choose where they work best.

This captures for me why design is important in coworking, even though CoWorking guru's first concern is community. This is the classic client of design services unable to state their problem without framing in terms of a solution. I don't want to work for somebody - my problem is I want to work from home. Is the issue that you want to work from home, or that you want to be independent? Some may be perfectly happy to work at home, but many will prefer a CoWorking environment that mixes the best of the social aspects of the workplace with independence.

A lot of coworking spaces are all over the world. Most of them have been started by those who do not have entrepreneurial ambitions from the coworking space, but more social ambitions that they want to cultivate in this community.

This is an important part of CoWorking that I think many who seek to start a space should tune into. A CoWorking space as a business entity will have social goals - social profit as its motivation, more so than monetary profit. Sure, every space needs to be in the black, save capital for improvements etc. But ultimately the purpose is to build community, and make social profits that everybody can share if they choose too. I think this is why an Office Suites type of business immediately does not feel like CoWorking - you can not obscure the difference in priorities.

I want to bring this back to my interest in design and CoWorking. The message I take away from this is that CoWorking is not an end in itself, but a tool for independents to use in helping them get their work done. Its about the design of the workplace - not the physical place, but the social place. Designing the best social tool to get your work done. If you can accept that idea, and I think anybody that believes in CoWorking will, then it is not such a leap to acknowledge that the design of the physical CoWorking environment can also make a significant contribution to the success of that tool.

Many of these spaces started out in coffee shops or cafes, and there is a sentiment that the community is what mattered. Desks and chairs don't matter - we got our work done at cafe tables before. But you are really selling your community short if you discount this entire dimension of your most important work tool. You no more want to bring the cafe tables to your new space than you want to put up the typical corporate cubicles. The answer is not something that can be plucked from the sky. You have to observe and recognize the nature of the social interaction in your CoWorking community and think about how to facilitate the most beneficial conditions and behaviors. I know the can-do attitude of most people that have started spaces and the ease with which you can fill a space with commodity furniture from Ikea. But I'm telling you that you will be better served ultimately by an insightful designer trained in how to make spaces that respond to the activities of their users, and a broad knowledge of the wide range of tools - meaning furniture and accessories - avaialble in the market.

End of pitch to Design Your CoWorking!

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