Researchers are studying it. The traditional media is reporting it. And bloggers, obviously, are writing about coworking. It’s the latest work style trend to emerge. Coworking typically involves renting a desk or paying for the right to plop down at a shared table in a communal workspace. It’s a growing option for home-based or freelance professionals seeking to curb isolation and build camaraderie.
In a story in yesterday’s New York Times, Dan Fost describes the coworking movement. In Tuesday’s San Francisco Chronicle, Ilana DeBare reported on “Shared Work Spaces a Wave of the Future.” Clearly, there’s something happening here.
Most coworking facilities look and feel much different from temporary or drop-in corporate office space (the image on the left is a coworking space called the Hat Factory in San Francisco). In fact, some coworking facilities remind me of my college radio station. The studios and communal areas of WCBN-FM in Ann Arbor, Michigan were usually messy, often chaotic, and almost always a creative outlet.
Coworking is most effective for professionals who talk sparingly on phones, since people are expected to step outside the coworking space for phone calls. Imagine five people around a table on their phones simultaneously!
So, is coworking collaborative? That depends. Undoubtedly, including people engaged in different enterprises under the same roof sparks synergies. And without offices or cubicles, interaction can happen on the fly. An entrepreneur working across from a web designer need only call across the table to get design input. A technical writer can engage a software developer with a tap on the shoulder. Relationships form, and trust may develop.
Collaboration, however, requires many cultural elements including shared goals. In collaborative organizations, people come together across disciplines, departments, roles and regions to create value. The shared goal may involve slashing product development time or closing sales more effectively or curing a disease. Coworking invites input from others, but usually without shared goals. One person has a stake in the input, while the other provides advice as a friendly gesture or deposit in the favor bank. Coworking may lead to collaboration, but collaboration is by no means automatic. Of course, coworkers may discover they share some goals and then join forces to start a business or curb climate change or elect a candidate.
The main connection between coworking and collaboration involves people from different disciplines interacting in an informal physical environment. This, in turn, encourages informal interaction which reinforces, but does not create, The Culture of Collaboration.