The Lost Value of Coworking: Wellness

When we scored the coworking.com domain early last year, my personal goal was to have a digital placeholder for the word “coworking” and tie it to the shared core values of the community: collaboration, openness, community, accessibility, and sustainability.

As I watch announcements of new coworking spaces pour in, and the beginnings of another of my predictions being fulfilled at an equally alarming rate, I’m seeing yet another pattern emerge.

Among the top “reasons” cited, at least in a completely non-scientific study of my own perception, is “cost savings”. It’s a bum economy, so I get why, but that bum economy isn’t going to be lifted out of it’s own sorrows by the graces of coworking.

The shame is, every coworking space that’s selling itself on cost-effectiveness is founding themselves on a short term value for their members. At some point, there’s a good chance that they’re not going to be able to sustain being “cost effective” and will return their rates to something that makes commercial sense. Alternatively, as the economy bounces back and priorities shift, cost effectiveness will sink in the hierarchy of needs, rendering the primary offering less attractive.

I’ve often harped on the importance of remembering the history of coworking. Not just the historical facts, like names and dates, but the historical purpose and intent.

In 2005, Brad Neuberg’s “Spiral Muse” based coworking arrangement was anything but practical, but it had a purpose for Brad and the other participants: improving quality of life and wellness. Part of the communal workday at the Spiral Muse included some forms of meditation and yoga.

Nearly 5 years later, I propose that we should push ourselves ahead of the curve and remember the long term value of coworking: wellness, in a richer, more sustainable working lifestyle. Indy Hall was, very personally, founded in a need for separation of work and life. Today, when I work at Indy Hall, I’m happier. If that’s not the most critical form of wellness we could stand to improve in our workforce, I don’t know what is.

I’m not necessarily proposing that every coworking space institute a yoga or meditation practice into their regiment, unless of course members are the ones driving that forward. Instead, I’m proposing a shift in focus. Don’t drop your rates because members want cheap membership, create sustainable rates for them and you, so that they can receive a benefit to their overall wellness.

There’s 10 month left in 2011. That’s a lot of time left to bring wellness back into the message of coworking. We’re doing our part by inviting a yoga instructor who is developing a program specifically for office exercising to Indy Hall next month. More ideas will be discussed at tomorrow night’s Town Hall, as well.

I propose we introduce “wellness” back into the core values of coworking.com as well.

Coworking comrades, how will you help?

  • Annkingman

    Thank you, Alex. I was taken by your statement ” Indy Hall was, very personally, founded in a need for separation of work and life.”. That is the prime reason for my desire to join a coworking community, and when none existed, think about starting one. But I come from this after being a remote worker for more than 20 years. I think that need for work/life separation is possibly the most “selling” point of a coworking space, but I’m not sure if that will resonate with those who are dipping their toes into entrepreneurship or telecommuting. It takes awhile for that work/life separation “need” to rear its ugly head. For the “newer” remote workers, I think that education such as brown bag programming, after hours events, etc. will be a more attractive short-term lure.

    I have been trying to figure out a way to stress both benefits, and your “wellness” term seems to fit.

    Ann Kingman CoWork508 (right now, just a concept) Attleboro, MA

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  • Marcus Trugilho

    Hi Alex, a little late, but I just happened to bump into your post and I totally agree with your concern. Me and my wife have a coworking space in São Paulo, Brasil and we have seen many new places popping up in different places and, as you mentioned, some of them are just renting communal desks with nothing to offer but a place to work other than your home.

    We do not agree with this approach either and wellness is something that needs to be a part of coworking.

    But, I also believe that this not the most important aspect of coworking. For us, coworking should be based on three benefits as main pillars: discipline, wellness and networking.

    Discipline, because the coworking itself emerged from the need of a more “working” environment to work other than home or a café or a hotel lobby. In order to be fully productive, people need to go somewhere to work where they can be able to focus and separate professional and personal life.

    Wellness you have already mentioned and it is pretty clear. Everybody needs to work in a place where they feel good, confortable and happy.

    But the third point is also a great advantage of the coworking spaces (at least the good ones). Unless you want to be isolated by choice, a coworking space should be a place where you can find other business opportunities and partners and where you can be inspired and helped by other workers with more experienced and/or different businesses.

    From our point of view, if a space cannot have the three points present in some extent, then it has a good chance of not working well and, therefore, not have a long life.

    The yoga and meditation are good ideas and maybe we will start having them here too. And I’m sure many other good ideas are floating in other nice coworking spaces. :-)

    And congrats for the nice space! If you can, visit ours too (www.ptodecontato.com.br).

    Cheers!

  • http://www.dangerouslyawesome.com alexknowshtml

    Marcus! I love this reply.

    I want to try to challenge the word “networking”, since in most settings it is loaded with “what can you do for me”. I think that coworking embodies a more honest and authentic experience, and everything you said about “networking” I say Indy Hall focuses on by making our third pillar – relationships.

    In my experience, and this is admittedly a largely American view on the topic, networking tends to assume that the value of the interaction is the transaction. In other countries, and very much in coworking, the interaction IS the value. I spotted this in a travel guide in Spain last month and felt like someone was writing my own words:

    http://dangerouslyawesome.com/2011/04/first-we-get-to-know-each-other-and-then-we-might-do-business-together/

    I completely agree that without those interactions, the value of coworking diminishes dramatically (quickly towards zero). But by taking the emphasis off “what can you do for me/my business”, the experience is fundamentally changed for the better.

    Again, this was an excellent comment – thank you and best of luck to you and your wife!!