I don’t think we’re solving
a “cubicle problem”

With my coworking “trendwatching” hat on, I notice a lot of patterns of the changes in focus of coworking. One thing I’ve noticed come up and become prominent, is the “battle against the cubicle”.

Battling against the cubicle is a reflection of our time, and a valiant effort for sure. But I’m often reminding myself and others that while on the surface, coworking may appear to be the white knight leading the crusade against the cubicle, that’s only the battle.

There’s a war to be won.

Business. Is. Broken.

Especially in America, where capitalism and a free market economy have shown their best and worst sides, business has overwhelmingly fallen victim to the transaction. Because business and commerce are often synonymous, and many of us (or our parents or grand parents) lived through an industrial revolution where the invention of the assembly line changed the bottom line of business, things have changed.

In the last 50+ years, business in America has become fixated on maximizing transaction. Even moreso in the last 20-30 years.

While profits soar, industries with soaring profits crumble. Dotcom. Housing. Banking. History repeats itself – every time transactions are “maximized” by some newly invented math, another element of business is suffering.

The “lost art” of business is caring. The “lost art” of business, is relationships.

I’m not talking about the misbegotten way that “social media” has re-presented relationships to business, either. Social media has completely borked the first opportunity for businesses to really operate on relationships again by generating transactions – followers, tweets, likes, votes, and calling them “community” and “friendship”.

I’m talking about real, honest-to-goodness relationships. The ones that take time.

I noted this excerpt from the business etiquette section of the Fodors guide to Barcelona:

The reigning philosophy is that, first we get to know each other, and then we might do business together. So the eating and drinking, wining and dining part of the transaction, far from a waste of time, is the most imporant part of the encouter; because if you flunk that part, the deal’s not happening no matter what conditions are offered.

In Japan, business deals are often preceded by weeks if not months of social interaction, for the same reason.

I believe that restoring this concept, and this skill, to American business is the #1 long-term value of coworking.

All of the other benefits of coworking aren’t inhibited by this focus. In fact, they are improved.

When relationships are the focus, people earn trust. And a lack trust is at the core of every bit of brokenness in corporations, including but not limited to those pesky cubes.

I’ve wondered to myself, what is the ultimate impact that Indy Hall can have on the world? Not just Philadelphia – but the world. And I don’t think that showing companies an alternative to cubes is good enough.

I think that by continuing to focus on relationships, and working to restore the understanding and desire for relationships to be at the heart of every business and organization, we can have a profound impact on business and the world it operates in.

My hope isn’t for everybody to work from a coworking space. It’s simply not practical, and it’s selling something to lots of people who not only don’t need it – they don’t want it.

My hope, my genuine honest to goodness hope, is that by growing Indy Hall the way we do, and helping others to do the same, that there’s an increased possibility that the business leaders of tomorrow have worked from a coworking space like Indy Hall at some point in their careers.

Working from a place like Indy Hall can have a fundamental impact on how you value relationships as a part of getting work done. If by operating coworking spaces, we can help re-introduce the priority of relationship building to business, the mega-businesses of 5 years, 10 years, 20 years from now will operate in a fundamentally different way.

In a way that changes the interactions between bosses and their teams. In a way that changes the interactions between companies and their vendors. In a way that changes the interactions between companies and the cities they provide opportunities to.

In a way that changes the way that makes the world a better place to work, live and play.

The funny part is that having worked on this for the last 5 years, I’ve seen how natural it is. We’ve worked so hard to create an unnatural business experience, it’s time to undo the damage.

If you’re interested in building better businesses and disrupting the commercial “status quo”, I highly recommend Umair Haque’s The New Capitalist Manifesto. He can be a challenge to follow on Twitter, but his book does an amazing job of capturing the damage we’ve done/are doing by pretending that the current mode of operation is actually working, and presents cases and examples of businesses “reinventing capitalism”. In fact, I’d posit that they’re returning to the roots of capitalism, rather than operating in the bizzarro-reality we’ve made for our business selves.


  • kelly

    Fantastic and accurate model of the workplace of today-which is really the industrial workplace of yesterday. We plan space for a living-our overarching is to get people out of the boxes-literally-and get people to start engaging again.  Thanks Alex!

  • Derek Neighbors


    We have had many similar thoughts at Gangplank.  It is great to see the work you are doing to help change how other spaces think about what they are doing.

    – Derek

  • Peachie16

    as an ex-salesperson I agree with you totally   the art of  “schmooze” is lost.    Judy   yes that Judy

  • http://tonybacigalupo.com Tony Bacigalupo

    I see the cubicle as the mascot for all of the bad and broken things you describe here, and little more.

    Though the cubicle is more or less scientifically proven to kill your brain: http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2006/02/brain_death_by_.html

    But anyway, this post is brilliant.

  • Anonymous

    Really great food for thoughts. I agree that recasting coworking within a larger context than just workplace/workforce issues we tend to focus on is not only beneficial, but imperative. Relationship, at least for me, is in fact the biggest reason why coworking (for that matter, any workplace) works, and why “coffice,” “rental office” or “elance” concepts always come up short.

    Again, an awesome post. Thanks for keeping the coworking community a challenging and engaging place to check in…