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The Lost Value of Coworking: Wellness

01 Mar 2011
by Alex Hillman

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?

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Alex Hillman I am always thinking about the intersection of people, relationships, trust and business. I founded Indy Hall in 2006, making us one of oldest fully independent coworking communities in the world. This site is packed with the lessons and examples I’ve learned along the way. You can find me on Twitter, too! 🐦 Say hi.