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Coworking Core Values 2 of 5: Accessibility

4 minute read
by Alex Hillman

This post is part 2 of a 5 part series exploring the 5 core values of coworking: Collaboration, Openness, Community, Accessibility, and Sustainability.

Today I want to take a look at the core value of accessibility.

They’ll select themselves in.

One of the unique elements of coworking is that anybody who can work from anywhere can do it. You don’t even need a special coworking space to do it. You can cowork in a living room, or a park, or even somebody else’s office. But the key element here is self-selection.

If you think about it, it’s actually pretty remarkable. A coworking space is one of the only places in the world where every single person in the room is there because they chose to be. An environment composed of willing self-selected participants is a remarkably positive and productive place to work, as you’ll find out talking to anybody who coworks. I think that many people who cite unusual productivity levels from working at a coworking space are actually feeling the benefits of a) choosing for themselves where to work for the day and b) being surrounded by others who choose where they work for the day.

The key to this interaction even being possible, though, is that the coworking space allows the members and participants to self select themselves in.

An application process, is the “baby with the bathwater” scenario for this problem. While an application process may keep people out, or keep things “balanced”, you are also likely to be keeping out people that you don’t intend to because you hadn’t considered them viable members.

Over the last 4 years, we’ve had many people surprise us. Maybe their experience level seemed lower than average. Maybe their social skills needed a little work. Maybe they were shyer. Maybe they were boisterous. Maybe they were snarky. Maybe they were know-it alls. In time, most of those attributes vanished. They started to be themselves, instead of the person they thought they had to be. And in the best cases, they improved themselves over time. When you have the vantage point of watching somebody progress their personal and professional skills over the course of a few years, you’ll surprised how much people can grow. If you let them.

Coworking as a melting pot allows all of these extremes to normalize on their own. It trusts that when people have to actually deal with other people instead of have managers, mediators, or human resources solve their problems for them – most of the time, things work themselves out.

They’ll select themselves out.

In the early days of Indy Hall, we were excited to be meeting anybody who wanted to be around. Not because we were desperate to fill our office, but because we were genuinely excited to be finding more and more people who were awesome.

Then one day, somebody not so awesome showed up. I knew personal stories about this person, and decided that I didn’t want that person around Indy Hall. I talked it over with Geoff, who was able to look at the situation without my biases.

“If we don’t let in one person because you don’t like them, what kind of precedent does that set for everybody else? We want Indy Hall to be a place where anybody – even people we don’t know yet – can feel welcome, be a part of and contribute to something great.”

My commitment to the core value of accessibility was being challenged.

I had to trust that this person would make the right decision for themselves: either they would change their behavior from what I knew to have happened in the past (a positive outcome), or that they’d leave on their own when they realized they wouldn’t get what they wanted (also a positive outcome).

If they were truly not aligned with our community as I expected, the latter was the most likely result.

Inside of a couple of months, that person simply stopped showing up on their own.

This interaction has happened more than once. On only two occasions in four years have we had to ask somebody to leave.

You need both.

The core value of accessibility relies on both of these dynamics to be in balance. When a coworking space’s philosophy remains committed to this core value, the remarkable outcomes and benefits that make coworking more than a trendy way to share real estate start to take form.

When everything shakes out, you’ll be glad you created a unique environment where you can trust people to surprise you in a positive way.

Want more? Here are my other essays on the core values: CollaborationOpennessCommunityAccessibility, and Sustainability

To the comments!

This is my perspective on accessibility as it pertains to coworking. What’s yours? Leave a comment below.

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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.