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Coworking Core Values 3 of 5: Openness

5 minute read
by Alex Hillman

This post is part 3 of a 5 part series exploring the 5 core values of coworking: Collaboration, Openness, Community, Accessibility, and Sustainability.

The core value of openness may seem redundant after reading about accessibility, but the nuanced difference is an important one.

Coworking, much like its sister movement of Barcamp, was given birth to by a group of advocates of open source methodologies. Their ideas of openness are the reason that Barcamp and Coworking are the core reasons that the two movements exist in the first place, so without this core value, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here writing these essays, and I certainly wouldn’t have the global community of coworking participants to call my comrads.

I think Chris Messina says it best in this interview,

Openness is unfortunately one of those words that’s become somewhat geriatric, losing its teeth and forgetting what it means . . . There’s the Facebook “Openness” and Adobe “Openness” and Government “Openness” and they all mean different things. When I think of openness, I think of “freedom”, “forkability”, and “interoperability.” Regardless of the definition of “open” or “openness” that you use — yes, you must always fight for openness, and you must always fight for decisions to be made that are more transparent, more expansive, more liberal, and more inclusive. This should be the case for both moral and economic reasons. When I think of openness I also think of biology and the human body. The human body is an “open system” and thrives because of its openness. The human body is constantly exchanging things it values little for things it values more. Whether you’re talking about oxygen and CO2 or nutrients and waste, the body cycles – value in and waste excreted. It requires openness to live. The fact that Chris and early coworking founders realized that by making coworking “open”, that it could evolve into something much larger than any one of them could control – and that would ultimately be the best thing for the idea.


Coworking as a movement embodies freedom and independence. It represents choice, the ultimate freedom. Coworking Seattle’s about page says…

Coworking is about making the personal choice to work along side other people instead of in isolation. …and this rings true to Brad Neuberg’s comments about what drove him to create the first coworking group.


This idea is important on two levels.

“Forkability” is the ability to take the “source”, of one project and use it to begin a new project. In software, the source is code. In coworking and other non-software applications, the source is lessons learned, ideas executed, and core values.

Coworking has become a global phenomenon because the idea was “forkable”. The early founders made their lessons, ideas, and values available to people like myself to build our own versions on top of. And in turn, we created even more possibilities for newcomers to the movement.

On a local level, forkability means that the members of a coworking space should be able to make it what they want it to be, within bounds of reason.

I’ve described Indy Hall as a “blank canvas” an office. That is, what happens when you provide basic office amenities only – desks, chairs, power, internet, meeting rooms, bathrooms – and let the people who inhabit that office decide what’s most important to them? Giving them an opportunity to make it their own.

The stories I tell of the cool things that happened at Indy Hall aren’t things that Geoff or I went out of our way to make happen. The stories I tell of the cool things that happened at Indy Hall are all stories of other people, our members, who built on top of the most basic infrastructure we could provide.

What’s particularly cool about coworking is that it gives people the chance to create new solutions to the problems they have, rather than relying on the old solutions that haven’t been working as well.

Our members know that we are open to them forking Indy Hall, especially when the things they decide to do benefit other members in addition to themselves.


And most importantly, we contributed back to the origin of our fork whenever possible. That’s the primary motivation I have for sharing as much as I do on this blog as well as on the Coworking Google Group. I’ve learned so much from others, and want to give that back.

With all of the coworking “forks” running around in the wild today, how do we share back, keeping the ecosystem alive and healthy?

I think that the understanding and being committed to of these core values – Collaboration, Openness, Community, Accessibility, and Sustainability – are the key to maintaining interoperability between forked coworking initiatives.

Common core values provide common ground for discussion and understanding. Being able to bring together those disparate opinions and ideas are going to be increasingly necessary as we learn more beyond where people work, and continue to explore how people work and why people work.

Want more? Here are my other essays on the core values: Collaboration, Openness, Community, Accessibility, and Sustainability

To the comments!

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

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Hey, thanks for reading!

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.