Welcome back, Ze.
One of the key elements to a healthy coworking space (and any office, for that matter) is obvious to some, but not as obvious to others: get to know your coworkers!
I noticed a post on a popular forum in Philly (hat tip Sean Blanda) about getting to know your neighbors. When living in a city, knowing your neighbors can be critical to safety and security and is often overlooked. Beyond safety, it can be a lot more fun to know your neighbors – you have to live near them after all!
Interestingly enough, I noticed that the tips could be applied to having better connections to your coworkers and improving your work experience. Translated through the lens of work:
Step by step on how to work in a coworking space / or anywhere in the real world…
- Stop by direct coworkers’ desks and see other office-mates in the hall and start a conversation. Say “Hello.”
- Nod and say “Hi” to all people you see on your office.
- Say “Hello, my name is__________.”
- Be courteous, ask their name also.
- Offer information on your life for example “I work at _______.”
- Follow up with something like “What do you do?”
- Conversation should follow with coworkers like “Where do you live?” OR “Do you have kids?” OR “I get here early as I work on __________. What time do you get here?”
- –New relationship established.–
- And repeat steps 1-5 on all coworkers.
There’s a doozie of a thread unfolding on the coworking google group. From the subject, you’d think it was about “free coworking”. But it’s not.
Let me explain.
Felix Schurholz has been writing the group extensively about “free coworking” for a while without a lot of context, and I think he confused some other contributors when they took his posts and put them at odds with one of my favorite posts about a case against free trial coworking.
I had a feeling that something was up, so I did some digging. I quickly found this great interview with Felix on Shareable today, I think it does a MUCH better job of explaining what he’s thinking than he had on the list so far.
Hold on to your butts, because the rest of this post might ruffle some feathers.
As I mention in the comments, I totally agree with his core point: MANY paid coworking spaces aren’t differentiating themselves from business centers and aren’t keeping in line with the coworking core values. Social capital is often missing from the exchange between the provider and the member. Any community or collaboration is the result of proximity, but little more.
But this isn’t about free vs. paid, this is about refocusing on the coworking core values and building whatever we do, free or paid, with them in mind.
I can think of examples of the core values interpreted well, and poorly (or not at all), in both courts, free and paid. “Coworking” has reached a wider audience than the people who know and understand the core values, so this is an expected side-effect that we all still need a way to navigate.
I’ve also had conversations with many business center providers who acknowledge that a lot of their customers actively DO NOT WANT the kinds of effects that coworking spaces excel at. They value privacy, exclusivity, or other things above the things that we value. That’s not wrong, it’s different. One of the things that’s increasingly clear to me is that coworking is much more successful when it’s about providing choices than when it’s about forcing a new paradigm of any kind.
Freedom of choice, Freedom of Fees
There’s free as in beer, and free as in speech. This confusion comes up in open source software a lot because some software is “free” (no charge) but not “free” (access to the source to modify and interpret). I think this is a classic confusion of “gratis” versus “without restriction”.
In this case, Felix seems to be combining the two when in fact, they are not necessarily dependencies fo one another.
Given that coworking was largely born of open source roots, we shouldn’t be surprised to be running into this confusing distinction.
Returning Focus to the Values
Personally, I’d rather not focus on people who aren’t living the core values because it’s not a productive way to lead. Instead, I can focus on what we do to uphold them.
Indy Hall’s business is strong and growing (again), not in spite of the core values, but BECAUSE of the core values. ESPECIALLY in times of growth, we turn to the core values to make sure we’re making the right decisions by our members, and creating a unique experience that they love. I’ve even been pushing past the usual structure of community, openness, sustainability, collaboration, and accessibility and into a more actionable model, which I’ve started writing about as we develop it for ourselves.
Personally, I like Felix’s sentiment a lot, lest it becomes confused with “free” vs. “paid”. I understand his position, though I personally would love to have him more strongly behind the coworking core values regardless of paid vs. free. Everyone would benefit from having more voices in this part of the discussion about coworking.
After last week’s town hall about Indy Hall’s expansion, I was speaking with some friends about how we approach things, especially in times of growth. We’re pretty deliberate about the way we choose to interact and the things that we make priorities, and while these decisions feel natural to us we notice that they are often overlooked by others.
What is Arête?
In Greek, Arête translates “virtues”.
Virtues are behavioral patterns – or habits and their queues – that if practiced and matured bring a “side effect” of eudaimonia, which the Greeks translate into “a good life”.
“…rich with relationships, ideas, emotion, health and vigor, recognition and contribution, passion and fulfillment, and great accomplishment and enduring achievement”
This is how Umair describes eduaimonia.
Practicing Arête helps to make things more authentic and more meaningful.
Authentic and meaningful experiences are at the heart of eudaimonia and not by coincidence, are also at the heart of Indy Hall.
The virtues themselves don’t provide the good life, though.
I like to think of it like going to the gym: if you go to the gym to lose weight, you’re likely to be disappointed or fall off the wagon if the weight loss doesn’t show up as fast as you want.
If you go to the gym to be healthy, your motivators are intrinsic and you’re more likely to push through the harder parts of the workout routine as you make progress with becoming healthier.
Weight loss will be the byproduct of becoming healthier. The good life is a byproduct of practicing Arête.
In order to practice Arête, it requires a transformation in perspective.
From vision to ambition.
From mission to intention.
From strategy to constraints.
From objectives to imperatives.
As a thought exercise, while we’re working on our expansion project, I wanted to make notes on how we practice Arête at Indy Hall through each of those specific transformations. This is a bit of a living document, and I’m going to encourage our members to add to it as well.
Ambition replaces vision – and it answers the question “why are we here?” More specifically, ambition is meant to define the kinds of returns you will provide, and to whom you will provide them (hint: shareholders aren’t usually in this list).
The more genuine and “thick” the value is, the greater the ambition. There are less bonus points for “bigger” than there are for “better”.
For Indy Hall, our ambition is to make Philadelphia (and ultimately the world) a better place to make a living doing what you love.
Intention is an action required to achieve your ambition. How will you improve things for the people you interact with? What daily interaction(s) will make sure your ambition is being fulfilled?
For Indy Hall, our intention is to…
…help unlikely groups of likeminded people form relationships.
…focus on people and their interactions, and the formation of relationships.
…help people tell the stories of the experiences they have in Philadelphia.
…trust people to do the right thing.
…guide people to being good citizens of Indy Hall and of Philadelphia.
…support people in their goals of building businesses to last, in Philadelphia and for Philadelphia.
Constraints are the things are not be done. Constraints exist to avoid things that do damage to the value being created.
For Indy Hall, we must not…
…do anything against our community’s interest.
…focus on desks or square footage.
…create something only because we think we’re supposed to.
…accept the status quo.
…accept a “no” at face value.
…compromise our core values.
…prioritize a transaction before a relationship.
Imperatives are the things that must be done daily. They’re focused actions that help achieve the intentions and ambitions.
For Indy Hall, we must…
…keep people at the center of every action, interaction, and decision.
…welcome new community members, and make it clear that Indy Hall is theirs, not just ours.
…always look for a way to say yes.
…teach others in our immediate and neighboring communities how we operate.
Do It Yourself
If you’ve running a business, from startup to Fortune 50, you need to practice Arête.
If you’re developing a community, from a family to a city, you need to practice Arête.
If you’re creating, from art to technology, you need to practice Arête.
If you’re working, alone or as part of a team, you need to practice Arête.
If your goals include doing things that authentic and meaningful, you need to practice Arête.
What are your ambitions, intentions, constraints, and imperatives?
Watch and listen to Brad Neuberg talk about where coworking came from.
He explains that he felt like he was forced to choose between working for a company and working for himself. That simple need is actually more reflective of a bigger problem with society, and why I think that Coworking has become a petri dish of experimentation and garnered a whirlwind of interest.
One of the key elements of the coworking movement that I see is choice. Prior to coworking, people like Brad (and me and maybe you) had to choose from working at a job or working alone.
Now a third choice is being presented in coworking, with many of the good parts and fewer of the bad parts of each.
I like zooming in on individual experiences and then out to the global patterns in how industries are evolving, and considering the value being placed on entrepreneurship. I think that this all comes down to choices and the introduction of more options for people to choose from.
Further, I think that coworking is helping show people that they can choose based on the things that motivate them intrinsically, like happiness and friendship, vs. the extrinsic motivators, like wealth and ownership. I also see related patterns in an increased priority being put on relationships – which not surprisingly, is what Brad and other early coworking catalysts prioritized in the inception of coworking.
This is what makes great coworking spaces tick, and what I think is going to fix what’s broken in the world of business.
Interesting times are ahead.
This is a cross-post from the Indy Hall blog.
First, a big thanks to everyone who made it to Thursday night’s Town Hall. We had ~40 people in attendance, which was great considering the meeting was called 24 hours prior. The mix of existing members, prospective members, and general community was nice and we were even joined by Councilman Bill Green in the 2nd half of the discussion.
For those of you who couldn’t make it and are interested in our future, I’ve promised the following recap. For everyone, I want to share some of our next steps and actionable plans. I know this is a long document: trust me, it’s all important.
The most immediate timeline is based on us starting this expansion project, well, immediately, hosting events during Tech Week (starting April 22nd) and doing as much as we can to make the space some form of usable by May 1st.
We know we won’t be done, or even close to done, but we’ve opened twice before in less than three weeks. This time we have four weeks, over 2x as many members to help divide and conquer.
This timeline is pending support from the landlord on putting together a timeline that works for them on the side of removing walls, building new walls, and installing a staircase between the floors.
No, this isn’t ana April Fools joke. Yes, I’m insane. You love me for it 🙂
First and formost, we’ve had a waiting list since September that’s growing faster than it’s shrinking. We have a waiting list of full time and lite members waiting patiently to join our community, and have been signing up new basic members actively.
But there’s more to it: Indy Hall is growing up, not just growing.
In addition to more workspace, we have 3 specific initiatives that the 1st floor provides us with to continue our community’s maturation: support for teams, a dedicated classroom, and a connection to the street.
Support for Teams
Indy Hall was originally conceived for people who worked alone because that’s the majority of who from the community was interested in having a clubhouse to work in. Over time, two things happened: some of our members started forming teams amongst themselves, and we became a desirable option for existing teams of 2-3. Once a group grows past 3 people, Indy Hall starts being as ideal as it is for individuals. We’ve got some great teams that are growing, and they want to continue operating at Indy Hall. Over the last several months, I’ve spoken with Jim and Nick (MyClin and FactorMedia respectively) about the things their teams need to be effective, and we decided that team rooms will be an ideal solution for companies like them.
A team room is NOT a private office in the fact that the team will not work from the team room all of the time. They will still have desks out in the coworking space, but when the team needs to gather, there’s a space that is theirs: it has their whiteboards, their materials, everything they need to meet and work during the times they need to work together, specifically. The rest of the time, they’re normal Indy Hall citizens. Think of them as private conference rooms more than private offices.
The details of this program are still being determined, including exactly where the team rooms are located and their exact size and contents.
A Dedicated Classroom
Three years ago when we moved to the Daniel Building, we planned to keep the original Indy Hall as a classroom/workshop space. The scale was wrong, two locations was a burden, and we didn’t have quite enough demand to pull it together.
Three years changes a lot. So does some perspective. We’ve all gotten better at what we do in three years, and we’re all getting better at sharing what we’re good at. Some of us have already started teaching, some in the local universities, others (including myself) independently running workshops. Not only is this an incredible way to really get to know your craft, it’s an awesome supplemental income if it’s scaleable.
The dedicated classroom, like any Indy Hall resource, is first and foremost for our community members. We haven’t ruled out renting it outside but there’s such a wealth of experience and knowledge within this community that we believe that we can build an incredible educational program that fits Indy Hall’s approach and ethos. Of course, that’s something we do together. The dedicated classroom space is a stake in the ground saying that we’re serious about doing it.
Consider this a design challenge: what could an effective Indy Hall classroom look like?
For our entire history, we’ve been on the 2nd floor of a building. It’s never been a real problem, and in fact, provided a sense of security that I think has helped us build the kind of environment that we have today.
A connection to the street is not without its problems (which I’ll address more in a minute) but comes with a few massive gains. Among them is the growing sense of community not just within Indy Hall, but in the Old City & (N)3rd Street corridor.
Being more connected to the street creates an opportunity to interact more easily with that corridor, ultimately increasing the quality of life and the potential collaborations for Old City community members.
For more on sidewalk culture and some inspiration for how we already think about experiences at Indy Hall, this presentation on Jane Jacobs’ work provides an interesting backdrop for thinking about why we might want to participate more in our sidewalks.
The street access also means that we can be creative with the entrance of Indy Hall, which would now be street level. The potential for the first 10-20 feet of the entryway to be some sort of retail concept has raised the interest of many members, with everything from pop-up seasonal concepts to Etsy-style crafter retail space to a more cozy coffee shop. No decisions have been made, this is more about opportunity to create a new element of experiencing Indy Hall.
What else can we dream up?
These ideas are just a few of the things we think are possible. The conversation isn’t over. We’ll be co-creating each of these ideas, but this is an open call for “What else could we do?”.
The Challenges Ahead
Huge opportunity doesn’t come without risk or concern. Some of the things that we’re already thinking about, though the list is not exhaustive, include scaling community, maintaining security, space design, and financing.
What happens to the culture of Indy Hall as it grows, specifically if it grows quickly? We know a few things since we’ve grown at least once before when we moved to this building.
In short, it’s not a hands-off process. During periods of growth more than ever, making sure that we increase our focus on creating opportunities for members to get to know each other. We already do this (and a lot of it is so subtle you probably don’t notice), but during growth periods we do this even more. The pace and rhythm for events increases. The number of “community projects” increases. Opportunities to get involved appear everywhere.
This isn’t a silver bullet, and we have to expect some fall-off. That’s built into Indy Hall’s model, and we’ve only gotten better at giving people a reason to stay at Indy Hall over the years.
There’s also natural subdivisions that help us scale. Things like Night Owls, Day Glo, and Countr Culture are sub-groups of Indy Hall that have the potential to become notable sub-communities within the larger community. This happens naturally and instead of trying to force it to happen or not happen, we embrace and support it. So long as these sub-communities are healthy and are interacting with each other, the larger community remains healthy.
This isn’t a simple process, and it all comes down to everyone chipping in a little bit of extra effort to remember to get to know your neighbors. See a new face? Go out of your way to say hello. Get to know your coworkers. Introduce that person to two other people.
That’s why this place exists.
Security was the #1 concern brought up at the Town Hall and it’s absolutely a top priority for us. In addition to the “community” security system that we have in place that effectively becomes a neighborhood watch for our workspace, we have a few new dynamics to consider: the ground floor entry, a larger space on multiple floors, and more visitors.
The ground floor entry presents visibility into the space, which could be good but can also present problems. This can be thwarted by buffering the workspace with a retail concept as we mentioned, but that’s not a silver bullet.
Perhaps more importantly, when the space is less busy, it’s much more difficult to “have eyes on the room” when it’s now multiple floors. This is a design challenge, we think, in how we lay out the space.
We don’t have a perfect solution for this yet but some members have suggested and we agree that it’ll likely be important to look at the 2 floors as a “brand new space” instead of just the 1st floor as an expansion of the 2nd floor. This means we can move things from the current Indy Hall downstairs, and potentially divide the office in a way that helps us keep an eye on things easier.
We’ll be having a number of design decisions about this and sharing ideas with the group.
With the classroom, we’ll be having a lot more visitors than usual. The good part about this is that more people will get to see our community in action. The difficult part is that especially when classes are on the nights and weekends, we need our members to feel that their belongings are secure.
We’ll also be looking into options to make it easy for members to insure their belongings in the event that something unexpected and bad does happen. We don’t ever want to be naive to the fact that bad things can happen, so we want to be smart about mitigating the finite possible bad things so that we can focus on the infinitely possible good things that could happen.
As mentioned, we’re thinking about this expansion as a redesign of Indy Hall, not just the addition of a new floor. This means that we’ll be thinking about the security issues, but also the needs for flow that encourages serendipity and the kinds of interactions that you all come here for.
One important element of the design includes the installation of a staircase between the 1st and 2nd floor – ideally in the middle of the room. We think it’ll be exciting to enter Indy Hall on the ground floor and then take the stairs to the 2nd floor. What’s on each floor will need to be considerate of how people move through the space during their days and evenings. People can’t get too complacant in their “quadrant”, or else the Indy Hall experience suffers.
Here’s a crappy graphic of the floorplan we’ll be working from:
Kevin Lee has already offered to turn the 1st and 2nd floor into SketchUp renderings, which we’ll be able to share and help us play with space layouts and designs quickly and collaboratively.
This expansion’s going to cost money, duh. We’re estimating $60,000 cash on hand needed to pull our plans together but that’s only based on our last expansion and known costs. I’m working on a more detailed budget to share ASAP. That $60k includes first/last/security on the downstairs, estimated costs for the stair installation, and other equipment/buildout. The landlord has agreed to cover the costs of tearing out walls and building new walls to our specification.
Our approach to financing is going to include a couple of prongs:
1) Pre-paid memberships: We’re accepting 3 and 6 month pre-payments of ALL levels of membership. If you’re interested in doing a pre payment larger or smaller than 3 or 6 months, we’re open to discussions.
Our 6 month pre-payment will come with a 7th free month.
We’re looking at other benefits of pre-paying membership, but the biggest benefit is knowing that your pre-payment is a vote of confidence that you believe this is the right move for Indy Hall.
2) Loans: we’d like to speak with members who are interested in helping finance the growth via a loan. Deal terms are generally open, though we’re not currently structured to take on “investments”. We’d favor a small number of larger loans compared to a large number of small loans due to the accounting overhead of maintaining the loan payouts.
3) Kickstarter: once we have the budget more structured, we’d consider doing a Kickstarter (or something like it) campaign to raise the money. Kickstarter seems to work best when the rewards are clear and thoughtful. We’d need to put thought into the structure behind this, and knowing what we’re spending the money on will help this.
4) Sponsorship: we may put together a model that allows for specific “components” of Indy Hall to be sponsored. These sponsors may be members of the Indy Hall community, other Philadelphia orgs and businesses, etc.
One example idea that came up at National last night would be to finance the staircase with sponsorships where we allow a company/individual to sponsor each “step” of the stairs. The idea comes from the quote “there’s no elevator to success, you have to take the steps” and thinking that it’d be cool to make the stairs symbolic of people who’ve been successful and are supportive of the successes within Indy Hall.
These kinds of creative sponsorships are what we’re looking for. The classroom may present similar opportunities.
There’re other things we’re going to need to figure out. If you have specific concerns, don’t assume we haven’t thought of them – or that we have. Please reach out with anything you’re concerned about.
What happens next
There’s more questions than answers at this point. Our focus is finalizing the lease so we can move forward with everything else and determining the timeline for various projects.
In the mean time, there are a few things you can do TODAY.
1) Prepay membership:
If you’re interested and able to prepay membership, contact Adam ([email protected]) directly to coordinate. We prefer the 3 and 6 month prepayments, but are open to alternative arrangements.
2) Invite a friend to join Indy Hall:
Pretty self explanatory. This expansion is going to include LOTS of opportunities to get involved, which makes it a great time to join Indy Hall. If you’ve got a friend who you think would love to be a part of Indy Hall, invite them to any of the expansion projects that are coming up.
3) Get involved in the planning and execution of the expansion.
We’ll be posting regular updates, but instead of inundating the list with details and discussion we’ll relegate discussion in a separate Basecamp project.
If you’d like to be a part of that discussion, as an observer or contributor, please email us to be added to that project.
4) Check out the space
We’ll be able to take people through the space to help people visualize what it will look like. Drop us an email if you want a tour, we’ll figure out an efficient way to get people to visit the space.
Holy crap, an exciting, exhilarating, amazing experience is ahead of us. I’m so glad to be doing this with all of you. Thank you for your support, your excitement, great ideas, your participation and contributions.
Indy Hall is what it is because of all of you. This next chapter is no exception.
These are my most popular and most valuable pieces, to help you get started.
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- Guest Post: 3 incredibly counterintuitive lessons that every coworking operator needs to learn
- Think you need investors for your coworking space? Here are four alternative ways to get funded.
- How to hire the best people to run your coworking space
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