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.
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