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Why did my coworking space ditch me?

5 minute read
by Alex Hillman

Coworking is growing into a global phenomenon — but bigger isn’t always better.

A former Indy Hall member leaves their new coworking space after struggling with their push for scale and standardization.

I make it a point stay in touch with many of Indy Hall’s alumnus. Most of the time, we reconnect over a drink when I’m visiting them in their new city, or when we happen to collide in another city during a major conference like SXSW, or when they return to Philadelphia to visit friends and family.

There’s something very powerful about having these connections — these relationships — scattered all over the country and the world. Between Indy Hall alum and the global coworking community, I have the ability to waltz into just about any major city in the world and instantly be in the presence of great people.

But it’s not all rosy. At an increasing rate, I get emails from these friends about coworking goings on in their new cities, asking for advice or solidarity. Below is an email that I received that I’m sharing with permission and minor edits to keep the author and their former space anonymous.

I’m sharing this for two reasons:

  1. In the conversation about coworking, there are a LOT of voices (mine included), but the rarest voice to find is that of a coworking member themselves. I believe that is a big mistake for the industry and the movement. It’s hard for members to speak up without them sounding entitled, or “sour grapes”. That’s something we should fix.

  2. Hopefully, reading this member perspective will serve as a wake-up call to some coworking space founders, operators, and staff that they should think carefully about how to scale and optimize without compromising on coworking values and ideals.

As you’ll see, this email wasn’t just poignant, but personal. Please remember that as you read and reflect on the story they tell.

Alex, I’m pretending I’m at National Mechanics, having a beer with you.

Can I just spill to you for a moment???

Great, thanks.

I dunno know Alex. I left my coworking space last week. I’m really having a hard time.

I didn’t leave as a “screw you” and I don’t think they took it that way.

Frankly I doubt my leaving even hit their radar screen, they have so much going on. It was was just one thing after another that said to me that we weren’t about the same things anymore.

Which is fine, I can appreciate that. It’s just hard.

Okay I’ll have another beer.

What bothers me is, when I let them know I was leaving, I got a template email reminding me to turn in my cards and that there would be a charge for not doing so. Only one person ( a friend) said goodbye and asked me why I was leaving. I was saddened to leave.

That place had been something I got behind and I had believed in it. I brought people there and gave them personal tours, a number of whom signed up to become members at my encouragement. I was constantly introducing people to each other and trying to bring people together.

I tried not be be emotional when I went to get my things after hours but I couldn’t help getting a little weepy. One of the founders saw me carrying out my computer and made what was probably a well-intentioned joke. But the humor was lost on me. I was trying too hard to not break into tears again.

Jesus Christ on a bike.

The reason that I’m telling you this is not to disparage those guys, or complain – I would tell them them myself if I thought it mattered, but I really don’t think it does.

I think what it’s coming down to is that their business cant be all things to all people, they want to grow and standardize a process, and they are perfectly all right with giving up people like me.

I don’t even know what that means other than somehow I may not be fitting into whatever their “profile” is becoming.

Okay I’m moving on to tequila.

Patrón Reposado on the rocks.

I went to a couple other coworking spaces just to see if maybe there weren’t other options. They called themselves coworking. But they were lifeless. Underimagined. Not a shred of a sense of a vibe of who they were.

I asked a co-founder to tell how they would describe their space as if it was a person – Would they be curious? Irreveverant? Respectful? Genuine? Playful? Quiet? Conservative? Experimental?

He just looked at me funny and started telling me on to what kind of wifi connection they had.

Y’know what I like about pretending I’m drinking with you? I’m not going to have a wicked hangover tomorrow!!

I’ll be okay. I know enough to know that if I don’t like my options to choose from, I have to create new options. I’m no whiner. I just hope this isn’t the direction for coworking in general, because I really believed in where it was going as a movement.

I hope the ideals of coworking doesn’t get lost in the quest for scaling, monetization, and passive income.

Thanks for indulging me. For the record, I learned such amazing things in my short time at Indy Hall that it continues to inform and guide my thinking.

No no no no – let me get the imaginary bar tab! It’s the least I can do.

You can get it next time.

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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.