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Alex Hillman

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How to explain what Coworking is

27 Feb 2016
by Alex Hillman

It’s a real challenge to tell people what something is that they’ve never seen before. 

When you lead by talking about shared space, no matter how much you talk about community people are going to think about what they know related to offices. It’s like that thing where I tell you DONT THINK OF A PINK ELEPHANT and you can’t help think of a pink elephant 🙂

Even today, in 2016, most people in most places have never heard of Coworking.

Meanwhile, before you have a community, it’s hard to point to a community that’s GOING to exist…because it doesn’t exist yet. 

So the best starting point is to talk about the problem.

The question you need to ask is, when people can work from anywhere, why wouldn’t they just work from home in their underwear for free? 

The answer, of course, is loneliness. Feeling isolated and disconnected. 

Describing what a Coworking space is kind of like describing what a restaurant is to someone whose never seen one. Why would I pay for someone else to make me a meal when I have a kitchen at home?

So talk about what it’s like to be lonely and isolated. Tell your own story. Learn other peoples’ stories and tell theirs or encourage them to tell them on their own. In every interaction, find ways to highlight that loneliness, and then remind people that the easiest way to fix that is to come together. 

And then help make it easy for THOSE people to come together. Do that before you start looking for space. Go to events together. Host your own events together. Work together. Play together. 

Notice that you’re not describing a thing, you’re DOING a thing.

That’s really the key – coworking is abstract until someone is doing it. Your job is to create an interaction, an experience, and a story that people can write themselves into.

Before long, when people realize that being together is SO MUCH BETTER than being alone, it’s much more likely that they’d want a membership to a place where they can come together with those people anytime they want. The value is much clearer than “community” and “flexible workspace.”

So before you start, think about who these people are, and how they feel isolated. Remember that isolation takes a lot of forms – you can be surrounded by people and still feel disconnected. You can feel supported in one part of your work or life, but completely alone in others.

All you need to do is put in the effort to really learn where people feel disconnected, and then help fill that gap!

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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.