During the early days of coworking, I set up a “Google Alert” to notify me about blog posts and articles that mentioned the word coworking. But times have changed, and I wanna talk about why.
In those early days, many of the articles that google found led me to someone like me who was building a community in their city, and had been inspired to join the coworking movement.
The alerts gave me a reason for me to reach out and connect, build bridges, invite them to participate in the google group if they didn’t already know about it, swap ideas, and so on.
Over time, the alerts became too many to read. Worse, the signal to noise ratio went down. More and more posts became careless promotions rather than thoughtful stories or helpful ideas/lessons.
Instead, I saved a search on Twitter for terms that would help surface conversations, links, stories, and articles about coworking. But like the google alerts before them, this saved search became less useful and interesting and valuable.
So I stopped reading that, too.
If you run a coworking space, you probably should stop reading coworking news
A couple of years back, I remember emailing back and forth with an aspiring coworking founder who had a habit of asking for advice and then promptly telling me some list of reasons why his situation was special.
After multiple years of this kind of correspondence but a total lack of progress, I leveled with him:
Suggestion #1: pay less attention to wework. pay less attention to the “industry” in general. i’m drop-dead serious about this one. you care way too much about what somebody else is doing.
It’s impossible for me to ignore what the rest of the industry is doing, because a) I’m sincerely interested in it, and b) I run a coworking news site and read coworking stories daily.
Impossible to ignore? Sorry bud, nobody’s making you.
You’re making choices, and they’re holding you back.
Why I don’t buy the obsession with industry news
NB: The irony is not lost on me that I’m here writing a blog post about why you’re wrong for wasting your time following industry news.
The worst part about following the coworking industry discourse is that it includes so many people doing so many genuinely different things but all calling it coworking.
Some people have suggested that this is the “death of coworking as a term” with some even choosing to abandon the term entirely. Others have attempted to defend the term for what is “real” coworking and what is not.
Imagine, though, that restaurant owners and operators chose to abandon the industry term “restaurant” just because other people used it to describe something different than (or even diametrically opposed to) them.
Abandoning the coworking terminology is not the answer, and I’d argue is just cutting off one’s nose in spite of their own face. Defending coworking from variant usage is not the answer, either. The restaurant industry is full of oppositional variety.
But most of all, the reality is that 99.9% of what other people do (right or wrong) will have little to no effect on you. If your coworking space, or any business for that matter, cannot survive what other people do, that’s a sign of much bigger problems afoot.
To help myself stay focused, I almost never click on coworking “news”
If I spent my time reading every single article someone sent me about coworking, or clicking every link about whatever drama WeWhatever has committed this week, I wouldn’t have any time or energy left for the stuff that really matters:
- enjoying the time and company of my professional peers
- finding ways to lead my community forward
- learning new things from adjacent industries that can help us and our members succeed
- forging new relationships with potential collaborators.
- solving the real, important problems that we exist to solve
99.9% of the coworking links that come across my screen – via newsletters, social media, text messages, DMs, Slack, etc – are little more than a momentary distraction from any or all of those important things.
Best case scenario, those distractions eat into my valuable time. Worst case scenario, they begin to create a false reality where the stuff other people are doing matters at all.
The obsession with being “in the know” is not healthy or useful for people whose job it is to lead a successful coworking space. That 99.9% of “information” you find yourself responding and reacting to is really more like the junk food of knowledge. Yes, it tastes good….even though you know it’s bad for you. And if you have it in the house, of course you’re gonna eat it.
Instead, I choose to curate the information, lessons and sources that are most likely to help me (and my community) thrive.
Most notably, perhaps, is that most of the sources I read reliably are not specific to coworking. Things like Emergent Research’s Small Biz Labs and a few local newsletters are more than enough to help me stay plugged in beyond our walls.
But what if you’re trying to research and learn?
Fantastic, and especially to the coworking newbies, welcome!
Don’t mistake my rejection of coworking media for a lack of learning. I’m constantly learning. But like I said, I choose my sources carefully.
I study business, psychology, placemaking, urban design, architecture, other kinds of membership communities, and more.
Another important part of my strategy is to pay more attention to macro trends that take place across multiple months or even years instead of the micro trends that tend to dominate the news cycles.
Said another way, “news of the day” generally won’t be impactful, but “news of an arc” can be worth understanding. I like to think of it more like waiting until a TV series is over to watch the whole thing on your own time, instead of letting the series control your watching habits.
There’s also a ton of knowledge and lessons out there. Learn from the successes and struggles of other.
But if you try to drink from the firehose, you’re gonna get wet.
If you start reading most coworking media and blogs, you’ll find lots of high-level conversation about trends which may or may not be relevant to you, but how do you know which is which? The same is true with the mainstream press’s coverage of coworking.
99.9% of it probably isn’t relevant to you.
The best research isn’t the media - it’s the people
Going back to the beginning of my story, those google alerts weren’t my only source of information and inspiration. In fact, they weren’t even #1 (which is why I was so quick to cancel them).
My #1 source of information and inspiration were the people with whom I had shared goals, and had successfully done some version of what I wanted to do.
In many industries, the idea of reaching out to people who might be considered your “competition”can be weird and possibly even frowned upon. Not so in coworking.
Sure, you’ll find folks who are cagey and protective. But they typically also don’t have that many insights worth protecting in no small part of their isolating approach to their work. Ironic, of course, that they create spaces where people are meant to collaborate but they don’t walk the walk themselves.
On the flip side, there are experienced operators who walk the walk. They’ll answer your emails if you ask them a pointed question. They’ll welcome you to their space for a tour. If your patient and considerate of their time, you might even be able to book some 1-1 time to get some advice.
One of my favorite communities for finding these people is the global coworking forum. If you’re not already a member there, it’s totally free and you should definitely join and introduce yourself. This is the modern incarnation of the place and way that I met my earliest fellow coworking confidants, including many that I am still friends with to this day. It also has the deepest archives of lessons shared by coworking peers on the entire internet. If you only have time to invest into researching in just one place, pick this one.
Another community you may find valuable is Cat Johnson’s Coworking Content Alliance. Cat has done a wonderful job of guiding this online community space, making it one of the most helpful/supportive groups I’ve seen. In yet another twist of irony, this space is often focused on coworking-related industry news and creating content/media around your coworking efforts. So if you’re trying to kick the addiction, you’re going to have to exercise some self control. My advice: treat this space more like a virtual “meetup” instead of a source of news and information. Join with the goal of finding others you might want to connect with, but don’t let yourself obsess about their content. Got it?
In all cases, you’re going to need to figure out whose advice is actually worth listening to. I’ve found that the key to finding these people is to ask them what their ultimate goal is, why they thought opening a coworking space was a good idea.
If their answer sounds like your answer, you may have found a kindred spirit.
If their idea of success doesn’t sound like your idea of success, move on. You don’t need to convince them their idea is wrong, and you don’t need to pollute your own headspace with the things they’re doing that have nothing to do with you.
And if you haven’t really thought about how you define your own version of success…now’s a great time to work on finding your answer.
Pay more attention to your people
Remember, when Indy Hall was getting started, there weren’t really that many people doing anything like what we were doing.
In a weird way, I think that was actually a unique advantage. Not because there was less competition (I can talk more about that in another post), but because I didn’t have all of the potential distractions of a new coworking founder does today.
Instead of spending my days worrying about what other people were doing (or doing wrong), I was laser focused on the people in our community.
For me, success was a work day that was better than working alone at home. I found others who felt that way, and put all of my attention on them.
I notice patterns. I find common goals. I invite collaboration.
This is only possible if you’re listening more often than you’re talking.
And that is only possible if you’re paying more attention to your people than you are to the coworking industry news.
To my friends who ask “have you seen this link?”
If you think that link is relevant to Indy Hall or something I’m working on, or features someone you think I should connect with, thank you!
But if it’s some kind of general industry news or today’s latest “coworking meta”…
Imagine if you ran a successful restaurant that people traveled from around the world to visit.— Alex Hillman ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (@alexhillman) September 21, 2019
And imagine that every day, someone sent you an article or asked your opinion about something that McDonald’s had done, but had nothing to do with you?
How would you respond?
My focus is on our community, what we do and what we’re good at.
With very rare exceptions, I don’t have a horse in anybody else’s race so I probably don’t have an opinion or comment that will impact them, or you, or me.
I appreciate you thinking of me, but I prefer to avoid the distractions, and hope you respect and understand why. ❤️