Coworking Labs is the project blog for our ongoing coworking study. We post to this blog on an intermittent basis. We also post on coworking on our Small Business Labs blog, which is focused on small business trends and updated on a regular basis.
EMERGENT RESEARCH is focused on better understanding the small business sector of the US and global economy.
Society for New Communications Research
The Society for New Communications Research is a global nonprofit think tank and education foundation focused on the advanced study of new media and its impact on traditional media, communications, culture and society.
The authors are Steve King and Carolyn Ockels. Steve and Carolyn are partners at Emergent Research and Senior Fellows at the Society for New Communications Research. Carolyn is leading the coworking study and Steve is a member of the project team.
Emergent Research works with corporate, government and non-profit clients. When we reference organizations that have provided us funding in the last year we will note it.
If we mention a product or service that we received for free or other considerations, we will note it.
The Factory is a coworking space in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They've released the first 3 of a what appears to be a larger series of short (2-3 minutes) videos on coworking.
The videos feature a painted human hand as a puppet who helps explain coworking. The production values are low, the humor sophomoric, and I laughed out loud several times. They are well worth watching.
As part of our coworking project, we've been conducting a count to help us estimate the number of coworking facilities currently in the U.S.
One of the key issues is how we define what coworking facility is for the purposes of the study. Our critieria are:
1. self-identifies as providing coworking space or language very close to this
2. offers a range of membership options such as daily, weekly, monthly, etc. (does not need to offer them all)
3. offers open membership, or an open membership process
4. offers facilities broadly consistent with other coworking spaces including some form of community space
5. offers activities and facilitation that encourage community
6. coworking is an important part of the facility offering
7. the facility is actively in use
While these criteria generally work quite well, they are somewhat subjective and we've found identifying coworking facilities is a bit like identifying pornography - you know when you see it, but different people see it in different ways.
The reason is the growing number of hybrid coworking facilities and non-coworking facilities adding coworking space or features makes identification harder. Incubators and office suite companies in particular are actively adding coworking options and are often hard to categorize.
A good example is Semantic Seed. They are an start-up incubator in San Jose, CA. Founded by VCs, Semantic Seed also provides coworking space. We consider them a coworking facility, but other incubators and office suites claiming to offer coworking in some form do not meet our criteria or make our list.
Another interesting segment is the growing number of shared artisan/ DIY spaces. These facilities cater to both professionals and amateurs/hobbyists.
We include them if we think the facility meets the criteria above and is targeting and catering to professionals, even if a large share of their members are consumers/hobbyists. 3rd Ward and Tech Shop are good examples of artisan facilities that meet our coworking criteria.
Please let us know if you have other definitions or criteria, or disagree with ours.
The Cube, a coworking facility in London, has coined the term "circular economy" to describe "the benefit of creating economy amongst its members and partners."
Their concept is Cube members and partners can work together to the greater benefit of all. They discuss both paid and barter relationships.
The way the Cube describes itself fits with the idea of a circular economy. From their website:
"Ideas, innovation, and community are at the heart of THECUBE’s coworking space. THECUBE is a fresh and modern designed space that offers its members more than just an office or hot desking.
Our coworking space brings together different industries to a create a space that is conducive of ideas and innovation. This diverse community and the process of Idea Engineeringgive THECUBE coworking space a great advantage over other office and hot desking spaces."
These concepts are, of course, not new to coworking. Community and working together is at the center of many coworking facilities. The Cube does, however, provide a new and interesting description - and term - for this.
Workplace of the Modern Entrepreneur is a CNNMoney video on coworking. It covers the usual aspects of coworking: shared office space and facilities; community; advantages relative to working at home or in a coffee shop; etc.
The one angle that is a bit different is the focus of the segment is not on freelancers or solopreneurs, but on entrepreneurs who are using coworking facilities to house their companies. This is a subtle but important difference.
Freelancers tend to be single person businesses - what we call personal businesses and what the government calls "non-employers." While they may work in and with teams and hire help on a contract basis, they don't tend to employ full-time staff. Freelancers have been much less likely to rent traditional commercial space to house their businesses,.
Entrepreneurs building companies tend to hire full-time staff - and historically they have rented commercial space to house their companies.
The shift towards employer businesses operating without traditional commercial space is clear. One of the more interesting findings in our research on home-based businesses was the large number of employer businesses based at home.
And it makes sense that coworking facilities are housing employer businesses. We just haven't seen a lot of press covering this part of the coworking movement.
"To an entrepreneur, having tables, chairs, free Internet, and access to food and coffee is a golden opportunity. To a professional who provides support services to startups (e.g. marketing, design, business planning, business development), the local Starbucks just became a sales office. To a recent graduate or a talented programmer looking for her next big opportunity, Starbucks just became a productive hang out."
One of the habits I've gotten into is counting the number of people who appear to be working whenever I visit a Starbucks. This very anecdotal count consistently runs in the 30% - 40% range.
3rd Ward is a member-based center for creative professionals and amateurs in Brooklyn, NY. Members pay a fee for access to wood and metal shops, photo studios, media labs and related equipment.
In addition to offering creative coworking spaces, 3rd Ward also proves a wide range of events and educational programs for artists, designers and other artisans. Like other coworking facilities, 3rd Ward stresses the opportunities that come with joining their network and participating in their community.
There were two key quotes from one of 3rd Ward's owners that caught my eye. The first has to do with the composition of the membership at 3rd Ward:
“We have way more inventors, furniture makers, cabinet makers, commercial photographers, hackers, than we do what you would originally conceive of like an artist.”
The second quote is on the growth of freelance artisans:
“The industry here that’s really exploding right now, and it’s really under served, is this freelancing creative industry ...”
The growing number of artisan-related coworking facilities like 3rd Ward, Tech Shop and Next Fab Studios illustrates the growing number of new artisans.
It also points out the trend towards segmented coworking facilities targeted at specific niches or industries.
For more on the trends related to the growth of new artisans, see our Intuit Future of Small Business research report The New Artisan Economy. Places like the 3rd Ward show how quickly this trend is ramping.