What Exactly Is Coworking?

Originally published August 8, 2017 by The Montrose Daily Press

“What is this place?” she asked as she slowly stepped inside, looking around as though discovering a secret garden for the first time.

“It’s a coworking space,” I answered, smiling. I explained the concept of coworking, as I have done many times before, and I silently wished she could experience the magic for herself.  

Since the Chamber moved inside Proximity Space, a coworking space on Main Street, we’ve experienced the above exchange in one form or another countless times. And though many people know of Proximity, or have heard of coworking, it is probably safe to say few understand its true intent.

In researching this week’s column, I asked members of Proximity about their experiences in the space:

“Coworking is like renting an office in a building with no walls and no doors. You don’t have to buy office furniture, you get to just show up with your laptop, kick off your shoes, and make yourself at home,” explained Juliet Carr, chamber business facilitator.

“Think of a coffee shop; add desks, office chairs, a ping pong table or arcade game, nooks and crannies with couches to hang out or meet in, full use of kitchen facilities, conference rooms, projectors, internet, and teleconferencing equipment, then add visionaries, business owners, entrepreneurs, thinkers and doers. Sprinkle in some pizza and beer happy hours, learning opportunities and trainings, doughnut and coffee breakfasts, top it off with people you would have never met who are now your friends, and complete your visualization with not having to pay for a receptionist, office cleaner, toilet paper, electricity, water, or trash service!

Things gained: a new perspective on business practices, mind altering conversations, the ability to think differently about nearly everything, friends who are brilliant and have a great sense of humor, knowledge.

I love it because it isn’t a boring office space. There is an energy and vibe of collaboration, kindness, and community. Networking and business referrals happen effortlessly. People are engaged in the space and are always excited to see what is new, what is moved, and what has been added.”

The magic of coworking is a product of the free thinking environment from which it was created. The human race has long seen isolation as a form of punishment; a child in time out, a prisoner in solitary confinement. Yet, we lock ourselves away in offices, cubicles, and basements and expect productivity and connection with teammates. Coworking by its very nature is the polar opposite of isolation.

“I think coworking spaces attract the best people, and I feel privileged to have met some amazing new friends and colleagues through the space. It certainly wouldn’t have happened sitting at home by myself, and probably wouldn’t have happened at the library or coffee shops. A coworking space is truly a catalyst for sparking new connections, ideas, and relationships.” Mused Witt Sparks, Proximity member.

Often times in the “normal” work environment, we are forced into working with people we otherwise would prefer not to associate with. Unfortunately, much is lost in those forced relationships. Additionally, many traditional workplaces produce a healthy dose of competition, backstabbing, and gossip.

 In coworking, that melts away. Although working mere feet away from several other humans, there’s not a sense of crowdedness, a lack of privacy, or the overwhelming need for competition. “Coworkers” are there because they want to be. They have a choice.  And though many “coworkers” may technically compete for business, lifting one another up is the unifying code of unspoken conduct.

“It’s also cool to get a glimpse of what other people are doing and be around sharp individuals. Even if there’s no professional relationship, the interaction is always nice.” Said Justin Pritchard in support of working with people he never would have met outside coworking.

Coworking, as we know it today, started in 2005 when a man named Brad Neuberg used the term in describing a physical space in San Francisco where independent and mobile workers came together to work in a casual environment. By 2007, 75 coworking spaces were open in the world. Today, according to socialworkplace.com’s latest survey, there are somewhere around 13,800 coworking spaces in operation.

“Coworkers” are all ages, and all industries. Conceptually, coworking provides perspective extending much past its tangible benefits: One may believe they have a broad view of the world and the community prior to becoming a member. Coworking reveals we may not know the world or the community as intimately as we first thought. It (coworking) pulls the blinders are off, opens the doors, and casually changes the world one connection at a time.

Chelsea Rosty is the executive director of the Montrose Chamber of Commerce and director of business innovation for the City of Montrose. She can be reached at chelsea@montrosechamber.com.