Here I sit, halfway through a Wednesday afternoon, temporarily the only person in the coworks for writers hosted by the Whidbey Island Writers Association (WIWA). Coworks are successful enough to warrant magnificently innovative and productive spaces in places like Seattle. In a small town, on an island, there’s more reason to have one, and less resources for establishing one. Rather than leave you with the feeling that the earlier attempts were completely abandoned, I decided to produce this update.
Simply said, we’re not there yet. ‘There’ is the creation of a sustainable coworks for professionals. Others have their definitions. Mine is based on the needs of the nomadic workforce that could use a 24 hour a day, seven day a week access to a work space that provides the basics of the modern work environment: access, high-speed internet, power, desks, tables, chairs, white boards or black boards, storage, and the modern version of a phone booth for video calls. Provide a facility like that in a city like Seattle, and hundreds of people sign up. Try to provide a facility like that in an area that has 17,000 people along 17 miles of rural highway, and reaching critical mass takes more effort, or luck. We’re working on it.
Previous coworks worked on the island, though all have effectively been temporary. The more recent attempt at crowdfunding a space generated some wonderful encouragements, but insufficient funds. In the meantime, the seven hour a week coworks for writers persists. Most of the days that the space is open, enough writers drop by to justify the effort. Members get to use the service for free. Non-members are asked to donate $5. Maybe we should set up a tip jar, at least.
The Gig Economy is maturing and becoming better understood. Supporting a lifestyle by combining several gigs can create freedom, the need to maintain several relationships while establishing the basis for the next set of gigs means members of the Gig Economy are becoming serial entrepreneurs by necessity. Freedom is marvelous, but the constant pressure can negate those benefits. The majority of nomadic workers are working three jobs to create one income.
Working outside of corporations means working outside office politics, conventional commutes, and dress codes. Working outside of corporations also means losing the benefit of facilities like rest rooms, printers, parking, rent-free cubicles, computer support, telecommunications, and the social context that is an office. At its minimum, some workers sit outside closed libraries absorbing wi-fi after hours.
Coworks work to enable the nomadic workforce by providing the business infrastructure. They may seem uncommon now, but as businesses retreat from offering long-term contracts and careers, as businesses encourage employees to work from outside the office, and as technology enables mobility, coworks are likely to become more common.
The early adopters have enabled spaces and organizations like Impact Hub, WeWorks, Tech Spaces, etc. Get a tour of their offices and realize how the office environment can be redefined. The folks at the Seattle Impact Hub gave me a tour that was so impressive that it pointed out how impractically high the standards have been set. On the island, a space that accommodated twelve with nice chairs, desks, storage, access, internet, and phone booths would be luxurious. Seattle’s Impact Hub spans several buildings and floors, have presentation rooms, a theater, kitchens, massage rooms, a nap room, an espresso bar (of course), and a wonderful energy. As coworks become more common, there will be a wider range of implementations; but for now, wow.
The two key coworks benefits can exist at almost any size: a functioning office, and a network of engaged people. Those two features are easily the most valuable.
Urbanization is so trendy that the densification of the human race is assumed. Put enough people together and even a small percentage can empower an amazing array of ventures.
Contrarians head the opposite direction. As people move to the city, others are purposely moving to the country. The consequence for small towns is that the people who move there are much more purposeful; much more aware of their motivations, desires, and needs; and demand acceptance of unconventional lifestyles.
One of today’s visitors to the coworks was Pattie Beaven (aka @Earth_Fit and co-founder at earthconservant.com). Read her blog and experience her passion for her topic and their rationale for moving to Whidbey Island. Talk to almost anyone who has moved to a small town while their friends were urbanizing, and get a similarly passionate story.
Those passions mixed together are one of the vital enablers of the other main product of coworks; unexpected opportunities. I help entrepreneurs, creative people, artists, and innovative individuals with their projects. It is fascinating work. I know the energy and ideas already exist to create incredible coworks and marvelous ventures; but it is like having a pantry full of delicious ingredients, but not having a kitchen to cook them in.
We need a kitchen for blending ideas. I think we’ll get there. In the meantime, though, we’ll continue gathering ingredients and recipes while rummaging around for the resources necessary to create and enable sustainable lifestyles for people working within the continually unsettled Gig Economy.
For now, I’ll finish this post, turn off the lights, bring in the sign, and lock the doors (if the building’s artists and non-profits have already left.) I plan to be back next week, as always, hoping to find that critical element that will allow the local economy and nomadic entrepreneurs to grow.