Another coworks closed today; and, just like last time, it wasn’t about the coworks. The previous coworks closed as part of a strategic decision that involved several ventures. The Coworks for Writers closed because the writers association is being disbanded. Each coworks has been different. New incarnations are being considered, all different as well; but the energy and demand continue while the benefits are becoming more apparent to more people. Something good will happen, but we don’t know exactly what – yet.
For those who are unfamiliar with coworking, I suggest you review my previous posts. The simple example is to visit any coffeeshop and look for the people bowing to their laptops while essentially renting a table for the cost of a cup of coffee that they may nurse for hours. I tend to order tea. It’s cheaper, the bags can be reused, and I like it. Despite having been an early investor in Starbucks (for details see my book, Dream. Invest. Live.), I don’t drink coffee; but am glad for everyone who does. Many of those laptop warriors are nomadic workers who’d prefer a more professional environment, but can’t afford to pay for an office. Coworks provide that environment, usually for under a couple of hundred dollars a month.
Workers in the 1099 Economy (who get 1099 forms instead of W-2s for their US taxes), and workers in the Gig Economy (people who are entrepreneurs by necessity and possibly by choice as a means to meet their needs) are increasingly mobile, only require a place to plug in, connect to the internet, and stay out of the weather. Don’t be surprised if you see someone staring at a screen while they sit on a park bench outside a library after hours. That’s a sign that they’re hard workers and the necessary facilities aren’t in place. They’re probably pulling in free wi-fi to run their business.
The coworks that closed today may merely be relocating. Enough people who’ve tried it liked it and they’ve decided it’s going to happen regardless of official organizations. Coworks become communities where individuals begin to connect with other individuals into a support network that is more effective than any social media. I’m relatively active on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter (search on Tom Trimbath or tetrimbath); yet none of my main clients came from the internet, even though that’s where the work happens. All of them have come from personal contacts and casual conversations. Two of my three biggest clients were directly related to coworks. Someone working on a project realizes that they need to either find help or a replacement. Maybe they already knew me, but being in the same room is a definite advantage. Years of submitting resumes haven’t been as effective as sitting in a room with a bunch of similar souls and subtly making that connection.
Coworks are not flukes. They aren’t anomalies. In major cities they are so successful that they are filling entire buildings or city blocks, and are even extending their services to include co-housing. Rents are going up faster than wages, and one coping strategy is to share as many opportunities and essentials as possible. Call it active entrepreneurship or accidental socialism, but people are finding value in working together – again, by choice or necessity.
As Whidbey’s writers experience their transition, a variety of the services are transitioning, too. The coworks for writers is most likely going to transform to coworks that are open to all, coworks that are open to writers but that have more of a social element, and coworks that are based on the outside inspirations whose specifics I’ve only heard hints of. Personally, I may have uncovered yet another variant that ironically is quite conventional.
When the writers association closes it also frees up space. One organization moves out, another moves in. That means they’ve freed up yet another space, which someone else moves into; which frees up yet another space. Eventually, a space could be free that is affordable if shared by a few.
Small towns have smaller populations by definition. The highly successful coworks model in metropolitan downtowns works because it draws from a population of millions (including the greater metropolitan region). Despite months or years of efforts, South Whidbey has yet to demonstrate a critical mass of coworkers; except when the power goes out. I continue to believe a viable model exists, but resources and opportunities have yet to align despite Surprising Coworks Support. Maybe, instead of creating a coworks from a cadre of a half dozen it makes more sense to start one step farther back and create a shared office space with three or four. Fewer is easier to find. The synergies and networking aren’t as large, but they may suffice – especially, considering the talent on the island.
Small towns lack anonymity, which makes trying to keep secrets somewhat entertaining. In a major city, someone can peek into a room and quietly assess the possibilities. Do that in a small town and it’s easy to know who they are, who they work for and with, their typical motivations and incentives, their resources, and whether they are serious or simply curious. That means that when a transition like the writers association happens, it’s possible to make educated guesses about what might happen next; but because logistics get involved, there are no guarantees. That means I think there will actually be more opportunities for coworking, but I don’t know for sure, or when, or where, or for how much.
In the meantime, people in a collection of small towns (and one reasonably large city) on a big island are taking the opportunity to redefine the way they practice their art, conduct their work, and develop a variety of communities based on writing, entrepreneurship, and mutual support. It is simultaneously unsettling and encouraging; but I don’t know what it will be exactly – yet.