From Play Dates to Membership Mingles

I have a tiny home office with an antique library desk beside three small windows. I’m on the second floor and my view is of a tree canopy that is always filled with song birds. I use a hard chair that forces me to sit up straight. My Fitbit buzzes me at 10 min to the hour to remind me to get up and move (sometimes I do.) I shut my door when I’m on a call or need to focus without distraction. The rest of the time my door is open so that I can hear the activity in my house. I like working from home.

Having said that, isolation is a real issue for home-based entrepreneurs. It can get lonely and many of us thrive on conversation and community. I usually make an effort to get out 2–3 times a week to meet a client or a colleague in person or to attend a workshop or networking event. The focus for these excursions is my work but they serve as opportunities for connection. I know myself well enough to understand that I need both — connection and solitary time to focus and work.

While I watch with envy as my daughter picks her post secondary program and dorm for next year, I also know that the excitement of co-living and learning would wane really quickly. To be honest, I’m not sure how much “learning” was actually taking place in my first year of university while I was busy “living.”

I saw the initial co-working trend as an extension of university campus life, like the iconic Google and Facebook offices, electric with energy and ideas (always with the possibility of a spontaneous Ping-Pong match breaking out.)

With mission statements like:

“To create a world where people work to make a life, not just a living” (We Work) and “We are all about harmony between working life, social life and life in general,” (Mortimer House)

we’re not talking about a desk, Internet and coffee. We’ve moved beyond the Harvard Business Review’s definition of a co-working space: “membership-based workspaces where diverse groups of freelancers, remote workers, and other independent professionals work together in a shared, communal setting.”

Currently, there are over 13 000 co-working spaces worldwide with substantive variations in focus and offerings (explored in Part 2 of this series.) While the dorm style atmosphere (complete with free beer) is prevalent in many facilities, there are many more with memberships that appeal to other subsets of the population (based around gender, values, industry, niche interests etc.)

While studies show there is participation from all age groups, co-working is essentially millennial driven. Millennials grew up “social.” They had organized play dates. Group work and collaboration were the focus in schools. Fairness and equality were at the forefront and bullies were not tolerated. Parents and schools made it impossible to fail. No generation has been as validated as children and adolescents as Generation Y.

Is it any surprise that they’ve grown up and are recreating that environment in their adult lives?

Co-Working is one manifestation of the Sharing Economy that we are inheriting. It’s a big one and will continue to grow as millennials move up into decision-making roles in companies. Declarations like the Co-working Manifesto signed by more than 1700 people clearly articulate the vision for the a new economic engine, composed of “collaboration and community” in contrast to “silos and secrecy.”

While some have tried to discount the future of co-working and the sharing economy in general, millennials have tapped into a basic human need for connection and validation that resonates with all of us — some because we didn’t have it and others because we did.

Co-working is a growing industry and is not slowing down. Understanding how it fits with us as individuals and communities is a necessary step in harnessing its value. That’s our work to do.

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