Coworking is More Than Coworking
Yesterday a friend of mine shared a link to a blog post by VC Charlie O'Donnel, titled ‘Disrupting The Whole Damn Thing.’ He posits that new tech-enabled community and peer-to-peer based systems are challenging the massive corporations that have come to dominate western business and politics. He declares that by embracing ‘alternative’ practices like ride-sharing, online home rental, and even practices like yoga, we’re collectively saying ‘fuck you’ to the Pepsis and Monsantos of the world and participating in a revolutionary culture war.
I appreciate some good revolutionary hyperbole, and heartily support the business concepts and practices that he’s championing. But I think it’s also important to realize most of these ‘revolutionary’ ideas have always been with us in some form, and that rather than say ‘fuck you’, it’s often better to say ‘no thanks.’ After all, on my way to yoga the other day I did grab a slice and wash it down with some Pepsi.
So how does this relate to coworking? Well, coworking is one of the most elegant examples of disruptive systems that has become almost de rigeur for many startups and businesses. When you’re running a small independent business focused on knowledge work, like Handsome Code, coworking spaces let you meet many more people, pay far less, and often have more amenities than the traditional approach of renting an office space.
The word ‘coworking’ itself came into common vernacular around the year 2000, but the behavior probably goes back to the dawn of technology itself. After all, the idea of a 9-5 work day is a recent modern invention. Long before going to offices in big cities became standard practice, people living in tribes shared resources and work duties. This meant more food production, hunting, and child-rearing than freelance design or copywriting, but community resource and space sharing would appear to be an integral part of our DNA.
The coworking space where we reside, Bathaus, has been a home to Handsome Code for over a year now, and provided a wonderful place for us to work, grow as professionals and individuals, and help foster a remarkable number of interesting communities in Brooklyn. The space does a great job encouraging productivity, because everyone is remarkably respectful and dedicated to their work, yet it’s not weird in the slightest to strike up a conversation with a stranger. And in the evenings things get a bit more social, depending on the night. Last week I attended a drawing workshop which was like the college drawing course I always wanted: great music, all you can drink beer for $10, and very talented artists using a variety of techniques. And my good friend that sent me the article I mentioned earlier - I met him at Bathaus. It’s become a nexus for my professional life, yet my business partner and I have just a part-time membership, and often we’re only there two or three days out of the week.
Bathaus is coworking done right. It offers all the right things without any of the expense and artifice of its Manhattan-based neighbors. And to borrow some tech vernacular - it has absolutely disrupted my life (in a good way); if it weren’t for Bathaus, I doubt Handsome Code would exist today. It’s because of Bathaus that I’ve been able to meet the key people that inspired this organization and its continuing development.
It’s not just the idea of coworking, but it’s the execution and intention. Bathaus is disruptive because of the owner’s attitude, dedication, and vision, not the idea of coworking itself. I’ve been to plenty of coworking spaces that espoused a lot of revolutionary vernacular and a ‘fuck your 9-5’ attitude, but what makes Bathaus great is that its owners have simply chosen to say ‘no thanks,’ and to allow the space to adapt to the needs of its community and members.
[Bathaus and one of the occasional Batpets]
This approach towards building a community by fostering new work habits is disruptive in this day and age. But it’s not war. It’s not saying ‘fuck you’ to all the problems of the 9-5 and offering ping-pong tables and wi-fi. It’s just dedication and love from a couple people with open minds.