The Roots Of International Coworking Day: A Q&A With Susan Dorsch

Susan Dorsch
International Coworking Day remains one of the under-utilized aspects of the coworking movement, but Susan Dorsch believes that’s okay

One would be tempted to think something with a name as ambitious as “International Coworking Day” would be rooted in meetings, planning sessions and global strategy sprints.

But you’d be wrong.

Celebrated every year on August 9, International Coworking Day started with a short email in the Coworking Google Group. A space operator in Rio de Janeiro named Cadu de Castro Alves sent the following email:

Hi coworkers!!!

Next monday will be 5 years since Brad Neuberg talk[ed] about coworking for the first time. Also, BeesOffice will launch its blog with a coworking presentation post.

I think that that date should be the official Coworking Day. What do you think about blogging something special to celebrate that and tweeting using the #CoworkingDay hashtag?

Best regards,

Cadu de Castro Alves

Cadu’s idea was met with enthusiasm by several members of the community who helped spread the word about the decentralized event. Susan Dorsch, co-founder of Office Nomads in Seattle, and a longtime coworking leader, advocate and visionary, recalls that people in the group immediately liked the idea and started discussing ways to bring it to life.

Allwork.space chatted with Dorsch about the birth of what is now International Coworking Day, why it remains one of the under-utilized aspects of the coworking movement, and why that just might be okay. Here are the highlights of our conversation.

Allwork.Space: What do you remember about the origins of Coworking Day?

Susan Dorsch: The storyline is hilarious. When Cadu emailed the group, we were all like, ‘Neat! Great idea! Done.’

Campbell from LooseCubes said she loved the idea, and [coworking pioneer and founder of Truly Social] Tara Hunt liked it and worked to get it trending. That was literally it. As usual with old school coworking, we just sort of hacked it together and figured it out.

There were lots of emails after that. Every year, people would talk about things around International Coworking Day in the Google Group. We made audio and video recordings talking about why we got into coworking and what it meant to us, we tried to find ways to honor the roots of the movement, and we blogged about it. I wrote an Office Nomads post titled, “Here’s to You, Coworking.”

Allwork.Space: So the Google Group, and Coworking Day were, by design, international from the very beginning?

The Google Coworking Group started as a global effort and, because we’ve been in the age of the internet since the moment coworking started, it’s always been global. It’s been about where certain efforts get made and where they don’t, and who shares their stories. I’m sure there have been lots of celebrations that we just don’t know about.

Allwork.Space: I know the Seattle Collaborative Space Alliance (SCSA) usually does something around the holiday, most recently, the tradition of taking members of the alliance’s member spaces bowling. I love including the members. One of the things that’s lacking in the whole coworking movement is people in coworking spaces connecting with each other.

Speaking from the community-building side, having an excuse to do something that brings everybody together has been really useful for the alliance. We’ve moved our Seattle Coworking Week to September because it makes more sense for our organization to have it then, but it’s always been nice to have International Coworking Day. It’s our little holiday.

One year we did a Coworking Day celebration with barbecue in a city park. The bowling event is the one that has stuck because it’s simple and easy and the least amount of logistics involved.

Allwork.Space: I imagine having less logistics to coordinate between a bunch of operators and spaces makes it more doable and sustainable.

For us, it’s been great to have events that aren’t based in a space and that don’t tax the people running the spaces any more than necessary. We talked about doing a space walk, with a tour of all the coworking spaces in Seattle, but something like that is huge. It’s way too much. It’s too hard to circle all the wagons, and get everybody around. We were like, ‘Let’s just go bowling.’

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That might not be better for marketing, but it’s way better for us to relax and have fun and let the members get to know one another, even if it’s just for one night of the year. Then they get to be reminded that they’re part of something bigger, which is the cool thing about coworking being a global movement.

If the people who operate spaces can remind their members that they’re part of something bigger, there’s a lot more to be gained.

Allwork.Space: I think it’s important to have events and celebrations, such as Coworking Day, for the global coworking community to rally around and be reminded of our connectedness.

Our world is full of communities of all kinds, and within every community there are rituals. Rituals vary, obviously, but often the purpose of any ritual is to be a touchpoint for its community. Rituals can be high holidays for religious groups, they can be neighborhood block parties, heck, the World Series is a ritual if that’s your bag.

With a ritual comes the opportunity to be reminded of the why behind the community we are participating in. Why do we do what we do? Where did our community come from? Coworking Day is one of our global coworking community rituals. Or at least it has the potential to be one. For some it already is, and for others it has the opportunity to be if we are able to raise awareness about it and keep that touchpoint alive.

Allwork.Space: Let’s have a little tough love around some of the other things in coworking. One of the weaknesses of the movement is that people have an idea, then do a thing, then it kind of crawls along. The Coworking Visa is a good example and Coworking Day is a good example: traction is minimal and a lot of people involved and engaged in the movement don’t know about them.

I think it is what you make of it. For one city or space, Coworking Day could be a huge thing and be something very successful for them. That’s been us a few times. But globally, it’s not widely recognized. I guess you could think of that as a bad thing, but I don’t, necessarily.

For the most part, for people operating coworking spaces, it can be really hard to pull yourself out of your bubble and to take the time to remember that you’re part of this bigger thing. I think that’s true in many areas of life.

Sure, if we had 15 paid staff working on behalf of the coworking community who could help get us organized, and provide us toolkits, and get us fired up, and send us reminders four months ahead of time, we would nail it. But instead, we gently remind one another about it and sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. I feel like, in order for it to be accessible to everyone, that’s got to be okay. The coworking movement is built on a lot of people’s ability to spend extra time on labors of love to keep the coworking values held aloft.

It’s not always going to be perfect. Sure, it could be so much bigger, it could be so much more. In the SCSA, we could do so much more, but it’s kind of okay that we don’t always because the most important part is that we have a vehicle through which to get to know one another.

I would say the same thing for the global coworking movement, in general. As long as it’s still providing a place for those of us who want to connect with one another to do so, that’s awesome. There will always be more work, and there will always be so much stuff that needs to get done that we don’t have time for. But, the important thing is seeing each other when we visit each other’s city, or at coworking conferences, or knowing that there are three different people we can reach out to when we’re having a hard time. If we have that, then mission accomplished.

Allwork.Space: So true. And, it’s always nice to see when one space, or coworking alliance, goes big and really embraces Coworking Day and some of the other aspects that make the movement what it is.

Coworking Day and the Coworking Visa are very simple ways to demonstrate our values. When it comes to the day-to-day work of running a coworking space, they’re kind of luxury items, but they’re the things that make me the happiest. When I see those things working and I see people talking about them, it is awesome.

The more we’re able to come together and reconnect over our shared values, the better. I think that the beauty of Coworking Day, among other coworking community rituals, is its ability to remind us all of our shared values, our shared story, and get us inspired to work on our shared future.