- By definition, coworking spaces involve community. They are shared working environments where knowledge workers independently gather to do work, which can lead to organic collaboration and communication.
- Despite being commonly associated with the idea of community, community in coworking is often poorly defined, according to the Journal of Business and Technical Communication.
- All coworking sites are about “community,” but researchers note that different types of communities support different activities.
According to the Journal of Business and Technical Communication, while all coworking spaces value community and collaboration, not all spaces share the same idea of what “community” and “collaboration” mean.
Community and collaboration are central to coworking spaces — their primary selling point is that they are communities of knowledge workers with the opportunity to collaborate.
What such collaboration means can look very different depending on the type of community operating at a particular coworking space.
The duality of community in coworking
Coworking spaces are either “Gesellschaft” or “collaborative” communities, which are two radically different notions of community. Gesellschaft communities should be called “impersonal communities,” as they are coworking spaces oriented around sharing resources and working next to others.
Collaborative communities, in contrast, are oriented around intense collaboration and community-building efforts.
However, experts misuse them interchangeably because of how poorly defined the word “community” is in coworking space literature.
Most members would prefer a collaborative community. In reality, most coworking spaces feature the characteristics of impersonal communities.
In the modern day and age, coworking spaces are less about collaboration for creative purposes and more about resource-sharing and networking for business growth.
The impersonal intersection of commerce and coworking communities
What is the difference between an impersonal community and a collaborative coworking space community?
Researchers from the Journal of Business and Technical Communication describe impersonal communities as similar to traditional in-office work environments.
First, in impersonal communities, a dominant actor is a company or owner/individual that issues market-oriented service contracts to workers under their authority.
The main goal of impersonal communities is abiding by the values of the dominant actor and maximizing commerce — which is usually the dominant actor’s top priority.
The basis of trust in these communities is integrity, competence, and conscientiousness. Most of the time, workers are given a high level of independence in an open workspace designed to benefit rational self-interest.
In other words, impersonal coworking communities are centered around intelligent and rigorous business growth. Labor is divided hierarchically according to positive contributions towards such development.
Sometimes this involves rigorous collaboration between workers, but collaboration in impersonal coworking spaces usually means increased networking opportunities with coworkers.
How collaboration and creativity can alter coworking spaces
Collaborative environments, on the other hand, are in it for creativity. Knowledge workers are interested in creating things, so the bottom line of a collaborative community isn’t a dominant actor or their commerce-related wishes — it’s the creative production itself.
Because these collaborative environments do not primarily value commerce, their whole system of community and collaboration looks entirely different from that found in impersonal coworking communities.
Researchers note that this is because the “logic of the market does not drive collaborative coworking spaces.”
Instead, they are driven by the logic of “collaboration.” The process of creativity is at the forefront of concern in collaborative coworking communities.
This makes workflows interdependent, not independent. It also creates a shared interest among coworking space residents.
This interest is attached to a common objective, so workers can directly collaborate on clearly defined tasks, which rarely occurs in an impersonal coworking space.
Why clarity on defining “community” matters in coworking
Despite impersonal communities being more common among coworking spaces, when most people think of coworking spaces, collaborative communities intuitively come to mind first.
Researchers note this because the literature surrounding coworking spaces often suggests that the opposite is true. More often than not in these materials, coworking spaces are represented as collaborative, not impersonal spaces.
The Journal of Business and Technical Communication believe operators should clarify this ambiguity so members can have reasonable expectations about what they’re getting into before signing a lease.
Some looking into coworking will prefer impersonal communities, and others will prefer collaborative communities. Coworking spaces that advertise which applies to them beforehand can prevent disappointment for all parties.
Apart from this vital, practical consideration, the journal notes that many coworking spaces fall into grey areas between impersonal and collaborative communities. New community types will arise because of how fast the coworking industry can change.
These grey areas might even explain why inner conflict can arise within specific coworking spaces — which is all the more reason to clarify what community means in these spaces.
While coworking is all about community, what “community” means in coworking must be more clear so members and operators can thrive.