Redefining Coworking

After reading The Business of Coworking at NotAnMBA I was inspired to write this post.

The current definition of coworking needs revision. Coworking is not a space, a community, a set of values, a business model, or any combination of those things. Those topics are about coworking, but they do not define coworking.

If we look at the definition of coworking on the Coworking Wiki, we read that “coworking is a cafe-like community/collaboration space for developers, writers and independents.” This defines coworking as a noun and as a type of community space. Wikipedia does a bit better at defining coworking, but still place a lot of emphases on “the space.”

From my experience with Jelly, coworking is not a space or a noun. It is a verb. Coworking is something you are doing. For example, I’d use it in a sentence like this: “Today I am coworking at Jelly.” Or, “I might go to Citizen Space to cowork.” From this usage I’d like to propose the following definition.

Coworking is two or more individuals working independently or collaboratively who are socially interacting while they work.

As a verb you can cowork with people, you can be coworking, or you may have coworked. You may even go to a designated coworking space.

Also note, that this definition does not mention anything about a space or even proximity. This leaves the possibility to cowork remotely. Second Life and Yahoo! Live come to mind.

When we talk about creating a “coworking space,” “coworking community,” or having a specific set of values, we’re really talking about how to create an environment or community that will encourage the activity of coworking. Arguments over values, profits, business models, and furniture can neither undermine nor enhance the definition of coworking. Build a pool and I may go swimming. Is it a free pool? Do I have to pay to swim? Is the water clean? Are kids allowed in the pool? Is there a swim team that meets at this pool? Is the pool’s owner honest? All of these thing may affect my decision to swim in the pool, but are ultimately a matter of taste.

In summary, coworking is NOT a cafe-like community/collaboration space. That’s like saying swimming is a pool. And arguments such as for-profit versus non-profit need not become heated. Coworking is coworking regardless of where it’s at, what values people share, or how big the community is. If you’re working and socializing, you’re coworking.

18 thoughts on “Redefining Coworking

  1. I like it! I have been virtually co-working for a while then, because most of my time is in Colombia, South America and I am in Austin. We all get online and co-work then. I agree completely!

  2. I entirely agree!

    Co-working is an abstract concept of “not being alone” and in typical USA fashion, is being hijacked for commercial purposes.

    It isn’t WHERE you meet, it isn’t WHO you meet (certain fields like gamers or real estate), it is THAT you meet.

    There is cheap and expensive co-working. Free and freedom are independent.

    Fight the good fight Dusty!

  3. This is great stuff! I think you have nailed it and, it would be helpful if this definition circulated a bit more widely (in my opinion).


  4. Great post Dusty! (welcome back from Jamaica by the way).

    Interesting how the definition on coworking wiki is off – shouldn’t someone revamp this?

  5. As a relatively new concept, the definition of coworking should be variable and open to interpretation. You’re a great person to help push along this new definition and I encourage you to submit it to the coworking community at large to start a conversation, perhaps on the Coworking Google Group. It can serve as the framework for a clearer, more current definition of the meme.

    Awesome post, dude!

  6. Interesting emphasis on social interaction. Especially since social interaction can take many forms. There’s a (very minimal) level of social interaction when people are, say, working in neighbouring cubicles. These interactions are often perceived as disruptive, if they don’t happen around the water fountain. While coworking, interactions are expected, taken into consideration, made explicit.
    So it sounds like this definition of coworking is specific enough to distinguish it from other forms of “working at the same place” and broad enough to encompass different environments, including parks, apartments, and caf├ęs.

  7. So if place is not a factor then are traditional workers also co-working as long as they occassionally interact socially? Isn’t a large part of the original intent of the word to differentiate it from the standard office environment?

    -From a cubicle.

  8. Thanks for all the feedback everyone! If you agree with this definition I hope that you’ll help me propagate it across the inter-tubes.

    @Grumpicus – Yes. I believe people working 9 to 5 at an office, if they’re socially interacting while working, they are coworking. Thus, they are coworkers. Coworking seems novel to independents because we’re accustomed to working alone.

    The concept of coworking came about when people who worked from home began to miss the social interaction that is usually available at a traditional office. Thus the term was born. The term coworking does not distinguish traditional workers from progressive workers. It distinguishes working alone versus working in a social group.

  9. @David Good comment – I had to check to make sure that it wasn’t me that left that comment in a half-awake/asleep uncaffeinated daze this morning.

    @Dusty I’m glad you wrote this, that noun/verb distinction has always bothered me. You should update the coworking wiki (offer as an alternative definition?) with this.

  10. As someone who has worked in Second Life full-time for almost 2 years, I can tell you that it’s not a great coworking space. I am lucky enough to be able to work on SL stuff outside of SL because I deal with video. However, if you’re popular at all in SL, there’s no way to go private one time and public another for your friends list in SL. You can only edit friends list visibility 20 at a time, so when your list tops 500-600 people, it’s impossible to go without being bothered.

  11. You know what, i wish there was more co-working opportunities available. As an independently working therapist, a large drawback is the isolation. Which can largely be solved though such a co-working arrangement.

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