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.