What makes the perfect coworking space? The answer should will probably be very different for different people, depending on what they’re looking for. Some spaces are very community-centric, others rather are service providers; some are more artsy, others more corporate.
Here’s what I imagine the perfect space like. Please note that this is more like a snapshot of what I’m thinking right now, and it will certainly develop over time, so I hope to revisit and rewrite this text over time, too.
It’s about the people
Taking a hint from Alex Hillman, my top priority would be the people who congregate at the space to work together. It’s about working not just alongside, but with inspiring folks. This also means that the space must encourage openness, sharing, collaboration. It also means that the space needs to be a fun place to hang out.
Built with them, not for them
Building a space for others can easily backfire. The space shouldn’t be run as a money-making machine or any kind of service provider where you pay money for a desk and that’s that. Instead, it should be built by a group of dedicated coworkers. A way to encourage this culture could be to run the space on a membership basis instead of a pay-per-use basis. It might make sense to have a tiered system where a core group of members runs the place behind the scens, and a looser member group is involved primarily in the social aspects of the space.
A place for local and international geeks alike
Yes, that’s right: It might very well be slightly geeky. That said, I would always prefer a space that seems inviting not only to Berliners, but also to international folks who’re in town for the days, a week or a month. That also means that it should be perfectly normal to switch to English if folks from abroad are around, that everybody will be extra helpful if someone’s in town the first time, and of course that there’s always a spare power plug adapter in one drawer or another.
Consistent style, but no styleguide
Personally, I like a place that looks kinda stylish, kinda edgy. This of course is totally subjective. That said, I’d make sure to have a consistent style for the basics (desks etc.), but leave the rest for everybody to figure out themselves. Don’t over-regulate. A styleguide or design by committee: maybe no.
A good price, discountable
Pricing is a touchy subject. Particularly in Berlin, where rents are (by international standards) fairly low, pricing might make or break a space. You don’t want it to look cheap, but you don’t want to exclude those with a limited budget. So what’s the solution? I guess besides a reasonable pricing scheme it’s important to allow for discounts for those who might need it at this point of their career. One possibility could be to allow for decent discounts for those who get particularly involved in the space, like by taking on an organizational job: Think treasurer, webmaster/admin, resident artist. This would provide another incentive to get involved, and a good way for the temporary needy to share the space.
There’s challenges, too. If you have any ideas on how to tackle these issues, I’m grateful for your input. The main problems I see at this point: Insurance (what do you need, where to get it, can an insurance handle the flux of folks?), decision-making processes (might involve complex decisions or turn out to be a no-brainer), legal basis (without having looked into it, I would suspect that in Germany you need to get a lot of paperwork right before getting started).
So that’s my initial take. Nothing to reinvent the wheel here, but I think it’s important to think about the culture you’re aiming for.
Luckily, there’s others who’ve pioneered the whole movement, and who are far more experienced in setting up and running coworking spaces. Luckily, when I asked them to share their experiences they kindly agreed. (Thanks, guys, you rock!) So I’ll be posting a number of brief interviews about coworking, starting with Chris Messina, who basically co-started the whole movement.
All the interviews will be tagged coworking + interview, so click here to read the interviews. I’ll post them as they come in.
Image: Citizen Space by hyku (some rights reserved)