Coworking: A State of Mind

Coworking wordle

I started AltamontCowork on May 1, 2009.

Since then, I have gotten quite good at judging (within the first 5 seconds) whether a person walking in the door is going to thrive in a coworking environment, or if a traditional 10 x 10 box office with a door is what they want (not necessarily what they need, but, their minds are closed anyway….).

Let me give an example….but, first.

Coworking is…

Coworking is an open workspace.   Unfortunately, the open style of coworking is a foreign concept for many of us “older” folks (the Tracy, CA demographic of family oriented 35 and older).  Take myself, at 61, as an example.  I grew up dreaming of working in my own office, preferably one with a window.  And guess what?  I achieved that goal….several times.  I succeeded in life.

Brittany Earl and Robert Jan 2013 coworking

By contrast….the kids of today (by kids, I mean those under 35 or so) have grown up in an open collaborative work environment.  Open collaboration at school, at the university, and then at work is the norm.  Breaking down the walls (even the low cubicles) is conducive to close collaboration.  Look at Facebook’s workplace, or Google’s…or at the growing number of new high tech companies that are going toward the open workspace concept.  Look at Starbucks.  “Open” works (as does distributed work, i.e. telecommuting, but, that is another blog).

Here is how a typical potential new member process works at AltamontCowork.

The Phone Call

“I saw your sign, and was wondering how big the office is you have for rent?”

Flag #1….this person wants an office (the Coworking word did not register), but, I will tell them the “truth” as asked.

“1700 square feet”

This next response is funny, and so predictable.

“REALLY????  For $160 per month????”

Again, I answer the questions as asked.

“Yup”. 

“When can I come up and see it?”

“I am here now, Suite 205, upstairs”

OK, I will be there in a few minutes.”

The Visit

The door bell rings and I let the potential new member in.

Within 5 seconds, I know if it is worth my effort to talk about coworking or not (even though it is not…. I give it a stab, as do current members who happen to be here, but, I already know the result).

Worth the effort:  The potential member comes in (and even though they may say “Oh, I was looking for an office” it is clear that their minds are open), his or her eyes widen just a bit.  They stay and walk around as I talk.  They look in the conference rooms, ask about the members, open the storage room door, the bathroom, ask about the mugs, ask about using the space after hours, the key deposit…..etc. etc.  They may come back.

Brian walked in off the street.  His eyes widened and he paid $5 for the day, then 10 minutes later, paid for a month.  He has been here almost 2 years now.

UPDATE 11/10/14: After three years here, Brian expanded and left to an office that could accommodate his growing staff.

Brian jan 2013 coworking

Earl walked in and immediately loved it.  He has been here almost as long as Brian.

UPDATE 11/10/14: Earl is still here!  This is his headquarters and his Therapist business is BOOMING.

Earl Barrios coworking

Lucille came back the next day even though she wanted an office.  She has been a member now for over a year.

UPDATE 11/10/14: Lucille will be here 3 years at the end of November 2014.  JBB Cleaning is profitable, and she, being an RN, is starting a Home Care business now.  Based out of AltamontCowork.

lucille in chair coworking

Not worth the effort:  The potential member comes in and their jaw drops (closed mind = open mouth).  “Where is the office?”.  “This is the office, this is a coworking location.”  “Oh….well I need to talk with my partner, or, “I was looking for an office”.    The occasional person may be polite and listen to some of my spiel, but most simply turn around and walk out.  “Ok, goodbye”.   I know I will never see this person again, and no matter how hard I try to explain the benefits of coworking for a small business, they will never ever change their minds.  So, now, I just say goodbye.

My Attitude

It used to be, those losses killed me.  I would go back to my coworking desk and wonder (i.e. agonize over) what I did wrong, how could I have convinced them to stay, etc. etc.

I know, now, that nothing I could have said, or done, would have resulted in a sign up.

And you know what?  I have learned that that is a good thing.

Coworking takes a certain state of mind.  A member who can thrive in a coworking environment generally has a collaborative, open,  outlook on working.  They can joke around, argue, help others, bring in stuff to help AltamontCowork (coffee, toilet paper, staplers, paper, ink, beer….)….in short, they become “family”.   The person that I just lost…. is not a coworker and never will be.  If they signed up, they will be gone shortly, they will not participate as a “family” member, furthermore, they may steal or take advantage of our generosity (yes, unfortunately, this has happened).

I now accept that those losses only helped to strengthen the environment at AltamontCowork.  We have, mostly, a caring strong core of coworkers who will go out of their way to help.

I now hand a sheet of paper to potential members along with the information packet and sign-up sheet I normally give out.  On this new sheet of paper is a list:

Coworking is…..

  • Community
  • Collaborative
  • Supportive (give without asking for anything in return)
  • Casual
  • Green
  • Affordable
  • Available
  • Open (to ideas, learning, and discussion)
  • Serendipitous
  • Encouraging
  • Safe (and, in our case, kid friendly)

It gives the potential new member something to think about when they go home:

 We are different and we care about your success. 

Conclusion

Coworking is changing the way people work.  It is here to stay and will grow exponentially over the next 10 or 15 years.

COWORKING ROCKS!

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2 thoughts on “Coworking: A State of Mind”

  1. Thanks for writing this. I started Tech Liminal about the same time you started your place, and we’re learning some of the same lessons – word for word. There’s just someone who will fit into our community, and everyone else … won’t.

    But that’s okay, there are lots of options for office space and working. I’m really glad you guys are still around and creating something different out there in Tracy.

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