Every since starting Mindbox and engaging in startupland, co-working has been synonymous with the proverbial “office”. This isn’t new. It’s a thing….kind of old school by now, but in some communities around the country it’s a fresh concept wrought with skepticism. To some co-working sounds like a great excuse to socialize and ignore the task list. That may be true for some, but it really depends on your goals and roles (I know that rhymes). I think you can be really productive co-working, but I also see co-working as a huge opportunity for the building relationships and opening new business funnels.
As proof, I am writing this blog as a social experiment while I co-work, mingle, get stuff done, and enjoy all of the benefits of a growing business community at the same time.
Let’s start with coffee culture
There are coffeeshops that offer free wi-fi throughout the city where people of all kinds gather around a hot cup of Joe. Not just any drip coffee anymore. It’s craft brew, of course.
Culture and coffee(shops) are like salt and pepper in our society today. Just think, 30 years ago Denny’s and McDonald’s was about as good as it got for a third place. Then Panera Bread? A lot has changed. The internet and global economy has changed the way we work and the way people connect. Now you see startups launching lean from a corner table just enough away from earshot as to “protect their IP” while drinking a Gibraltar. You have freelance coders bringing their double monitors and 40 oz mugs. Remote workers are arriving early so they can get done in time to pick their kids up from school. Insurance agents, mortgage brokers, REALTORS, financial advisors, and consultants all use the coffeeshop as a safe, enjoyable meeting ground. Moms and retirees are there too chatting, laughing, and sipping. It’s a way of life.
This is a form of co-working that offers incredible social benefits, even profitable chance encounters. There are other groups of people out there that host co-working events to gather groups of people that have something in common.
The making of a great co-working event
That brings me to Redding, California–a community that’s 3.5 hours north of San Fransisco just big enough to have all the basics and still small enough to feel like you know everyone. So why co-working? Because even though it’s a tight-nit community it still lacks rich urban culture. The city is pretty spread out and there are hundreds of remote workers and entrepreneurs isolated in their home offices, so that’s why we started hosting co-working event. We’ve already done two of these events in Redding before today and heard a lot of positive feedback from those who joined.
So some friends and I had an idea to build on that concept and join forces to create an even greater co-working event that brings together the young professionals group (Catalyst) led by my new friend, Rachel Hatch, the Startup Redding community led by Luke Miner, Hope Seth, and me, the Redding Chamber of Commerce, and the Shasta Economic Development Corp under one roof for a day. The event is a mashup of co-working and streaming the TED conference live from Vancouver. This event attracted the non-traditional co-working professional–the person with the day-job that may have flexibility to join over lunch or for an hour in the morning, and not just the free-bird entrepreneurs. That was the goal. We hope greater diversity will bring more opportunities to this community.
I think a great co-working event is attractive to both power users and outliers.
- Have a plan for the day before you come in. Create some non-negotiables and set boundaries for you to get your work done. Decide ahead of time which hours will be your “earbuds in, anti-social hours”.
- Build in time to connect with others and strike a thought-provoking conversation with someone new.
- OBVIOUS ALERT: Don’t just talk about yourself. Pass the ball. Other people are interesting too if you ask something other than, “How are you doing?”
- Respect the earbuds of others. AKA — back off until they take them out.
Co-working isn’t for everyone. Some are distracted by people walking around them, and others don’t like listening to music while working to drown out noise. That’s okay. Even if that’s you, I challenge you to join a co-working event for part of a day at some point. Follow up on emails, pay your bills, or just come to meet some new people. Trust me, it will be good for you.
It’s worth mentioning that there are plenty of dedicated and quiet-ish co-working spaces out there. instead of paying for a cup of coffee, you’ll pay a small fee for your seat. It’s not a bad way to work for most, especially if you’re a consultant, startup co-founder, or remote worker.
I created a few memes with some friends that showcase nicely Co-Working: What It Is / What It Isn’t. Check them out (and smile a little if you relate).