I throw around the term "coworking as a hub of positive psychology" a lot when I'm explaining to people why I'm interested in this concept of coworking. I've always had a rough idea of what I mean when I say this in my head, but I'd like to explore the idea a little bit more deeply. I think this article will expose me as the complete idealist that I am -- but I'm okay with that. A movement as young as coworking has not even come close to meeting its full potential. Here are my thoughts on where that potential might be.
First, the rest of this article is built upon a couple assumptions that I should probably get out as soon as possible. I'm assuming that the growth of independent work is going to continue. According to everything I've read about the economy and the shifts it's experiencing worldwide, I think that is a safe assumption. More and more people are either going to find themselves working independently (against their will) and more and more will choose to embark on a career of independent work. Secondly, as independent work becomes more normal, I think the idea that personal development falls under personal responsibility will become more normal. For a long time, personal development outside of a job context was not something people spent a lot of time thinking about. Jobs provided opportunities for you to grow as a person because your continued promotion through the ranks required this growth. Jobs also provided the structure for extracurricular activities like volunteering as a company for various causes or retreats that focused on something such as team-building or creativity. Less and less people are working in jobs that feature this kind of security and support nowadays and I think taking a more direct interest in personal development and philanthropy will become much more normal.
With those two assumptions out of the way, here's what I mean when I describe coworking as a hub of positive psychology.
Coworking spaces can become spaces in the community where events, activities, and education can happen. Obviously, the primary use of any coworking space is going to be for the members completing their work. However, I don't think coworking can, or should, end there. The people who are members at coworking spaces have a wealth of knowledge that many other people can benefit from (even beyond just other members of the space). I'd love to see coworking spaces create regular workshop series that introduce topics of interest to the general public. I know many have already done this but I think even more can be done. I think more membership plans that allow people to be involved in the extracurricular and community aspect of a coworking space are needed.
Secondly, my utopian view of a coworking space involves a sense of belonging to a team that is interested in more than just each individual's business. I'd want to be a member of a space where each member feels like their work is contributing to a larger purpose. Where it feels like each of the members is doing something that can be beneficial to society as a whole. That doesn't mean a space has to be filled with entrepreneurs trying to save the world, but it does mean that there is a certain level of focus beyond making a buck. It'd be completely possible to have a normal job (if there is such a thing at a coworking space) and still be interested in volunteering, as a team, for good causes or creating something positive together as a space in our collective free time.
I'd love to see coworking spaces become centers of collaboration, communication, and education for the general public. A place where someone who is interested in bettering themselves in some way can go and be surrounded by people who are interested in the same thing. Where someone who has a normal 9-5 job can come after work and spend a couple hours working on a personal project in the company of people who are supportive and willing to share ideas.
When I first started thinking about the idea of coworking, before I even knew what coworking was, I had a different phrase stuck in my head: "personal development gym." I wanted to find, or create, somewhere I could go and work on improving myself as a person. If I want to become physically stronger I could join a regular gym and if I wanted to know more about a specific topic I could take a community college class or find some kind of tutor. But where could I go if I just wanted to find other people who were passionate about doing something to improve themselves and the world? Where could I go to work on a project around other people who are also doing interesting projects?
I think coworking spaces can be that "personal development gym" I envisioned several years ago. Many spaces already seem to be moving rapidly toward that description. I understand that not every coworking space will become this. There will always be people who are mostly interested in a cheap space to rent where they can do their job in peace and then go home at the end of the day. I don't begrudge anyone who wants that kind of coworking experience and there will always be spaces that will cater to that type of person. I think, however, there will be a growing niche of coworking spaces that cater to this desire to be a part of a team that has a focus outside of itself. A growing niche for spaces that are interested in personal development as a general concept and not just a place to get free coffee and a good Internet connection.
I'm not 100% sure how to create something like this, but I think it's worth the effort. I'd love to hear your thoughts, especially if you have a similar vision or ideas for how to make it happen, in the comments below.
Sam Spurlin is an American graduate student studying the intersection between developmental and organizational psychology. He writes and coaches at SamSpurlin.com and is spending the summer in Prague working in Locus Workspace. He'll be sharing his thoughts and observations about coworking here for the next couple of months. You can follow him on Twitter (@samspurlin) or send him an email (samspurlin AT gmail DOT com).