Coworking and Digital Nomadism Suck, So Let’s Change That in 2017

The coworking movement has grown tremendously in 2016. I see dozens of new spaces opening every week. There are new models being tested in regards to product offering, pricing, and various niches. According to the initial results from the Global Coworking Survey, the number of spaces has grown by about 49% in the last 12 months.

But for all the craziness that’s going on, there’s still a large gap in where we are and where I think we need to go. I’ve talked a lot about this over the last few months with a lot of people and I’m not going to stop talking about this. There’s a ton of room for growth, and I don’t mean in the sense of monetization and market size, but in the ethical and social sense.

I recently finished an article that will be published in New Worker Magazine, probably after the new year, about how coworking and the rise of digital nomadism are poised to be a major boon to geopolitical relations. The piece originally started as an homage to the benefits of coworking spaces for the novice digital nomad, but it wasn’t the point I was trying to get across. I was painting digital nomadism and coworking as intrinsically good institutions. I was lucky that my editor pointed out the flaw in logic.

Truly, digital nomadism and coworking are wonderful things, but only for those who can take advantage of them. This happens to be the huge counter argument against digital nomadism. Not everybody has access to nearly unrestricted travel. Not everybody is relatively wealthy enough to afford to travel the world.

So I had more research to do.

In my quest to find examples of coworking spaces that not only provided a safe haven for world travelers, but also great communal and economic benefit for the local community, I wasn’t impressed with what I found. Yes, such beneficial workspaces exist, but they are not in the majority, not by a long shot.

Most spaces readily support world-bound travelers, providing them the infrastructure and comfort they need to work and feel somewhat at home. However, we need more spaces that use their community and resources as a platform for better global connection and better economic opportunities for people from all strata of life. Even in relatively wealthy countries, coworking often only benefits a small group of people.

But it’s not all bad.

Impact Hub is a reasonably good example, though the results vary from location to location. In particular, I think Impact Hub Oakland has done a fantastic job remaining active in the already present community of Oakland even in the face of massive gentrification and upheaval over the last five years. In general, Impact Hubs inherently focus on more than startups and technology. They focus on art, culture, social and environmental issues, and much more. They were built from the get-go with the DNA of a socially beneficial organization.

However, you don’t need to be a “goody two shoes” to implement a better social or communal component in your workspace. The business case is also there. Think about it. If you bring your entire community up, instead of merely trying to sap the tech and startup talent out of it, you actually create a better standard of living and better opportunities for more people. Which means that there will be more potential members, more potential events, more potentially crucial partnerships. A rising tide raises all ships, or so they say.

This is what I want 2017 to be about. Not about how much more square feet we add to the global pool of shared workspaces. Not about the number of spaces that report profitability. And for fuck’s sake, let’s stop talking about “building community.” Instead, be the community. Be every part of it. Structure your organization in a way that lifts those around you and builds on the strengths that already exist.

I want 2017 to be the year that we decided coworking for coworking’s sake just wasn’t enough. The year that we decided that we wanted more than happy hours and startup pitch competitions. The year we became utterly bored with developers and freelancers.

Instead, let 2017 be the year we start a global connection revolution. Let us develop models that raise up our communities, share talent and ideas, and create infrastructure for more than the digital elite and tech proficient.

There’s no excuse this time around the sun. We have the tools, we have the spaces, we have the resources. Our industry is more connected than ever before.

2017 must be the year we make our movement more than just a novelty (the status of which it has long surpassed) and become a force for worldwide socioeconomic and geopolitical good.

Ryan Chatterton
ryan@coworkinginsights.com

I've spent the last several years in the coworking industry, from launching and running an Impact Hub location to building an education and events program at PARISOMA, and some stuff in between. Along the way I've learned first-hand what works and what doesn't, and I continue learning every day. I'm enthralled with the emerging world of work that's been enabled by coworking, bootcamps, and accelerators. For the first time in my life, I feel there is a chance for people to forge their own careers without dropping $40K+ on an education or being at the beck and call of a power-hungry manager for years on end. For the first time, I think there's a path that makes sense for the rest of us. Talk to me at ryan@coworkinginsights.com and check me out on LinkedIn.