Coworking: A support system for collaborative consumption

We’ve written before about how coworking isn’t just a solution for lonely, isolated independent and remote workers, but also a potential economic development strategy for communities, particularly those in rural areas. In central Appalachia, for example, one town is hoping its new space will keep innovators in the area and help them overcome logistical barriers to building businesses. In San Jose, California, meanwhile, NextSpace is touting the boost it gives to the local businesses that surround it thanks to coworkers heading out for a sandwich or an errand.

But besides keeping talent in town and upping foot traffic to surrounding businesses, what other benefits might coworking spaces provide communities? In an interesting recent post for DeskMag, Angel Kwiatkowski of Cohere Coworking Community in Fort Collins, Colorado, offers a suggestion. Agreeing with the obvious benefits, she adds one more: “Coworking creates a network for collaborative consumption.” Kwiatkowski explains:

The quest for bigger, better, faster has crippled our economy. People are tired of keeping up with the Joneses and just want to keep their families fed. Collaborative consumption means reusing, growing, renting, bartering and making instead of buying. But the sharing economy demands a network of friendly, trustworthy people to make it work. Like the people who work right next to you in a coworking space.

Yes, coworking allows you to share your professional expertise and network with other successful freelancers. But you could do that at a once-a-month meetup. What makes coworking unique is the sharing that takes place on a personal level –- be it a potluck meal or vegetable seeds or a ride to a conference in Denver.

When a community is connected and open to sharing, people save money, learn new skills and reduce their impact on the environment. New ideas emerge, problems are solved in creative ways, and the community at large reaps all the rewards of a happy independent workforce.

Coworking helps people consume only what they need and share out resources that are superfluous, according to this argument. It’s a point of view explored in greater depth by Lisa Gansky, author of The Mesh: Why the Future of Business is Sharing, in her TED talk. Using services like Zipcar and Netflix as her jumping off point, Gansky argues that in many areas we are slowly moving away from ownership toward sharing resources. Coworking facilitates this process by switching folks from “owning” exclusive access to an often-empty office or cubicle to using space only when they need it and sharing it when they don’t. And the same can be said of resources from staplers to skills — rather than employ, say, a graphic designer and have full-time, exclusive access to her skills, a small company at a coworking space might be able to access a designer of the same caliber on a project basis, saving themselves some cash and helping the designer use her talent in a variety of stimulating ways.

Do you buy this argument for the economic benefits of coworking?

Image courtesy of Flickr user hyku.