I was one of the first in line for membership when NEWORK Space opened in 2017. As a freelancer working from home, I’d been anxious to get out of the house and into a more professional environment. When the website launched, I gleefully clicked through the registration steps until it was time to choose my membership level.
I had sticker shock at first. It was a lot of money to me, and I had to justify the expense. After all, I could just work from my dining room table for free, pocket that money (read: take a vacation), and enjoy the solitude of my empty house during the school week. There is a certain charm in that. But I did the math, and created a list of “intangible expenses”:
- internet usage (and the increased productivity that comes with faster internet)
- tax benefits
- free printing
- brand exposure
In short, all the stuff I could put a dollar value on. And I was delighted to find that, considering those things alone, it actually made financial sense for me to sign up for a floating seat membership. So I did.
But that’s not what I want to tell you.
Here’s what’s funny: More than a year later, I don’t name a single one of those things when people ask me why I’m a member of a coworking space. Not that they aren’t important; they just pale in comparison to the real value of coworking.
At our last Morning Fix we discussed Tina Seelig’s TED talk, “The little risks you can take to increase your luck.” When it appears that someone has been lucky, Seelig says, most often that person has taken a series of small risks that led up to that experience. To “catch the winds of luck,” we have to change our relationship to:
- ourselves by taking measured risks that get us out of our comfort zone;
- others by showing appreciation for the help we receive from them; and
- ideas by seeing the possibility in ideas that may at first seem impractical or even crazy.
It dawned on me during our discussion that the real value of coworking spaces is that they act as a nucleus for this kind of creative risk-taking.
What coworking really offers the remote worker is the one thing remote working can never provide on its own: relationships. It puts people together, and gives them the opportunity to stick their necks out, to show appreciation, and to share ideas.
To paraphrase a former POTUS: It’s the people, stupid.
It’s difficult to quantify. Since I was there in the space, and people knew I was a writer, I picked up some freelance gigs just by being the de facto writer in residence. Easy.
When NEWORK Space needed a new community manager, it was a good fit for me and a good fit for them. I didn’t even have to apply, because they knew me, and I was there in the space.
One day I said, “Who’s that guy who keeps coming in and beelining upstairs?” And it turned out to be Jack Shuler, a journalist and Chair of the Center for Narrative Journalism at Denison. Now, I’m not a social person. I don’t like to introduce myself. But this time I decided to risk it, because I was there in the space. One year later, I have partnered with CNJ to teach community writing workshops, a dream of mine that I likely never would’ve realized on my own.
A few months later I met another writer, and together we began the Newark Writers Workshop, another long-time dream of mine that I probably would not have launched from my dining room table no matter how many devastating looks I received from my dog. It took the right serendipitous meeting, and it happened because (repeat after me) I was there in the space.
These are all really cool things, and I couldn’t begin to put a dollar value on them. Would they have happened if I’d taken up working at the library or a coffee shop? Not likely. You can’t just walk up to someone at a coffee shop and say, “Hey, what do you do? Want to talk?” I mean, you can. People do that. I generally shy away from those people. In a coffee shop you’re alone together: little islands of human, laptop, and latte.
But there’s this vibe at coworking spaces. It’s not magic, but coworking plops you into the middle of the action, along with other people who are there with their heads up, looking around and wondering what you might have to offer them, or what they might have to offer you. And that may be a little bit magic after all, if by magic we mean creating something new that wasn’t there before.
Heather is a freelance writer and editor, as well as a member and manager of NEWORK Space. She lives and writes on a small family farm in Newark, and she cofounded the Newark Writers Workshop.