Thankfully, we were able to catch up with Tony Bacigalupo, founder of New Work City to discuss the growing trend of coworking – groups of disparate individuals working together in a singular social environment – and how it is redefining our notions of the contemporary workplace.
Bacigalupo has been on the ground level of the coworking movement, becoming active in the community due to his own frustrations with telecommuting. Bacigalupo explains, “I was telecommuting full-time, and it started driving me crazy. I hatched an idea for a cafe for telecommuters, and did some research to find that, in fact, there was already a whole global movement coalescing around such concepts and there were several people in New York working on it. The last two years has seen a huge movement around this concept–coworking–and 2008 has seen it really start to break out into the mainstream. One of the first ever coworking communities, Jelly, was featured on CNN, NBC, and NPR Radio, and has expanded to over 20 cities around the globe.”
New York City, where Bacigalupo resides, has seen particularly strong momentum around the concept, and is “now home to several coworking communities: Jelly, CooperBricolage, Williamsburg Coworking, New Work City, and many more groups doing similar things.”Bacigalupo quickly found that coworking altered his workflow in a variety of positive ways, turning him from a participant into an advocate. He elaborates, “I’m passionate about [coworking] for a lot of reasons, one being the personal need for coworking as a telecommuter myself. Beyond that, coworking is important to me because I never really accepted the status quo of the typical employer/ employee relationship and the typical workplace, and coworking is helping lower the barriers for more and more people to reject that status quo as well. Increasingly, technology and concepts like coworking are letting people do the unthinkable– work, and be happy doing it!”
In regards to productivity, Bacigalupo challenges the assumption that having others around is distracting and unhelpful to getting work done. “It may sound counterintuitive to think that socializing while you’re working helps increase productivity, but it definitely does. Human beings are social animals. If we spend all our time cooped up in our homes working, it drives us nuts and our minds wander. So while one might sometimes get caught up in conversation with a fellow coworker, there is always a productive slant to the discussion, and there’s a good chance you’ll return to your work inspired. When you’re sitting next to an entrepreneur working on his next success, you’re far more motivated to do better yourself.”
Productivity isn’t the only professional element Bacigalupo has seen develop as a result of coworking. He cites both job opportunities and increased creative output as a product of the trend, noting “several freelancing friends of mine have gotten gigs out of coworking, some have gotten valuable feedback from skilled colleagues on projects they’re working on, and others have started entire companies based on brainstorms that started in coworking spaces. Diversity of skills is actually one of the strengths of coworking. By bringing like-minded folks from diverse professions together into one place, you create a very powerful contingent of brain power. Collaboration and great ideas are intrinsic.”
Bacigalupo is quick to dispel the notion that coworking is for freelancers only, although he recognizes that they are its most active participants. “While some communities tend to focus on certain fields of expertise, most coworking communities are completely open to anyone. If you can bring a laptop or notebook or something else and do your work alongside others, then you can partake in coworking.” As such, the movement, in Bacigalupo’s opinion, will continue to grow both in size and relevance. “Coworking is part of a fundamental shift in the way we think about how we work and live. Technology has now given us the ability to do most of our work from just about anywhere, and that’s giving us the freedom to reevaluate things like commuting and working 9 to 5. By and large, we don’t like being compelled to commute to work in a boring office. We also don’t like working by ourselves at home. Coworking is the next logical step. You’re going to see coworking in lots of places, some more obvious than others. There will be self-declared coworking spaces, but lots of other businesses and organizations will incorporate some of the principles behind coworking into their models.”