- When people talk about coworking, they typically talk about community as well.
- Coworking operators have used community as a term to attract and retain members.
- Academics use the concepts of Gemeinschaft, Gesellschaft, and collaboration to better understand community in coworking spaces.
Community, according to the coworking wiki, is one of the five core values of coworking; when people talk about coworking, they immediately talk about community. Earlier this year, Allwork.Space published an article titled “Is Community Enough when Marketing Your Coworking Space?”, in which we argued that although community is a key element of the industry, it shouldn’t be used as a differentiating factor.
The problem with community, according to the academic paper “Coworking is about community but what is community in coworking?” published in the Journal of Business and Technical Communication, is that there is a lack of definition about what community really is.
“This lack of a definition creates relative coherence across coworking sites that are configured in rather different ways—that is, since no strict definition is on offer, more sites can characterize themselves as coworking sites.”
Most coworking operators promise community and collaboration to members. Yet, in what way they provide these two elements remains unclear.
In their paper, Spinuzzi, C, Bodrožić, Z, Scaratti, G et al, use the Adler and Heckscher’s typology of communities to examine what it is like in coworking spaces.
Their proposed typology “is based on Tonnies’ distinction between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft.” Where “Gemeinschaft is what characterized relationships in medieval towns: based on blood relations, physical locality, and friendship, it is characterized by tacit understanding and is focused inward. In contrast, Gesellschaft is an ‘artificial construction of an aggregate of human beings which superficially resembles the Gemeinschaft in so far as the individuals live and dwell together peacefully, but they remain united in spite of all separating factors’.”
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Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft are typically translated into english as community and society respectively. While “Gemeinschaft relies on personal bonds of loyalty and values of honor and duty, Gesellschaft focuses on consistent, rational, individualistic action”.
Additionally, Adler & Heckscher also propose the concept of collaborative communities.
The authors argue that coworking spaces are not setup as communities given that “as a historically new form of organizing, coworking sites, are not based on blood relations and loyalty, but typically charge their members and welcome new members.”
This leaves Gesellschaft and collaborative communities to help us understand what community really is in coworking.
Following a study and the gathering of data, the authors concluded that there is a dominance of Gesellschaft-type coworking spaces; where the focus is on individuality and business interests.
The above as a result that though coworkers are open to different forms of collaboration, the forms they typically described are limited. According to their findings collaboration in coworking spaces, rather than coworking members working together on a project, is more commonly reduced to hiring one another for their services and providing feedback, sharing experiences, and sharing contacts.
So, what exactly is community in coworking?
Though it remains an imprecise term, community in coworking spaces means:
- New contacts/connections
- Potential clients
- Potential projects.
In other words, community is producing mutual economic benefit among coworking members while they focus on their own projects and business development.