Co-Working / Co-Living

Co-working spaces bring individuals and teams, employed by companies or self-employed, together in shared spaces where they can share ideas and knowledge across their work and create a sense of community. Similarly, co-living spaces bring individuals together in shared living spaces like kitchens and dining rooms, gyms, theaters, and spas – bedrooms, bathrooms, and kitchens can remain more private spaces – that provide residents with a greater sense of community and built-in social life. 

How It’s Developing

Founded in 2010, WeWork has established itself as one of the leaders in the co-working and co-living movements. WeWork operates in over 200 working spaces in twenty countries, with over 200,000 members, and a growing list of corporate clients like JPMorgan Chase and Siemens signing on as tenants in their co-working facilities. [1] Their co-working spaces appeal especially to start-ups (industrial chic aesthetic, large common areas, comfortable furniture, and creative touches like free beer and music) and millennials (well designed interiors, amenities, and enlightened, unconventional offices). [2] Their pricing structure allows individuals to pay as little as $45 per month for an occasional desk in a common area while start-ups can pay a few thousand dollars for a private room on a month-to-month basis, and larger companies can pay millions of dollars a year for spaces that hold thousands of employees over multiple locations. [3] WeWork’s Dock 72 project provides a 15-story building with an enormous co-working space, large offices for tenants like Verizon and IBM, luxury amenities including a spa and fitness facilities, restaurants, and bars – all managed and styled in the WeWork model. [4]

WeWork’s success in co-working has led to its expansion into co-living (WeLive), fitness (Rise by We), education (WeGrow), and the acquisition of a coding academy (Flatiron School) and the social networking site MeetUp. WeWork also re-launched its WeWork Labs program to offer super early stage startups a place to work and learn with a loose curriculum, access to educational resources, lectures from experts, smaller group session deep dives, and the larger network of 212 WeWork locations and 200,000 members. [5] Through all of this expansion is a vision of bringing people together to create a social culture with an entrepreneurial mindset. WeWork’s vision has created such a particular lifestyle that the company has announced a less-staffed and less-branded option called HQ by WeWork, which is aimed at medium-sized businesses (11 to 250 employees) that want WeWork’s flexible lease terms without its preset culture. [6

Co-working operations’ focus on developing community has led some to focus on very specific segments of community. Seattle’s The Riveter was developed as a female-focused (but not exclusively female) space with amenities, programming, and other membership perks like mothers’ rooms and daily yoga classes; it has more than 700 members across two spaces in Seattle with plans to expand nationally and develop a digital platform for members, a new podcast and newsletter, and additional programming offerings. [7] New York City’s The Wing is a women’s-only space that is part social club, part co-working studio, and part beauty salon that seeks to bring back the female camaraderie of early twentieth century women’s clubs, but with a contemporary female professional edge. An initial yearly membership fee of $1,950, or $185 a month cultivated a first launch of 300 members. [8] The membership waiting list grew to 8,000 and inspired additional locations in New York, Brooklyn, and a planned space in Washington, D.C. [9] Even in its exclusivity, The Wing seeks to intermix different people, sponsoring networking events that include lectures, craft seminars, parties, beauty gatherings, game nights, book clubs, and more. To help ease concerns over the exclusive membership cost, The Wing hosts several events each month that are open to nonmembers. [10]

Other co-working spaces focus on the nature of the work. Impact Hub in San Francisco provides co-working spaces for social entrepreneurs, with seventy locations around the world working to maximize interactions between individuals and teams developing new businesses focused on the community. [11]

Co-working innovation is also happening outside of structured spaces. Work-sharing start-up Spacious connects freelancers and remote employees with available day-time spaces in restaurants – members can give presentations, host meetings, or simply set up a work space in restaurants that normally sit dormant during work hours, but agree to provide wireless internet and coffee for members. [12]

Moving in another direction, Roam blends the co-working and co-living features in an international network of houses for digital nomads, a growing demographic of people who travel the world while working remotely; the buildings provide furnished, single-occupancy residences with rent starting at $500 a week and a built-in sense of community for entrepreneurs, programmers, freelancers, retirees, and tourists. [13] Roam’s founder connects the business’ nomadic appeal to millennials’ sense of detachment with low rates of marriage, homeownership, and childbearing alongside a disinterest in linear career paths. [14]

WeLive’s 200 fully furnished apartments in New York City rent on a short-term basis with a spare aesthetics but ample amenities including hot tubs, arcade games, a chef’s kitchen, communal dining room, and bars with happy hours. These perks and common spaces are meant to help bring people together to socialize, exchange ideas, and develop partnerships that extend outside of the living space into business or work. [15] WeLive’s model discourages people from leaving their larger residence by providing nearly everything that they might need, including a built-in network of friends and community, and this effect helps solve the digital-age loneliness and the “crisis of urban anonymity, outlined by sociologist Marc Dunkelman in his book, The Vanishing Neighbor, that many people might feel. [16] WeLive’s in-person connections are facilitated by community managers that welcome residents and guests and by an internal app that allows members to connect online and post announcements, complaints, requests to borrow goods, and other questions. [17]

Starcity, a new development company that has built three properties with thirty-six units for many of San Francisco’s non-tech population and promotes more affordable living by having tenants live in a small 130 - 220 square foot private bedroom with shared bathrooms, communal kitchens, and living rooms. The company has more units in development, a waitlist of 8,000 people, and plans to buy dozens of more buildings (one-star hotels, parking garages, office buildings, and old retail stores) to further its model. [18] The target demographic for these units are individuals who make $40,000 to $90,000 a year, are in their early 20s to early 50s, and care about developing a social community in the city they want or need to live in. [19]

Common, Brooklyn’s first commercial co-living space, provides fully-furnished rooms available for rent on a month-to-month basis, but on a scale (nineteen bedrooms in four full-floor apartments) far smaller than WeLive. [20] Rent includes a fully furnished apartment, a private bedroom, and access to two bathrooms, a living room, and a well-appointed kitchen that are shared with four other residents. Seventeen initial member tenants were selected from over 300 applicants. [21] Common continues the trend of built-in community with communal elements like Sunday dinner, events, and programming but on a smaller scale than larger co-living buildings. [22

Why It Matters

Libraries have long provided space and resources for entrepreneurs and individuals to work and conduct business, but there may be some lessons to be taken from co-working and even co-living spaces. Beyond space and resources, co-working and co-living spaces activate their spaces with a sense of socialization. Getting work done is important, but for many of these spaces, forging connections is even more important. Facilitating connections requires staff and personnel who can broker conversations and create events that bring people together.

Co-working and co-living spaces may lead libraries to rethink their spaces, combining the traditional open floor plans of reading rooms with smaller study rooms and carrels where small teams can interact with technology and other features.  

While the social and communal aspects of many of these spaces is admirable, it may be important to differentiate the ways that libraries strive to provide truly open community spaces for everyone. Even as they advance a philosophy of bringing diverse people together, with hefty membership fees and other prerequisites to participation, many co-working and co-living spaces will only bring certain categories of people together.  

The co-working and co-living trends have quickly advanced in urban areas (New York, San Francisco, Seattle) where demand for residential and work space are at a premium; these spaces could further exacerbate inequality by adding to the demand for real estate and gentrifying neighborhoods without providing truly affordable residences or workspaces. [23] This could create an obvious conflict with libraries’ values for equity.

More than just large urban centers seek the entrepreneurial benefits of co-working and co-living spaces. Chattanooga’s Tomorrow Building was developed to attract entrepreneurs and creatives who were new to the area and interested in more limited lease terms (three, six, or twelve months) with community amenities, all while they got situated, developed a community network, and found their professional connections or launched their start-ups. [24]

Notes and Resources

[1] "The WeWork manifesto: First, office space. Next, the world," David Gelles, New York Times, February 19, 2018, available from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/17/business/the-wework-manifesto-first-office-space-next-the-world.html.

[2] "The WeWork manifesto: First, office space. Next, the world," David Gelles, New York Times, February 19, 2018, available from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/17/business/the-wework-manifesto-first-office-space-next-the-world.html.

[3] "The WeWork manifesto: First, office space. Next, the world," David Gelles, New York Times, February 19, 2018, available from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/17/business/the-wework-manifesto-first-office-space-next-the-world.html.

[4] "The WeWork manifesto: First, office space. Next, the world," David Gelles, New York Times, February 19, 2018, available from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/17/business/the-wework-manifesto-first-office-space-next-the-world.html.

[5] "The WeWork manifesto: First, office space. Next, the world," David Gelles, New York Times, February 19, 2018, available from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/17/business/the-wework-manifesto-first-office-space-next-the-world.html.

[6] "How much WeWork is too much WeWork," Shirin Ghaffary, ReCode, August 8. 2018, available from https://www.recode.net/2018/8/8/17664640/wework-hq-branding-real-estate-office-space

[7] "The Riveter raises $4.75M to expand female-focused co-working model across U.S," Taylor Soper, GeekWire, March 19, 2018, available from https://www.geekwire.com/2018/riveter-raises-4-75m-expand-female-focused-co-working-model-across-u-s/.

[8] "The Wing: Manhattan’s first all-female coworking space and social club," Rina Raphael, Fast Company, October 28. 2016, available from https://www.fastcompany.com/3064763/ladies-first-manhattans-first-all-female-coworking-space-and-social-club.

[9] "The Wing continues its women-only co-working/social club takeover," Emma Hinchliffe, Mashable, November 2, 2017, available from https://mashable.com/2017/11/02/the-wing-soho-women/#rXtiwPuuImqP.

[10] "The Wing: Manhattan’s first all-female coworking space and social club," Rina Raphael, Fast Company, October 28, 2016, available from https://www.fastcompany.com/3064763/ladies-first-manhattans-first-all-female-coworking-space-and-social-club.

[11] "As social entrepreneurship booms, so do social impact coworking spaces," Adele Peters, Fast Company, July 1, 2015, available from https://www.fastcompany.com/3047966/as-social-entrepreneurship-booms-so-do-social-impact-coworking-spaces.

[12] "Spacious, a work sharing start-up, could be coming to a restaurant near you," Natalie Daher, CNBC, April 16, 2017, available from https://www.cnbc.com/2017/04/16/spacious-a-work-sharing-start-up-could-be-coming-to-a-restaurant-near-you.html.

[13] "When you’re a ‘digital nomad,’ the world is your office," Kyle Chayka, New York Times, February 16, 2018, available from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/08/magazine/when-youre-a-digital-nomad-the-world-is-your-office.html.

[14] "When you’re a ‘digital nomad,’ the world is your office," Kyle Chayka, New York Times, February 16, 2018, available from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/08/magazine/when-youre-a-digital-nomad-the-world-is-your-office.html.

[15] "The WeWork manifesto: First, office space. Next, the world," David Gelles, New York Times, February 19, 2018, available from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/17/business/the-wework-manifesto-first-office-space-next-the-world.html.

[16] "A week inside WeLive, the utopian apartment complex that wants to disrupt city living," Benjy Hansen-Bundy, GQ, February 17, 2018, available from https://www.gq.com/story/inside-welive.

[17] "WeWork’s communal living experiment, WeLive, is your college dorm on steroids," Sarah Kessler, Fast Company, March 14, 2016, available from https://www.fastcompany.com/3056555/weworks-communal-living-experiment-welive-is-your-college-dorm-on-.

[18] "Dorm living for professionals comes to San Francisco," Nellie Bowles, New York Times, March 4, 2018, available from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/04/technology/dorm-living-grown-ups-san-francisco.html.

[19] "Dorm living for professionals comes to San Francisco," Nellie Bowles, New York Times, March 4, 2018, available from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/04/technology/dorm-living-grown-ups-san-francisco.html.

[20] "Will Common’s co-living venture make sense to Brooklyn?" Konrad Putzier, The Real Deal, October 19. 2015, available from https://therealdeal.com/2015/10/19/will-commons-co-living-venture-make-sense-to-brooklyn/.

[21] "This Brooklyn co-living space is smarter than NYC's own plan to fix its housing crisis," Alissa Walker, Gizmodo, July 14, 2016, https://gizmodo.com/this-brooklyn-co-living-space-is-smarter-than-nycs-own-1737641841.

[22] "Common, the co-living startup from a General Assembly founder, opens its first building in Brooklyn," Kim-mai Cutler, TechCrunch, October 19, 2015, available from https://techcrunch.com/2015/10/19/common-building-opening/.

[23] "Common, the co-living startup from a General Assembly founder, opens its first building in Brooklyn," Kim-mai Cutler, TechCrunch, October 19, 2015, available from https://techcrunch.com/2015/10/19/common-building-opening/.

[24] "Chattanooga bets on speedy internet, startup accelerators and... adult dorms?" Anna Hensel, Inc, December 9, 2016, available from https://www.inc.com/anna-hensel/chattanooga-bets-on-speedy-internet-startup-accelerators-and-adult-dorms.html.