Co-Working and Education

Yesterday, David Wolinsky wrote a between-the-eyes piece on ADMCi’s blog about why co-working doesn’t live up to its inherent potential of 1+1=3. It was a more direct way of saying what I did a few months ago.

To me, the a-ha moment was realizing that the people behind many co-working spaces still haven’t figured out how to create the “stickiness” that’s so critical to any business. As David rightly puts it, many believe “we’ve got a spare room, let’s rent it out to a bunch of strangers to work.” Sorry, contrary to what they may think, co-working is not a simple real estate play.

The co-working space I work from, Catapult Chicago, has been open for nearly two years. They hold a variety of educational and networking events to bring together the startup founders and employees who work there. Early on, they agreed to partner with The Junto Institute and host our 10-month program there. And recently, we discovered that Catapult founders wanted more learning and engagement, and so we’re now launching two Founders Forum groups. And here’s the kicker – there has been 100% participation among the companies there.

Ask anyone who works at 1871, the gi-normous digital co-working space in Chicago, why they continue to work there. Most will say access to the “who’s who” of Chicago’s entrepreneurial community and the endless office hours and events. They stick around since 1871 provides “encouragement and motivation” for people to “mingle and learn from one another”, as Wolinsky says. If that didn’t happen, I’m fully confident that 1871 members would not meet, talk with one another, and learn.

As an educator, what I’ve noticed about many other co-working spaces is that they don’t recognize the complexity of education. Creating an educational program is like any product or service – it requires thoughtful design and planning to achieve the desired objectives.

Relevance and applicability of content are priority one. Instructors and speakers need to be carefully selected. Knowing what might work and what might not requires experience. Communicating the value proposition and marketing the program take skill and craftsmanship. Working with the physical space’s limitations and possibilities is an art form. Creating programs that can be replicated and not personality-dependent requires ingenuity.

In other words, designing education is hard…really hard.

So if you just want a place to work, a co-working space is simply an expensive, more quiet coffeeshop. But if you want a place where you can work, build meaningful relationships, and expand your mind, find a community that spends the time, money, and energy to give you more than a desk and chair.