On Thursday I found myself sitting in LiquidSpace at least that's who I booked through. LiquidSpace is a clearing house for workspace hirable for the hour, half day, day or longer. It's 'built to help you find a better space to meet or work from a marketplace of thousands of workspaces and meeting rooms'. It's a kind of dating service for workspace. Organizations that have available space to rent post it and people who are looking for space then register to rent it.
More info told me that I could 'Book on the go or plan ahead to work for an hour or for a day. Browse, reserve, and check in to hip co-working venues, high-end business centers, handy hotel lobbies or libraries. Find the right workspace wherever you are, whenever you need it'
I am in the category of planning ahead. I looked on Monday and booked for Thursday. Running down the availability of liquid space in my city (Washington DC) I opted for what looked like a 'hip co-working venue'. I have had my fill this year of 'handy hotel lobbies'. Canvas.Co/work (as they designate themselves) is 'A Washington, DC co-working community; designed for creatives, freelancers, independents and start-ups to be an inspiring environment in which to work and collaborate. Boasting 6,000 square feet of open-space, completely custom designed, from floor to ceiling. We believe that creativity comes from inspiration and that inspiration starts with your surroundings; you won't find any carpets, water-coolers or Ikea here.' So what's not inspirational about carpets I wonder? Could I run a workshop on water coolers as creativity inhibitors?
Why am I doing this? Well the first because during the week I listened to a webinar by Dave Lathrop of Steelcase's Workplace Future Research Group asking the question 'Why bother with buildings anyway?' It is a discussion well worth listening to if you're interested in the office of the future and has, as advertised, 'a refreshing new perspective and a few truly provocative ideas'. Two questions he posed grabbed my attention: 'What if we used workplace as a tool of the social networks that are at the core of how knowledge and creative work really happen?' And 'What if we paid serious attention to observing, discovering, and inventing workspaces with people, that mattered to people … wherever work happens.' He makes a good argument for place and technology that in combination act as a social tool.
Second because I am in the process of setting up a mobility experiment with 15 people who currently have assigned seating and are moving towards mobile working. So I was testing out one of the workplace options that I haven't yet tried myself. I've tried a lot – train, plane, airport, rail station, hotel lobby, home, cafe, street seating, car, Megabus, a canal narrow boat. Through trial and error I've found that the best place to make/take a phone call when I'm on the move is in any bank lobby (where the ATMs are). Bank lobbies are quiet – no blaring cafe music, somewhat insulated from traffic noise and, another plus, often devoid of people.
Third because when I'm not traveling and/or working at client locations, I'm a sole worker working from home. It gets lonely. I miss the day to day interaction and community/social aspects of work. The stuff that Chris Rodgers says in his excellent white paper 'Taking organizational complexity seriously' creates the continuously (re)emerging , organisation, 'in a never-ending, self-organising process of conversational interaction.'
A co-working environment seems to be social, community and work – unlike a coffee shop where people do work but it is not considered a 'workplace', or 'organization'. Co-working seems to create its own form of organization. Maybe that's a fine distinction but anyway …
I cycled down there not quite knowing what to expect. The first surprise was the signage – the options in the lobby did not mention Canvas.co/work so I had to choose the most likely one. I chose nclud which was on the signage with the subtitle 'creative web design agency'. That was a good choice as it turned out to be Canvas.co/work. The design agency has moved but the signage hasn't kept pace. The second surprise was being greeted by a dog. It turned out there were two or three roaming around the space. Then the human greeter, Kallie arrived and showed me around.
The third was age/gender. My bike helmet and backpack somewhat compensated for the fact that I was female and about 30 years older than every other person (95% males) in the space – those two accessories, helmet and backpack,helped me vaguely look the part but I missed a social inclusion point in not knowing that I could bring my bike in and hang it on a wall peg like everyone else did. Maybe next time.
The fourth surprise was the wonderful full-sized espresso machine– but I haven't taken my barista classes yet and felt clueless about operating it. I also had to get used to the idea that I would spend the day largely surrounded by young men so in order to get to grips with this reality I went off to get a coffee from the local espresso cafe. I guess I could have asked one of the men to show me how to operate the espresso machine but that seemed a bridge too far! It was tempting to stay in the coffee shop to work as it was all so familiar and also gender/age balanced, but I'd paid to be in the 'hip co-working venue' so I went back.
The fifth, actually not too much of a surprise, was that it was a great day that I enjoyed a lot. I had a lovely window view at my bar stool and table. I briefly shared the table with Andrew who is working on a crowd funding event website/company development – a form of Kickstarter. From him I discovered that you can get various types of membership to Canvas.co/work, bypassing LiquidSpace altogether. I got a my planned quota of work done though it was tempting to try out the table tennis instead of working (but no partner and I don't think I could shout and groan the way the players did). I wasn't so attracted to the slot machine type of game but it got brisk business. Kallie was just the right type of floor manager, attentive, friendly but not intrusive.
I enjoyed listening in to the lunchtime seminar on home-brewing – there were no samples I noted. But that was addressed in the happy hour meet-up around the espresso machine where beer was the order of the evening not coffee and people chatted to each other. (Or were they collaborating?)
Would I work there again? Yes. It was fun, I got a new experience, and I agree it has the various benefits outlined in the HBR blog has a piece on co-working spaces
Give co-working space a go and let me know what you think.