My definition for the current direction of coworking.

random strangers choosing to sit shoulder to shoulder with each other in distracting awkwardness, with the overwhelming feeling of obligation to engage in witty banter

It’s ironic, but through my entire IT career it was a constant complaint of employees when they got stuck in a room with or in close proximity to a coworker. The #1 reason to get promoted in the corporate world was getting your own office, whether for designers, PM, devs, etc. Now everyone wants to sit shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of strangers.

The problem with coworking is first and foremost the definition of work. Sometimes work requires collaboration. When it does, working closely with others is far more productive than remote work. But this requires you to cowork with the people on your actual project, not people working on a completely different project with a different company.

The opposite of collaborating, which is the bulk of most work, necessitates you being alone. It’s head down, get things done work. For this you need isolation. Coworking is a total fail for this kind of work. You can’t do pomodoro quality work when you feel obligated to socialize or collaborate. If you aren’t doing this type of focused work, well, you aren’t getting much done.

I think what most people mean when they say cowork, is socializing with peers during work hours. As much fun as this is, it’s not work. Save it for breakfasts, lunches, meetups, and after hours. There are enough distractions in a day as it is without sitting next to someone you rarely see who you enjoy talking to.

Back before there were coworking spaces, I frequently coworked with a friend at Panera Bread. This was back before anyone else was doing it. We were the only two there and using their wifi. We would frequently get asked about it by customers and employees. They were so puzzled as to what we were doing in a restaurant with our laptops. It was the glory days; the benefits of being a pioneer. No shortage of electrical outlets! Within a year, the plugs were impossible to get, the wifi was turned off at lunch and the fun was just gone. Though at least customers stopped walking by us staring in confusion and sometimes judgement.

During those early times of “coworking”, we actually worked. We would sit next to each other for hours without speaking. We stopped for lunch and talked only then, and after, dove right back into isolated work. I don’t see that any more. I see people gathering to do 50% work and 50% talk. That just isn’t effective. We’d be better off separating our social time from our work time. It would make us more effective at both.

I’ve been looking into another solution, in hopes of launching it in the Safety Harbor area, that would solve the desire for “coworking”, and the need to be around others, but remove the distracting nature of what occurs today. Hopefully I can find the right place and the funding to give it a shot.