An Open Letter to Coworking: It’s Time to Think Bigger


Dear coworking,

How you holding up, mate? We didn’t see this one coming, did we?

Spaces are empty, some are closing, members are cancelling and tensions are high.

Word is there’s a coworking boom on the other side of this. I know, I know, it sounds great, but what about paying your rent?

The struggle is real.

The Future of Coworking

When life gets crazy, I find it helpful to pull back and remind myself why I do what I do.

So let’s hit pause for a minute and go big picture.

I was recently asked for my input on the future of coworking. I imagine some people shared metrics and projections. I shared this:

Coworking is uniquely positioned to help usher in a brighter future that we can see off on the horizon—a future where everyone has the opportunity to explore, and fulfill, their potential. I envision a world in which anyone who desires can plug into the right coworking space for them...It’s time to remove the barriers that keep people isolated and siloed. We have such incredible collective potential. I see coworking leading the way into a more connected, collaborative world.

I believe this to my core, because I’ve lived it.

The first time I opened the door to my home space, NextSpace Santa Cruz, I opened the door to my future. At the time, I was working full-time at an independent record store down the street. I had been there for years. It was a fun job that gave me unlimited access to music, art, culture and the creative community.

But I knew I wanted more. I knew deep down that I was a writer and creator.

In 2009, I got up the courage to approach our local alt-weekly paper about doing music writing for them. The editor took me up on my offer, showed me the ropes, and gave me my first paid freelance writing gigs.

Fast forward a few years and I was writing about community-focused projects for various publications. When I was assigned a piece about something called coworking, I was immediately hooked. I wrote about coworking for any publication that would let me. After a failed coworking attempt of my own, in which I signed a year-long agreement with a space that was not the right fit for me, I wandered into NextSpace.

I have a flair for the sentimental, so I’ll try to stay focused here.

NextSpace changed everything.

With the support and friendship of our coworking community, I grew from a starry-eyed freelance writer who would take any gig that came her way, into a full-time writer, into a niche writer for coworking, into a marketing teacher, consultant and coach for coworking space operators, into the founder of my own company, Cat Johnson Co, which is laser-focused on connecting space operators around the world, teaching marketing and brand-building strategies to operators, and furthering the coworking movement.

When I left the record store, I was making less than $20 per hour. Now I pay amazing people to help and collaborate with me because I can’t manage all the work by myself.

Coworking did that.

Every day, for years, I went into NextSpace to work. I gave of my time, ideas and expertise, and everyone else did, as well. I’m tempted to list all the people and ways they changed my life and helped me grow my business, but it would be too long and I’d forget people.

Just know that my coworking community changed everything for me.

I knew I wasn’t fulfilling my potential working for other people. I knew I had untapped gifts and abilities. I knew I could create something cool that aligned my values, passions, skillset, humanity and work. So I did, in my home coworking space.

I want that for everyone.

A Global Community

Imagine a world in which everyone could explore their passions and gifts, be supported in pursuing meaningful work, and be celebrated along the way for wins and missteps.

Imagine a world in which collaboration was an everyday thing, mutual support and respect was the norm, and differences were embraced as the incredibly valuable resources that they are.

I want to travel the world and plug into collaborative spaces as I go. I want to try new ideas, knowing with certainty that I’ll need to course-correct but that I’ll do so with the support and friendship of a global community.

I want to see young people have the space and network to bring innovative and important projects to life. I want to learn and experiment in community. I want to continue growing a thriving business and creating financial abundance.

I want to dismantle our collective loneliness, bridge the digital divide, and create anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-ageist, anti-xenophobic, anti-sexist etc. places where we lift each other up and celebrate this short, magnificent life.

That is coworking.

An Unnecessary Tension

There’s a counterproductive tension between community-focused coworking spaces and workspace industry shared spaces.

I find it both laughable and frustrating.

The reality is that spaces and brands with a history of trading desk rental for dollars need to bring more humanness to the game in order to compete. The future is collaborative, not transactional. If your business is 100% transactional, lean into your humanness—and the sooner the better.

If you run a coworking space that is all-in on community but operating near-or-at a loss, you’ve got to figure out a way to get paid. Be unapologetic about making a profit. The people who balk at this are likely not running sustainable businesses. Keep your intentions and actions clean, stay in service mindset, and create those revenue streams.

Service and abundance are not mutually exclusive.

Our Collaborative Potential

Here’s the beautiful thing: In coworking, we have all the resources, experience, perspective and diverse skills for everyone to thrive. Veteran coworking space operators have a wealth of expertise to share about building engaged, connected, collaborative communities. Workspace pros know how to make deals, run businesses, and get paid.

It’s insane to focus on our differences when our collaborative potential is so immense.

If our vision of community is limited to a certain group of people, to the exclusion of other types of people, we are doing it wrong.

A Brighter Vision

The world I envision has a dude in a suit collaborating with the vegan rock climber who rode her bike to the space; it has an elder bodyworker teaching wellness to the startup club; it has financial advisers teaching young entrepreneurs how to set up their business; it has the local women in tech group teaching the community garden team how to leverage technology to streamline their organization.

That’s the world I want to live in.

Coworking can do that.

But we have to do it together.

There’s an opportunity here for coworking to lead the way into a brighter future, but we have to embrace it.

Let’s stay in solutions-mindset, continue to give generously, ask for help when we need it, and keep our eyes on the potential for coworking to transform lives and our world.

It’s time to think bigger.

Further together,

Elevate your indie coworking space and brand in The Lab.

Get the education, support and community you neeD