The defining characteristics of coworking spaces are their facilitators and their
community of coworkers. Coworking spaces are created for the community and with
the community in mind. It is not just a real estate business in which a physical space is
rented: the role of the facilitator (or host, concierge, community leader, or any other
title you want to use) is to enhance the connections and interactions of the coworkers to
bring them value and to actively accelerate serendipity. It is a network, not just a place.
It is not enough to put a bunch of people together in a room: you must work hard to
create the right interactions that form a sense of community.
What is this thing about accelerating serendipity? What is serendipity and how can you
accelerate it? Serendipity is the chance discovery of something good or useful that you
were not looking for.
For example: you are talking with the person right next to you at the gym about a sport.
You are there just to exercise, but you end up in this conversation without seeking it.
You then end up talking about your startup project and that person gets you in touch
with a friend who can become your first client. You did not know that this person was
connected to that prospect, it just came up in conversation. You just won a new
prospect and the other person has connected his or her friend to a possible business
Serendipity—being an accident, something that happens out of chance—cannot be
organized like a recipe or a computer script, but if we set up a framework of actions,
processes, and reflexes, this will help us increase the chances of it. We can create the
right ambiance, attitude and systems to make it happen more often.
But not everything can rely on chance and serendipity. The coworking space managers
know their community best and have more connections, and they are always learning
from them. It is part of their job to help connect people, to build trust, and to reduce
friction (to make it easier to connect), so that more exchanges can happen more easily.
They are the ones that will value the needs and personality of the coworkers to suggest
the best matches.
The focus of coworking is on its community, so spaces come in all shapes and sizes:
workers in only one industry, many industries, fixed desks, shared desks, preapproval
of members, direct signup, temporary popup coworking spaces, more trendy,
industrial, or businessoriented spaces… The design of the space is not so important—
what matters are the people who populate it and their interactions. This is what makes
or breaks a coworking space.
You will find the word “coworking” used for many different kinds of spaces, but don’t
be mistaken: many of them offer nothing more than shared desks (formerly known as
hotdesks, open spaces, and flexdesks) and treat the coworkers as a secondclass
client. An open space is just that: an open space. It is a configuration of a room, it does
not imply anything else.
To know if you are in a real coworking space or not, check if the operators of the space
do something to accelerate and dynamize the community. Coworking is a verb, it
implies action from the coworking operators to build a community. If all they offer is
shared secretarial services, they are not a coworking space.