We also deep dive on the effort and steps we can take as an industry on how to be more inclusive and aware of the diversity in our events and coworking spaces by asking ‘who is not here?’
Should the Coworking Community do more?
The answer is, yes, we should do more. There’s always more to do. We have a lot of work to do. I also think this is not unique to our coworking events or coworking spaces.
I think it’s it needs to be a change and mindset and priority.
And one of the hardest lessons I had to learn was how to look around the room and ask myself who isn’t here? and not in a way to, you know, to beat myself up or anything like that, but just to be critical of the situation and it’s something that has become part of my practice.
Every room I’m in I’m looking around and going, who’s not here that could be a physical room that could be online. Right?
You know, we get into a debate Indy Hall has a, you know, an operations channels public to all of our community to talk about the literally the way in the hall works on day today, and I’m always paying attention to not just who’s in there, you know, either complaining about something that’s not working or offering suggestions, but paying attention to who would be in here or should be in here and isn’t.
And I think that that’s a mindset change and a practice that everyone could stand to get better at
Bernie J. Mitchell 00:01
This podcast is brought to you by cobot supporting coworking spaces around the world with love and software since 2010.
Bernie J. Mitchell 0:10
Welcome to Coworking Values Podcast, the podcast of the European coworking you sent me each week we deep dive into one of the values of accessibility community openness, collaboration and sustainability. Hello ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to episode Sonic and hundreds of the Coworking values podcast and all the way from say Philadelphia is Mr. Hillman, I think I’ve asked you this well, 50 times. So, what are you known for? And what would you like to be known for Alex?
Alex Hillman 0:35
Thanks, Bernie. It’s good to be hanging out again. I guess in this context, I’m most known for co-founding Indy Hall here in Philadelphia, right around the corner from the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, the place the birthplace of America. But we’re one of the longest running coworking spaces in the US and the world for that matter. founded back in 2006. So Yeah, I love coworking.
Bernie J. Mitchell 1:02
Well, let’s always want to get David Bowie recorded his young Americans album in Philadelphia. And that’s why it’s so special. So I’ve got your objective in here is because I’m trying to win I think we actually are nowadays because then Janine can just before this episode is rediscovering the Coworking values, because everyone says, Oh, yeah, the current working values, and some people haven’t heard of them. Some people just haven’t even got values established. And we’re on an investigation to see are they still relevant? You know, who decides what they are? And if you go back to 2011, and we’ll put the link in the show notes, there’s like, five very specific posts about each value. And so like, what was what was going on in 2011?? Where are you now with that?
Alex Hillman 1:46
So, the 2011 posts I think you’re referring to were the ones that I wrote on my own site, dangerously awesome.com, which were sort of my own, I guess sort of exploration of what those values meant to me. At that time, they definitely predated that in terms of, you know, when and where they were established. One of the resources that I think a lot of folks are perhaps less familiar with is the Coworking Google group, which we recently rebooted as the global coworking forum, coworking org, but that originated as a Google group that was started by Chris Messina and Tara hunt, who had started citizen space in San Francisco sort of a riff on Brad Newberg, his original coworking concept. But Chris and Tara came from this background of building communities, online communities, mostly around projects and ideas and open source software and things like that. And so they kind of took their playbook of well, when you’ve got people gathering around an idea, you give them a place to talk and a place to save their sort of shared ideas and so we At a Google group and a wiki, we can talk a little bit about the wiki if you like. But the Google group became the place where people who were learning about this idea that maybe, rather than working from a cafe or working from home, we could come together as part of our workday. And there was a growing number of people, I remember I joined that group, there was maybe dozens of people, you know, 15, 20 to 30 people.
Alex Hillman 03:32
But every week, every month, every year, more people joined. And that Google group was sort of ground zero for a lot of conversations around. What makes this special, what makes this different? What do we want to accomplish here? What’s the goal? What’s the What’s the reason? Why are we bothering to do this? And so I think in those early days of 2006 and 2007, on the Google group, when we were going from, you know, essentially 123 coworking spaces calling themselves coworking spaces in the world to maybe, you know, a few dozen the conversations there are really what kind of gave birth to the values being shared. I think that the place to give credit for establishing them was really citizens space. Tara and Chris there as well as there was an early coworking space in Montreal called station C , that I believe was maybe the second place to list those original five values on their website. And then when Andy Hall was established, we adopted them as well. And so I think office nomads came on board around the same time. So, you know, the idea of those values was not so much to say these are the rules. So much as to say these are the things that we believe in. And one of the things that I liked about That as it left the terms kind of open to interpretation. So to take this all the way back to those blog posts that were mentioning, those five blog posts that I wrote in 2011, or sort of my interpretation of them and I had been asked, or other people had simply asked on the Google group, like, what are these values about? Like, what do they mean? enough times that I said, Okay, I think it’s time for me to write down my thoughts. And that’s where those blog posts came from.
Bernie J. Mitchell 5:30
And I thought you’d invented the Malik’s, like in as you Alex speaking here, do you think they’re still relevant today? Or do you think we need to add stuff to them? And I’m looking for an opinion or policy here, just to be clear to the listener?
Alex Hillman 5:48
Yeah. So, I think they are still relevant. I think, you know, having recently read them myself. I think I’ve grown my understanding of a lot of things in the world have changed. You know, one of the values in particular that my interpretation of I think is has changed, perhaps the most is sort of the overlap of openness and accessibility. When it comes to things like diversity, equity and inclusion. Back when I wrote this, my take was, if you show up, you’re welcome, which I didn’t realise at the time was missing the component of proactive outreach and welcoming and how important that is. So, I think that’s something that is evolved. I don’t think that means we need a new value, per se, but I think to add some additional, you know, context and resolution of what those values mean.
Alex Hillman 06:50
I did write something years later, that I’m sure you could find somewhere on dangerously awesome.com if you search about wellness being a missing value from the original five that I still believe pretty firmly. And I know we’ve had lots of conversations around mental health, as is related to going out on your own. The reason you would choose to be around other people instead of being isolated is your mental health. And so, and I believe that wellness, both mental and physical, really perhaps do belong in here. And the reason I would even go further to say that is I think that’s a key differentiator depending on how you interpret it, between sort of, you know, the, what we could call the values based coworking in the world and the more inert office sharing stuff where, you know, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with renting an office in a shared office environment. But I think that you if you don’t have any sense of community or any source of interaction or interplay between the people There’s just there. It’s so cold and sterile and static, you miss out on some of the elements that can give you that sense of wellness. In fact, I think a lot of Coworking spaces are deeply unhealthy for their members because they promise a sense of community when in fact, they create a sense of further sense of isolation. So, you know, the analogy that I think you’ve heard me use before the restaurant analogy, the word coworking, is this specific is the word restaurant, and has been true for a while now.
Alex Hillman 8:29
Because of that, we don’t have language and jargon like the restaurant industry has. So like if I say, hey, Bernie, we’re going to dinner tonight you say, what kind of restaurant Are we going to I can tell you, it’s Italian or it’s Thai food or it’s fast, casual, or we’re going to a fancy place and, and, you know, based on that context, you know, what to expect, how much it’s going to cost, what food you might have you even how to dress and who else might be their coworking. We just have one word to describe everything from You know, big box, office rental to these really rich, diverse working communities and everything in between. So, you know, if I take that analogy and say, you know, within the world of restaurants, there’s McDonald’s, and then there’s, your favourite neighbourhood restaurant. You know, I might eat at both of them in the same day. But undeniably, McDonald’s is not healthy for its customers. Because wellness is not a core value of McDonald’s. And I like to believe that if we make wellness, a core value of Coworking and really elevate that conversation, and that’s not just like, you know, I’m not talking about treadmill desks or something like that I’m talking about, like the all-encompassing wellness of being a human of being a working professional. But just the reality of work today, I think that wellness is, is probably the biggest missing core value from the stack that we established in those early days.
Bernie J. Mitchell 10:16
I’m glad you clarified the treadmill thing because that’s where my mind went straight away. But then the So a couple of things is what about the Coworking versus office share that that’s always I felt my hairs on the back of my neck prick up because there’s this, I don’t know what this what the solution is.
Bernie J. Mitchell 10:38
And I know lots of people talk about it in blogs and forums and stuff. But like in London, when you when you say coworking or Google coworking in London, it comes up in the same five to seven office, no offices because they’re trying to be a type of Coworking space, you know that other places to go and work in and then you know someone some complained to me the other day is that, you know, there’s like hundreds of communities and coworking spaces in London. And I know it’s hundreds of different price points and stuff like that, but they never get looking. People think it’s the same few people that I’m, you know, that either pay for search and come up coworking or they have coworking hyphen and all those things we argue over all the time, but it’s not. It’s not an accurate representation of like, what is going on in a particular city. So, do we need to find a fit? I feel like I’m splitting hairs here. But do we need to find another word, or do we just need to get on with it?
Alex Hillman 11:39
No, I mean, that was like asking, you know, restaurants still call themselves restaurants. I think the key here is to get better at defining who we are as the people who run a coworking space, want to want to build our communities around and to actually do the work so you know, doing Need some language and terminology? Yes. Does that mean we abandon the word coworking? No, I don’t get why people believe that needs to be an either or, again, I think there’s a lot of lessons to be learned from the restaurant industry. We could also look to like music, right? Music is a long history of divergent and convergent genres. It’s still all music, including things that to my ear don’t sound like music, but to somebody else’s do. No, we should not be abandoned and coworking, and also, I don’t think we should focus so much on defining the rules of what isn’t what isn’t. That’s a is a losing battle. And what ends up happening is we put all of our energy into telling other people that they’re doing it wrong, which is energy that we that we should be putting into reaching out, connecting with and bringing the people that we are here for together.
Alex Hillman 12:55
That’s like one of my biggest lessons over the years and one of my biggest frustrations with the co workers. ecosystem at large is how much time people spend about what other people are doing. what other people are doing doesn’t matter to you. Like that’s, that’s it plain and simple. That’s just it’s a diversion, it’s a waste of time and energy. So, get to know who you’re there for, know it, believe it or understand it. Be prepared for it to change over time. You know, Indy Hall was so deeply tied into sort of the solo freelancer, entrepreneur, consultant communities was sort of our core for so long, and then remote work kind of exploded and became a big part of who’s in our community. Did that change who we are? In some ways? No. And in some ways, yes. I would say in the ways Yes, it’s for the better because the people who identify with you know, the same kind of values that we uphold in the day to day being a place for people feel safe and cared for where people can feel comfortable to express comfortable to try things comfortable to, you know, show up with their, their full selves, not just their work identity, you know that being available to a remote employee means that we have more people more kinds of people showing up because not everyone can be a freelancer, not everyone can be an entrepreneur. And I don’t think they should have to be in order to get value from being a part of a community like Indy Hall. So, I don’t think that we need to abandon the word coworking and I don’t think we need to spend so much attention on what is and what isn’t. I don’t really care what the office share business does, because it doesn’t affect us at all. And if it does, that’s our fault, not theirs.
Bernie J. Mitchell 14:51
Yeah, that’s some like someone, someone was complaining about all these office people coming to Sonic and I said, and they said, Oh, how am I going to stop them? And I said, you don’t. I didn’t. I was just like, you know, don’t stop them coming, but create messaging and invitations and content that attracts, you know, the other people too, because I think there is I’m not trying to be Pollyanna about it, but like, when things I’ve been to where there’s been all these big shiny office people in London, I’ve learnt shitloads, you know, of finding out how, you know, their operations involved, and you know, what matters to them. And, and actually, you know, like, when they got hold of the word coworking, um, and, you know, a couple of people I’ve spoken to like, is really, really cool. And, you know, they’re not like nasty office people. They’re people trying to, you know, put their mix on this. And it’s very easy to demonise people which I have done in the past. I’m sorry, listeners.
Bernie J. Mitchell 15:55
Yeah, the only thing we’re asking about, and this is like the whole diversity. And inclusion and cultural appropriate procreation thing, because that is that that started with Carmen from Cobot and Janine having this this odd little unconference session, a coworking Europe about inclusion and diversity. And it’s just grown into this big conversation that more and more people are joining in on. We have Tara from canoe coworking come to London, which was organised by Cobot an exodus to talk about cultural appropriation. And then we did a workshop here with us use from the happening area and coworking space operators and people who come to coworking spaces. And the line where I’m going with this is, you know, the line I’ve used all along is that thing that came up a few years ago, I think it was in a form that you were in was about the difference between an announcement ties, and you know, and when you invite people in, it’s very different from saying, everybody’s welcome. So, you know, I feel like I’ve taken 50% of the risk there. But like if you can carry it .
Alex Hillman 17:07
I mean, so is the question, What more can we be doing? Or what would be? There’s so much to say about this, and I’m not even sure where to start.
Bernie J. Mitchell 17:19
I know where to start. So, I think it is what we could be doing because people say, like, in probably in about seven conferences and events. Now people have said, Well, people are welcome. It’s like, Yeah, no, but I, I know, they’re all welcome. But have you invited them in? And I would. So maybe the question is Alex, like, do you think we should do more and more so?
Alex Hillman 17:43
The answer is, yes, we should do more. There’s always more to do. We have a lot of work to do. I also think this is not unique to our coworking events or coworking spaces. I think it’s it needs to be a change and mindset and priority. And one of the hardest lessons I had to learn was how to look around the room and ask myself who isn’t here and not in a way to, you know, to beat myself up or anything like that, but just to be critical of the situation and it’s something that has become part of my practice. Every room I’m in I’m looking around and going, who’s not here that could be a physical room that could be online. Right? You know, we get into a debate Indy Hall has a, you know, an operations channels public to all of our community to talk about the literally the way in the hall works on day to day, and I’m always paying attention to not just who’s in there, you know, either complaining about something that’s not working or offering suggestions, but paying attention to who would be in here or should be in here and isn’t. And I think that is a mindset change and a practice that everyone could stand to get better at. I recently this was the literally yesterday there’s an event series here in Philadelphia that a friend of mine a really good friend of mine is producing, putting a lot of work and thought and intention into these, these dinner meetups on our meetup kind of plays it down a little bit but the idea is to have a thoughtful, intentional and facilitated conversation around an interesting and potentially dicey topic with a group of relative strangers while they have a meal. So, this is something that I’m very drawn to.
Alex Hillman 19:32
I went to the first one of them and had a blast and was glad that I did not know about two thirds of the room before the meal and at the end, I felt a lot closer to them. So, he announced that he is doing another season of these I signed up for the season long pass. And you know, between you, me and our listeners, this is also like, it’s not a cheap ticket because it’s a, you know, a multi course meal and drinks and everything are included. So that in itself makes it kind of exclusive which isn’t a bad thing, but it’s just kind of the nature of the beast. But I got the email about the next one, which is actually tomorrow the day after recording here. And the very first thing I noticed with the attendee list, I was like, wow, this is basically all dudes. You know, and in a small group, the proportions are not hard to hit, you know, one more woman or one more person of colour would be no, very noticeable among a dozen and a half people. And as the events would turn, I have another commitment that came up so I’m not going to be able to go to this dinner anyway. So, I sent an email to some colleagues of mine and I said, Hey, the topic of this dinner is relevant to your interests. I’m not able to make it I want to gift my seat to some badass woman in your community. Who do you know that you think would you know value and appreciate this and within You know, four minutes, there’s another woman at the table. And one I’m very excited to hear her take on this event. And I’m hoping that, you know, she’s able to encourage and invite more to the next one. And the other thing is, is like doing this and then emailing the organiser and saying, Hey, I can’t make it. Here’s someone who I chose. I invited to take my place, specifically to help more women be at this table. I hope that that sends a strong message to that organiser that even if they don’t know what to do that, they need to figure out what to do. The answer of well, that’s who bought tickets isn’t good enough.
Bernie J. Mitchell 21:45
Yeah, I’m trying to work out how to be I think we are being as a group, you know, here in Europe, but how to be more constructive about that because there’s you know, the Working conferences, the openness of conferences, they are, they are all accidental. I don’t think people are deliberately, you know, going out to do this, but they’re all like 70% white men on panels and speaking. And I cannot believe that the more people don’t comment on this or that it doesn’t occur to the organisers, I mean,
Alex Hillman 22:29
I can’t believe it doesn’t occur to them because it’s who they’re surrounded by. Right. So, like, and here’s the other thing is like, given any opportunity to recommend a name, so I’ll give you another concrete example. When I get an email from one of our local news outlets, saying, Hey, we’re looking for someone who can be in an interview for such and such topic, whatever it is. We think some of those Went might be at Indy Hall, can you introduce us? You would, I can tell you with confidence and vulnerability, that the majority of the people that will come to mind first for me are white guys, because that’s who I see most of the time. But I’ve made it a point to think beyond who the first person that comes to mind is and say, well, who else do I know? I might go to a list that I have, you know, our own internal member lists or skim my email or skim my Twitter, follow the people that I follow on Twitter, whatever it is, I’ll do the five minutes of work to find someone who’s not the first person who comes to mind, and guess what I’ve had multiple journalists point out to me that every single time they’ve reached out to me, I’ve referred them to a woman in our community or a nine non binary person in our community. That is not an accident. So, I can’t believe that people aren’t doing it because if you do Just do what comes to mind first, you’re not doing the work. And frankly, I think that’s an epidemic in a lot of not just the Coworking industry, but in all industries, people aren’t just do the bare minimum. And when you do the bare minimum, you get the bare minimum results and the way you get exceptional results if you do a little bit more.
Bernie J. Mitchell 24:23
Perfect. I’m going to segue quickly because we’re, we’re coming to the end of our time here. So, can we have a blatant plug about the Coworking forum, artists previously known as the Google coworking Group, because I read it a lot. I really want to be more active is stopping me reactive, but I would love other people to just dive in and get involved there because it is a global conversation.
Alex Hillman 24:49
Like I said that the forum where that original group of sorts of Coworking founders and enthusiasts came together on a Google group. Earlier this year, I put in some time to migrate it to a new platform that’s way friendly are way easier to use. And most importantly, easier to navigate. One of the downsides to the Google group was it was sort of a single channel, which meant every post about every topic went to the exact same place. You could search for things in the search was okay. But then it was very difficult to browse, you know, at this point, 14 years of archives. So, we import it to this new tool. And we’ve been slowly back porting the past discussions into categories, categories, like community building categories, like operations, marketing, regional, coworking and so on. And not only will you find people from around the world and a history of what has happened and lessons, you know, that you say history repeats itself, and sometimes it rhymes.
Alex Hillman 25:56
You’ll see a lot of that in the Coworking form a lot of the lessons and challenge Just that we deal with today, or that new coworking founders, and operators and staff and members deal with today have are not new at all. They’ve been discussed, the best practices have been shared. I don’t think there is a single source on the internet or in the world of so much deep, rich knowledge, including multiple perspectives is one of the things that I love the most. I obviously contribute and share a lot. And you’ll hear lots of sort of echoes of my approach, but you’ll also hear divergent and opposing perspectives. That’s cool. There’s not one way to do this, there’s not one way to be successful. But a very fast track to being less successful than you could be is to work in isolation or as if you’re the first one doing it. So going back, looking at the archives, and then also getting involved in the conversation, like you said, Bernie, thinking about when you have a question, rather than, you know, losing sleep asking yourself that question over and over and over and over and over, jump into the Coworking forum and ask the question there, there’s a good chance that some people will have good thoughts or ideas, you know, search the archive, see if it’s been asked before, if there’s good answers, but also introduce yourself and say, Hey, here’s who I am. Here’s where I am. Here’s what I’m working on him. Here’s a question I have, or here’s an idea that I have. Does anybody have any feedback on that? Or, you know, you know, I’m, I’m just wondering about this. Does anybody else have that kind of question?
Bernie J. Mitchell 27:28
There are some very specific things in there, like, what type of chairs on this floor? And what does this do this without software, and I’ve been following it. I’ve been skim reading it in my email for since like, 2014 when I discovered it. And I’ve learned, I can’t believe how much I’ve learned just through flicking through it for five minutes on the tube every other day. And also how things have evolved over that time and how many people come in and ask like, can you what’s best this bit of software or this bit of software wherever, and some very, very smart people in Coworking offering.
Bernie J. Mitchell 28:07
I think it’s a massively underutilised resource. I mean, that is to say there are thousands of people who are, who are members of this too. So, it’s not like there’s no one there. It’s just I think you said this earlier, maybe it was before our call Bernie has how many people don’t know that this forum exists, which is a bummer. So, you get yourself over to forum coworking.org. You can browse it for, you know, for free without an account. I would encourage you to sign up signing up for an account lets you not just contribute. It also lets you bookmark topics. let’s you save them. There’s lots of ways to interact and sort of build this resource for yourself. If you find stuff that you find useful, you know, share it, invite your colleagues invite your co workers to get to use the forum to contribute to the forum to see what conversations are there and if you see something where you want to chime in and add your, your two cents, we’d love to have you.
Bernie J. Mitchell 29:07
And then the other thing I need to pre-release if you go in there and like, advertise your services as well.
Alex Hillman 29:12
And not only that, so we have we have a moderation team and some moderation policies. This is, I will say distinctly a place for conversation, not for sales and promotion. We actively moderate anything that is just there to Hawk a service or, you know, a blog post without any sort of context. So one of our guidelines is, if you’re posting to the forum, and there’s nothing bad about posting a link, but we try to encourage is that people contribute something to the post to the forum, that is valuable enough that even if people don’t click the link, that they get something good out of it. So just really trying to encourage an actual community a sense of interaction, not just people carelessly slinging you know links or you know what it isn’t, this is not coworking twist this is a place to actually have a conversation is I think really important there’s not a lot of places for that in in the world of Coworking where you’re not going to have somebody jump in the comments and try and sell you something I you know to call out our friendly service provider is a bit love you but we need a place where you interact as a person instead of as your brand or your product or service we warmly welcome everybody to contribute as a person but the second year there to try and sell your thing your poster are not going to make it through.
Bernie J. Mitchell 30:45
Okay so room 101 So, what are you we’re going to wrap up now so like a travelling this year Alex where can Yeah, so you know, all those all those things of travelling experience
Alex Hillman 30:57
Coming up related to coworking, I will be in Warsaw, doing a retreat. Bernie, you were on our retreat in Amsterdam last year. And how was that for you?
Bernie J. Mitchell 31:11
It was it was life changing. I would say I’m on commission here. But after going to do work in Europe with 500 people to then go to a farm with 10 people and have a very in-depth discussion was like, we were there for a weekend. I felt like I was away for a week. You know, it’s a different experience to a conference, but it’s a luxury to sit around and bond with people in a very geeky way. And we’ve done that a few times.
Alex Hillman 31:35
So, I’ve read a basically, what appears to be a mansion buried in the forest out about 30 minutes outside of Warsaw. And we’re going to be doing the exact same thing again, I’m actually sending out an email about this, if not the end of this week, the beginning of next. So, if folks are interested in joining us for the next retreat in Warsaw, it will be the weekend after the Coworking Europe conference. Which is also in Warsaw. And it’s sort of an all-inclusive price that pays for your transportation from the city of Warsaw. that pays for accommodations and pays for food. And this was sort of facilitated retreat conversation that we hosted last year, and it was it was such a blast and such a special thing. So excited to be doing that. Again, if you’re interested in joining that you can email me Alex at Indy Hall. org. The other thing people want to follow along on twitter at Alex Hellman. And Bernie since you brought it up earlier, I recently redesigned my website dangerously awesome.com where I’ve been reading about coworking stuff since my beginnings in in the world of Coworking that refresh built with sort of helping people find the things they’re looking for in mind. So, in the past, it was a pretty typical blog, you know, basically a calendar of entries. Now I’ve got things curated into guides around topics and problem areas and things like that. So, check out James dangerously awesome, calm, poke around a little bit, I think you’ll find some useful things, useful lessons, useful stories. I’ll be writing a whole lot more there in the coming month as well.
Bernie J. Mitchell 33:15
Links in the show notes to all of that. And there is we’re running a camp in Warsaw, I’m really excited to be going to Warsaw for coworking Europe because about 14 years ago, I met my wife in Poland. So, it’s got a very special place. We’ve been back every year since. And if you run to coalescent.com, and sign up for our email.
Bernie J. Mitchell 33:36
This podcast is brought to you by social bs stop wasting time on social media and get back to building your business to take your free 14 day test drive with no card required head to coalescent network.com forward slash social V, check the link in the show notes.
Bernie J. Mitchell 33:55
Now because we have, we want about five shows every week and we gradually go into We’ve got a freelancer show coming and a co living show coming. Get involved. Thank you for listening by Alex. Say goodbye, Alex. Thanks very much, folks. Bye