Coworking and The Sharing Economy

You don't have to spend much time on Shareable to realize that sharing, peer-to-peer services, and avenues for collaborative consumption are popping up in almost every corner of our society.

People are starting to realize that the self-centered ideals of the last few decades put us on the path to a depressed, frustrated, poverty-stricken future--and they want off the bandwagon. Collaborative consumption is helping establish an alternative to the rat race: the sharing economy.

Right now, people see coworking as an innovative way to meet their professional needs while also contributing to a community that cares about their personal needs as well. But sharing is contagious: once you start bartering, trading, swapping, or donating in one area of your life, it's hard to keep it from spilling over into others. Although they might not recognize it, coworkers are a significant cog in the larger sharing economy and they are in the perfect position to demonstrate how collaborative consumption can be integrated on both the personal and professional levels, creating an even more vibrant community.

For instance, the pariSoma Innovation Loft in San Francisco forms strategic partnerships with great companies that can help support and grow their community, like ZipCar for transportation, Twilio cloud communications, and oDesk, an online service that helps companies hire, manage and pay the flexible, online workforce (aka coworkers!).

There's also HubSoMa, another Bay area coworking space that partnered with Intersection for the Arts, and Tech Shop to create a combinined work place and toolset for changemakers, with an integrated arts incubator, and a fully equipped community workshop.

I reached out to the global coworking community to see how space owners, catalysts, and coworking members are sharing with each other and the world. Here are some of their ideas:

Dr. Ron Suarez, a member of New Work City in Manhattan, says that his coworking space is using web tools to help support sharing and make collaboration easier among members. Using a simple social network for members, NWC plans to make it possible to browse through member profies just like you would with songs on your iPod. Eventually, when you hover over a members avatar, you'll see two data points from the member's profile: 1) I will give a hand with...2) Can I get a hand with...

"Longer term, I am very interested in things like time banks. Initially, I wanted to simply create two fields in a member profile: (1) what you have to offer and (2) what you're seeking. I want to ask it in a way that people would enter that data irrespective of whether they were selling, trading, or giving it away."

Araceli Camargo-Kilpatrick, founder of THE CUBE in London (and soon-to-be-open We Create NYC), says that her members use something they call the 'circular economy'. "We feel that in order to get things moving in a coworking space where people's budgets are slim, we help each other generate economy. For example, we would provide innovation advice for free to someone in exchange for connecting us with potential clients."

"Our members and community engage quite freely in the circular economy," she continued. "We could never have been able to build our client base for IEA (Camargo-Kilpatrick's in-house agency) if it had not been for circular economy. The members...have built their business at a faster speed due to everyone pitching in."

The increased business and connection experienced by CUBE members using the circular economy is becoming evident all over the world.  The recent Global Coworking Survey found that 42 percent of respondents reported earning more money after joining a coworking space. And more than half said they collaborate on projects more often since joining a coworking space.

Members of Cohere in Colorado have experimented with group purchasing as a way to benefit the coworking community as well as the larger business community.

"We landed a discounted rate for giant packs of yoga passes, we work with a local fitness expert to get discounted personal training during the nice weather months when we can exercise outdoors and we got a group rate on the local coupon book," said Angel Kwiatkowski, the space's founder and curator. "If I had even more time to devote, I'm sure we could drum up other discounts for the services we like and use the most." Cohere also encourages bike transportation by offering ample bike parking and a shower for those with a long commute.

Amy Kirschner runs a peer-to-peer barter system for Vermont businesses called VBSR Marketplace. This organization is an online business-to-business e-commerce and online payment system that allows socially responsible Vermont businesses to coordinate, measure, and grow and their trade with like-minded local businesses. Being a part of VBSR has allowed Kirschner to see coworking's value in the community from an outside perspective.

"Our local coworking space, Office Squared is a member. They earn 'VBSR Trade Credits' for having meetings in their space and can use those at other member businesses," said Kirschner.

What kind of “outside the space” sharing have you engaged in since joining a coworking space?

What kinds of collaborative consumption could be incorporated in the future?

Share your ideas in a comment! (Or, if you're traveling to Austin for SXSWi, share them at the Coworking Unconference on March 10th!)

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