Coworking has grown into a thriving movement with a vibrant community that animates over 2,000 coworking spaces worldwide. Once you understand the simple brilliance of coworking, there’s a sense that you could work among friends you haven’t met yet anywhere in the world. There are Google groups, Facebook groups, conferences and a publication that serve this decentralized community. Today, a slightly different project that's of, for and by coworkers everywhere hits the scene.
New Worker Magazine, started by founding editor Melissa Mesku, is an independent, digital publication specifically written by and for coworkers themselves. Where other publications write for the owners or managers of coworking spaces, New Worker’s aim is to serve as a voice for the people who call coworking spaces their homes away from home. Shareable caught up with Mesku to find out what inspired the magazine, who she hopes to connects with, the big picture plans for it, and how people can get involved.
Shareable: How did New Worker Magazine come about?
Melissa Mesku: If you work from a coworking space, you're used to being routinely impressed by the people, projects, and companies around you, any of which could be a great story that otherwise goes untold—including your own. We wanted to bring those stories together for a global audience of coworkers. A publication would have the power to do this. We put the idea to coworkers in other cities via a collaborative meeting online and found they were equally enthusiastic about it.
What's the importance of having a voice for coworkers, not just coworking space owners?
The coworking movement is mostly led by workspace founders, though it's their members that have the most to gain from coming together. Coworkers often have active communities based around their local space. But coworking is a global phenomenon, and there's incredible potential for cross-collaboration, purchasing power, shared services, freelance hives, work bartering, political representation, health care benefits, you name it. Coworkers are already starting to do these things.
The first issue of New Worker Magazine covers a variety of topics including how lawyers can cowork while upholding the rules of ethical conduct, shared spaces for musicians, myths around the freelance lifestyle, an advice column, a game, and more. What's the common thread that ties all of these things together? What's at the heart of the magazine?
Early on, we agreed to try a different tone and approach from what's already out there. It turns out this wasn't so hard: people love a chance to write earnestly about themselves and what they do, and can be remarkably clever and genuine when given free reign. At the heart of the magazine is a sense of camaraderie: we're all trying out this grand experiment, attempting to make a living doing independent work we value and enjoy. The major publications make it sound a bit glamorous when actually it's a combination of frightening and empowering, exciting and difficult, wise and absurd—we want this range to come through in each issue.
One of New Worker Magazine's stated goals is to be a place for the coworking-curious to get to know the world of coworking. Why is this important to you?
Coworking communities offer anyone a leg up: you can improve your work-life, kick-start a new career, and access a network of forward-thinking people to help you along your way. And yet most people aren't aware that coworking exists. All coworkers started off either as traditional employed workers or as independents going it alone, so after seeing the it impact it had on our lives, we're eager to spread the word.
By bringing makerspaces, hackerspaces, and fab labs into the mix, you validate the idea that these various collaborative spaces and projects are all part of an emerging work ecosystem. How do you see all these spaces, and their communities, existing and working together?
People who seek out these spaces, regardless of the type of work they do, are, in general, active, entrepreneurial types who keep ahead of the curve—traits which are essential in 21st century leaders. So we're looking at the growth of a sector of the economy that, if they were to self-identify as part of a cohesive group, would wield a lot of influence.
Already there is a massive shift happening in the world of work, in the collaborative economy, etc. In some ways we are getting closer to creating a sane and healthy approach to our own labor and the global economy. A healthy shared workspace is ground zero for these changes. That capacity will grow exponentially as communities cross-pollinate, as the independent workforce surges, and as emerging online collaboration platforms achieve ubiquity in the coming years.
You have a history of activism and living cooperatively. How does your background inform what you're doing with New Worker Magazine?
The activist in me has one thing in common with the entrepreneurial spirit I love about coworking spaces: if you want something to happen, get a group together and go do it. As a student I lived in cooperative housing. The side-effect of living communally is that, in simply going to my house, I was surrounded by a wide variety of people who greatly influenced my trajectory. I loved it and went on to establish other cooperative houses. Coworking is similar. It's the workplace, re-imagined. Simply by going to work you're plugged in to a wider community. Many of our culture's dominant social institutions (the single-family home, the corporate workplace) fail to address our genuine social needs and economic realities, and actively contribute to our feeling disenfranchised. The good thing about all this is there's plenty of room for improvement.
New Worker is a nice balance of humor, advice, and good old storytelling. Did you decide on this format for the magazine, or did it emerge organically as a reflection of the contributors?
Both, definitely. The eclectic mix in New Worker Magazine is a good representation of coworking's diversity. There is something for everyone. And humor is essential—if I'm going to read a magazine written by non-professional writers about something as typically unexciting as work, it better be funny, smart, and entertaining.
You mentioned an open call for stories, contributors, and columnists. What kind of stories are you looking for? How can people get involved?
We encourage coworkers to interview other coworkers—a great way to make a connection, learn from someone and share the wealth. We now have tons of sources with great stories, just ask. Articles, thought pieces, and personal narratives are welcome on any topic relevant to an audience of people who cowork. If you're not a writer, our editors are nice and patient. All members of the wider collaborative community, this is yours, pitch us anything. We're also looking for people to contribute to production, promotion, etc.
Photo: Mesku (center) busy coworking. Follow @CatJohnson on Twitter