Coworking Visionaries See the Movement’s Future

Ten years ago this month, coworking was born in San Francisco. There are now over 3,000 coworking spaces worldwide. Where does the movement go from here?

Ten years ago this month, coworking was born in San Francisco when Brad Neuberg set up some card tables and invited people to work alongside him. There are now over 3,000 coworking spaces worldwide.

Countless people have helped coworking become a global movement. Shareable reached out to some of these visionaries to find out what they’ve learned in the past 10 years, what the future of coworking will bring, and what challenges the movement faces. Weighing in on the conversation are Alex Hillman, cofounder of Indy Hall; Ronald van den Hoff, cofounder of Seats2meet; Liz Elam, Executive Producer of the Global Coworking Unconference Conference (GCUC); Tara Hunt, cofounder of Citizen Space; Ashley Proctor, Executive Producer of GCUC Canada; Tony Bacigalupo, cofounder of New Work City, Lori Kane, founder of in-home coworking space Collective Self; Jacob Sayles, cofounder of Office Nomads; and Jeremy Neuner, cofounder of NextSpace.

What are the most surprising things you’ve seen from the coworking movement in the last 10 years?

Alex Hillman: I think about the sheer vastness of how far coworking has spread in 10 years and it honestly blows my mind. As of a couple of weeks ago at the inaugural Coworking Africa conference, I’ve gotten to witness coworking on every continent besides Antarctica.

But what never ceases to amaze me is the similarities that can be found across borders. Of course there are nuances from city to city and country to country, but the fundamentals are the same. Coworking is making our very big world feel a lot more intimate. I never expected that.

Ronald van den Hoff: That it actually works so well and that coworking creates a sustainable ecosystem for connection, collaboration, and networked value creation.

Ashley Proctor: I’m most surprised that there are so many new players in the industry who believe that coworking is about renting out desks and maximizing real estate. After ten years of steady grassroots growth and such a strong and successful coworking model focused on the core values (openness, accessibility, sustainability, community and collaboration) it surprises me that anyone would want to remove the heart and soul of the movement and focus on the potential for profit. Unfortunately, we see that more and more as coworking becomes more mainstream.

Tony Bacigalupo: I’m most surprised by how big of a business it’s become in such a short period of time. In the early days, we had a sense that coworking was going to be a big deal, but I don’t think anyone anticipated how quickly companies would come along to scale it up as hard and fast as they have. Coworking has become far more of a consumptive, mainstream thing than I’d imagined it would.

Tara Hunt: I don’t know if it’s surprising entirely, but it was something we didn’t completely envision…seeing fully funded ‘coworking’ spaces open up across the country is exciting to me. Though they may toe the line of ‘shared office spaces’, which were around long before coworking, they bring some of the vision of the original coworking movement: creating accessible, collaborative spaces where independents can gather as a community. I just hope that they can exist alongside the more grassroots spaces that are equally as (if not more) important – working together to create an ecosystem that suits everyone’s needs.

Lori Kane: One of the most amazing things I’ve witnessed is automatic succession planning. That is, as people want to move on from day-to-day running of a space, new people show up and/or step forward fluidly, easily, and without “planning” in the traditional sense at all. I keep watching it happen and it’s a deeply beautiful and humbling thing to witness and be part of. True community equals magic.

Another surprising thing is how sticky coworking itself is and how much energy it creates as we learn to trust it and ourselves. It’s like being part of a self-organizing group: once you know you can do it, you’re disinclined to settle for less.

Jacob Sayles: The tremendous growth of coworking does not surprise me. The fact that we are finding each other spread across the globe and working hard to find ways to collaborate does not surprise me. I am surprised how difficult it is to get the word out that this way of working, this way of living, is here and abundant. I’ve been shouting COWORKING on high for eight years now and people still wander into Office Nomads completely surprised that this exists. And those are the ones that find us. What about all the others stuck at home thinking their lack of productivity is a self-discipline problem?

Jeremy Neuner: I’m surprised and delighted by the million-and-one ways that entrepreneurs are constantly re-thinking and re-imagining the idea of coworking. Coworking in shopping malls! Coworking in airports! Coworking on a boat! Coworking on a bus! Coworking in hotel lobbies! Coworking in driverless cars! Like any new industry, the size and kinds of experiments will vary and will meet with a wide range of success or failure. But wherever you can gather together two and 2,000 innovative, collaborative people in a physical location with wi-fi and coffee, shaazaam!—you’ll get coworking.

Liz Elam: The most surprising thing the coworking movement has taught me is to treat others as collaborators not competitors. When I first came in I thought I was the only shark in the tank and that everyone else was a sitting duck. It didn’t take me long at all to realize that I too was a duck and there are no sharks. I’ve never seen anything like it before but this industry is very unique in its universal support of each other.

Can you share one of your most memorable moments of the coworking movement?

Alex Hillman: I can share two! The first that always sticks out in my mind was the original Coworking happy hour in Austin, Texas at the Hotel San Jose (predating the coworking unconference held by LooseCubes, before GCUC was a thing). I remember walking into the courtyard bar and seeing the faces of a few dozen people who, until that moment I’d only ever interacted with online on the Coworking Google Group. Suddenly we were together, sharing drinks and hugs and laughs. That was a defining moment for me.

The other memory was also at a bar, here in Philadelphia. It was before we opened our doors, but I was deep in the throes of building the Indy Hall community. For months, it’s all I’d thought about, all I’d talked about. At that bar, which was hosting a summer cocktail party for a local new-media association, I remember taking a pause from the conversations I was involved in to grab a new drink. While waiting for the bartender, I listened to the conversations around me and could pick out several people talking about Indy Hall, what the people in that community were like, and how awesome it was going to be once we got our own space. That was the moment that I knew Indy Hall was going to happen with or without me because it wasn’t about me. I think of that moment often when I think about what makes this different from any other place or way of working.

Ronald van den Hoff: There are many moments, like the 1,000,000 seats booked through our 2013 launched software, and that the meeting of people at our locations, unknown but relevant to each other (serendipity), is really happening and is leading (even more than I thought) to all kind of new initiatives, start-ups and other value creation networks: we knew it but when it was actually confirmed by the Erasmus University of Rotterdam that was really a moment to remember.

Ashley Proctor: There are so many memorable moments—that’s why I keep doing what I do! One of my favorites has got to be that moment when someone discovers coworking for the first time.

It happens daily, and I’ve been watching it happen for over 10 years now. Someone new will walk into our space for a tour and as we are explaining the benefits of actively participating in the community and “accelerated serendipity” they get goosebumps and their eyes just light up. Most times they’ve been searching for our community without even knowing what coworking was. Sometimes they’ve been searching for years, and the moment they walk into the space it’s like coming home. It is thrilling to witness that magic every day.

Tony Bacigalupo: My first experience was the most memorable one. I’ll never forget it: March 14, 2007. It was a free Jelly event that happened in a loft apartment in midtown Manhattan. I was living with my parents at the time, working from home for a web development firm. That was the first time I was exposed to people who worked for themselves. They had their own businesses, they were doing amazing creative projects, and they accepted me as one of their own.

I felt like such an impostor! I was the only one there with a salaried job. But by being exposed to a world in which people like me could work for themselves, I felt a much stronger sense that I could do it too. Everything changed after that.

Tara Hunt: There are so many! Being present as spaces like New Work City (they just closed, unfortunately), Indy Hall, Caroline Collective and Office Nomads open up! This happened within a short time of us originally gathering in a San Francisco coffee shop to discuss how we were going to make the first ones happen. I also really treasure the memories of coming into Citizen Space and seeing my ‘coworkers’ every day, hosting non-profit events in the space, and the Coworking crawl (we hired an organic fuel bus to take people around to tour all of the existing spaces) we did in San Francisco in 2008.

Lori Kane: Roughly one year into creating Collective Self Coworking, we involved ourselves in imagining and co-creating the new Hopscotch CD—1.8 Miles of Fun! event (now an annual neighborhood event) in our Central District neighborhood in Seattle. When our soon-to-be dear friends from Jackson Commons, another neighbor-led group, showed up looking for partners, we didn’t just say yes. We said, “HELL yes!” The night of the event—when hopscotching had ceased and the carnival shut down and yard sales closed and magic shows stopped and musicians went home and the hundreds of other mini events along the path were over, and we were all high on neighborhood-wide laughter—we met up at The Neighbor Lady pub, put our exhausted feet up, raised our glasses, and said, in unison: “Worth it!” At that moment, I realized that (except for my husband) not a soul in that pub was known to me before I began hosting coworking 18 months earlier. Now I had a bar full of neighborhood-play-event war buddies and life-long friends. I still can’t believe how many years I allowed myself to live disconnected from so many amazing people in such an amazing place. Good God, I used to be clueless about the value of place and space. Never again.

Jacob Sayles: I think we all have that very special moment where the idea we think we came up with on our own is actually part of a larger movement and it has a name and a vibrant community of individuals. The first time I learned about Hat Factory and Citizen Space in San Francisco, I knew that was what I wanted to bring to Seattle and focus all my energy on. I called Tara Hunt right away with all sorts of questions and I’m sure she thought I was crazy. She wasn’t wrong.

Jeremy Neuner: I still get chills when I think of the number of times—I’ve lost count, but it’s in the dozens—someone has said to me, “NextSpace changed my life.” I am humbled and privileged to have started a company and created a community that has had that sort of impact on people. I truly believe that most of the credit goes not to me, or my company, but to the members of the NextSpace community. ‘Spacers are so brave, so smart, so generous, so passionate, and so dedicated to each others’ individual and collective success. In just a few short years, I’ve made a lifetime of memories watching our members strive for that success.

Liz Elam: The growth of coworking has been a wonder to watch. Coworking is, in fact, a true global trend. It is expanding all over the world simultaneously. I was recently contacted by a space in Siberia!!! If you’ve ever been to GCUC you hear me talk about the bell curve over and over… I think coworking is just barely starting to make a climb upward. The best is, for sure, yet to come.

Why are people so drawn to coworking? Beyond the desk and the wi-fi and the coffee, what is it that keeps people coming back?

Alex Hillman: The short answer, of course, is “community.” But what’s that really about? If you unpack it, you’ll find two factors that compliment each other. The first factor is loneliness. And I’m not just talking about “working from home by myself” loneliness, I’m talking about the kind of isolation that comes with a LOT of work. Even if you have an office you can go to, complete with coworkers, the experience can still be really unsatisfying when you don’t feel a connection with the place or the people. And if you think about it, it’s really, really hard to build a meaningful relationship with your coworkers while you’re working together because it’s all about the work. The second factor is choice. The definition of coworking that we’ve come up with has very little to do with coworking spaces but instead treats coworking as the action it is: coworking is the intentional choice to work alongside other people.

For the last 100-plus years, work was often defined by a place. But recently—and for more and more industries and workers—at least some of your work can be done from nearly anywhere with an internet connection. And if you can choose where you work…why would you choose somewhere that you don’t like? Coworking means choosing a place that you can look forward to go to, with people you look forward to seeing. Which means you’re more likely to keep going back. At the end of the day, I think it’s important to think of the service that coworking provides is the happiness that comes from doing work that you like with people that you like.

Ronald van den Hoff: Coworking is leading to innovation and to the transformation of coworkers: they simply become better and more successful professionals.

Ashley Proctor: Coworking is absolutely not about desks or wi-fi or coffee—most of us have access to a desk and wi-fi and coffee at home. Coworking is truly about being surrounded by a diverse group of peers. Many of our coworking members, myself included, are independent by nature and we are extremely passionate and dedicated to our work. It’s so easy to become isolated when we work long hours for ourselves, and it’s important to find balance. Coworking helps us to balance personal and professional, work and play, independence and collaboration.

By working together, we build a strong vibrant community, and a network of support. We share resources and we share contacts. We make friends and important connections. We are leading by example—we are building a workspace that we want to be a part of and we are shaping the future of work.

Tony Bacigalupo: People think they’re going to a coworking space because they need workspace, but the reality is that they need to feel a sense that they’re going to work, alongside other people who are going to the same place to do work as well. It’s a ritualistic thing. When we can separate our home lives from our work lives, we can feel a better sense of boundaries between the two. When you work in a coworking space, it’s much easier to leave your work “at work” and feel more at home in your home.

But beyond that, we’re social, tribal animals. We need to feel a sense that we are a part of a group of people with whom we share common interests. Being a member of a coworking community gives someone a way to belong to something bigger than them, which they might otherwise not feel any other way. It’s a basic human need.

The irony of all this is that most of us don’t need an office at all. The vast majority of work being done now can get done from anywhere with a signal. We don’t go to these new workplaces because we need an office; we go because we need what happens in the office.

Tara Hunt: Just renting a desk or office can give you a professional appearance, but can be just as lonely as working from a home office. Coworking also provides the community. I think it’s the community that keeps people coming back. Independents and small business owners face all sorts of stress and pressures that only others like them can understand. The community is supportive as well as collaborative.

Lori Kane: See previous answer.

Jacob Sayles: In our sound bite, flashy marketing, quick clip world, people are hungry for substance. In our self-empowered, highly individualized, connected-but-isolated world, people are hungry for community. Coworking provides both.

Jeremy Neuner: One my favorite little bits of wisdom: just because you’re my friend on Facebook, doesn’t mean you’re actually my friend. In an age of hyper-connectedness characterized by lots of weak ties, I think we’re hungry for real, live, genuine human interaction and connectedness. Coworking, when it’s done well, helps feed that hunger.

Liz Elam: They share their lives. They come to care for the people around them. Life happens and we support, mourn, and celebrate the day-to-day events. You just don’t get that at home or in a coffee shop. In a recent survey we found that 89% of people in a coworking space were happier. We deliver happiness.

At GCUC this year, there was a lot of talk about creating networks of coworking spaces, whether regional or otherwise, to more easily enable location-independent coworkers. How do you see this playing out?

Alex Hillman: I’m pretty skeptical, but I’m also much more interested in tight-knit communities than transient workplaces.

Ronald van den Hoff: We are already a network of connected locations and will grow shortly from 75 to over 150 locations this year. To make locations more relevant, we are launching, in September this year, an S2m Connect program, where existing locations can become part of a larger ecosystem, with many benefits not only for the location owner but also for the coworker members. The program includes artificial intelligence software, creating dashboards for people to be connected to relevant, but unknown people around them and be connected to the whole global s2m-ecosystem. Independent coworkers are offered open-coworking by all the locations for about three to five times before they are asked to become a member of the particular location, so traveling coworkers can work globally wherever they want.

We are also offering this program not only to existing coworker locations but also to corporate offices. We have seen here in Europe the fastest growth this year on corporate locations by organizations who want to open up in order to connect with their stakeholders and offering open-coworking (coworkers pay by social capital).

Ashley Proctor: The free Coworking Visa program is going strong and is growing every day. We love to host Coworking Visa visitors in The Foundery Buildings in Toronto, as it brings so much added value to our traveling and to our ‘stationary’ members. LEXC (The League of Extraordinary Coworking Spaces) has developed a network for traveling members, and Copass is also doing amazing work on this front. Many cities have experimented with ‘passports’ that allow members to travel between spaces and I think we will be seeing much more of this in the next year or two as so many of us now have the option to travel and work remotely. These networks are being created as a direct response to the needs of our members. They’ve been asking for it.

Tony Bacigalupo: The early efforts focus largely on getting the respective coworking space owners of a particular area into one room to share tips and look for opportunities to collaborate. I think this is a useful starting point to something far more audacious and necessary. Coworking spaces are effectively a global distributed network of centers for people to get access to people and the resources they need to get on their feet as independent workers. That’s hugely important to a local municipality, from an economic development perspective.

By joining forces, coworking communities can start to think about the collective impact they have on their cities. Representatives from these networks can interface with local officials and institutions, so more people can be aware of what’s available to them and, ideally, so everyone can collaborate to turn these workspaces into true community centers for their neighborhoods.

Tara Hunt: This would be amazing. We spoke of creating a Coworking Pass years ago that any member of one coworking space could present to use at any coworking space—where there is a long list of participating spaces around the globe you can drop into for free because you are part of the worldwide community, not just your local one.

Lori Kane: This idea is pretty fun to imagine in the abstract and generates a lot of talk. Back when I was running a coworking space, I spent a few years imagining how this would work. But, at least for me, just the act of imagining it with others was enough. That got me the network I needed. Now that I am a location independent coworker—even when I’m running a space—I don’t feel the same need for it anymore. Weird.

For many formal coworking spaces (formal as opposed to informal spaces like park benches and porch steps), taking action on this idea hasn’t happened despite years of talking. I suspect that many people who run coworking spaces intuitively know that for them working on this would be like putting the cart before the horse. I find that people who run coworking spaces rapidly become wise enough to trust their own energy and their own procrastination. What we procrastinate about is easily as useful to us as what we have energy for.

Jacob Sayles: I think this is natural. The personal desire to congregate with others is what drives our businesses and it’s obvious that we would want to this with other like-minded spaces. I don’t think that is enough though and I’m interested in seeing people develop different models to facilitate this.

Jeremy Neuner: I still wonder about the demand for this kind of service. Sure, there are plenty of digital nomads out there who might benefit from a more cohesive network of coworking spaces. And plenty of people like the idea of belonging to a vast global network of coworking spaces. But one of the reasons why people like coworking is that it helps satisfy this hunger for a sense of place and a sense of community. And those things are deeply rooted in a sense of belonging to a single physical location populated by a familiar, yet fluid, group of people.

Liz Elam: I think we’ll see Coshare and Open Coworking provide some of the network equation. It’s really hard to get things off the ground when they’re run by volunteers, and trying to drive revenue off a membership platform alone isn’t the way to go. It think we’ll see both organizations pivot and I think we’ll see other offerings enter the market.

What are the biggest challenges the global coworking community faces? How can we address those challenges?

Alex Hillman: The biggest challenge at this point, I think, isn’t really being addressed at all. The challenge is a result of the growth we’ve seen—so a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless.

I think the easiest way to describe the problem is to look at the word “restaurant.” The word restaurant doesn’t tell you a whole lot about a restaurant—it suggests that you’ll probably get food in exchange for currency (but even that’s not a perfect “definition”). Is it fast food or fine dining? Take out or buffet? Chinese food or Italian?

At this point, 10 years in, the word “coworking” is as specific as the word “restaurant.” That is to say…it’s not really specific at all. One of the beautiful parts of coworking is that there really are so many different audiences to serve. But we’re missing a lexicon—something that helps describe the elements of the experience more granularly.

Ronald van den Hoff: The biggest challenge is to keep the locations relevant. More location owners are going into coworking as a new market for them to fill up their physical location, existing corporates open up their offices, in the Netherlands we see already libraries, school and theaters offering open-coworking so, how do you keep your location ‘relevant’, thus ‘in business’. We think the answer is in joining the S2mConnect program as the earlier mentioned virtual dashboards form a relevancy layer on top of the physical location, so professionals know upfront that going to a particular location creates economic opportunities for them—more than they would experience at other cowork locations.

Ashley Proctor: One of the biggest challenges the coworking movement faces is keeping the core values in the conversation. My biggest fear is that once coworking becomes completely mainstream, people will forget what made the community so strong in the first place. I really don’t want to see the movement get diluted by spaces that care more about money than the mission.

It’s important to maintain the history of the movement, to record and to share how the movement has grown and developed organically over time. I think there are many people working on this very thing right now and the champions involved with the Coworking Wiki, the Google Group, the Global Coworking Conferences, regional collectives and organizations like Open Coworking are dedicated to this vision.

Tony Bacigalupo: The biggest challenge coworking faces is tied to its biggest strength–its dependence on renting office space as its vehicle for business growth. When you’re running a coworking space, you may have lofty ambitions about building a highly active community, but at the end of the day you have to pay the bills. This can often lead to dilemmas where the owner has to choose between getting more money renting space to people who don’t really care about community or forgoing badly needed revenue for the sake of sticking to a principle.

It’s really hard for a coworking space manager, and by extension a community, not to slide into becoming just another workspace rental facility. When that happens, the value of the coworking space heads toward a lowest common denominator. Smart coworking space managers recognize this trend and adopt a strong approach to community development, so it’s not just something that gets tacked on as a weekly happy hour, but is an integral part of the onboarding and ongoing processes in the space.

Tara Hunt: I haven’t been super active for a while now, but from what I hear, the challenges are related to the venture funded spaces. It’s difficult enough to sustain a space, let alone compete with spaces that have endless resources.

Lori Kane: Our biggest challenge as humans is trusting ourselves to handle life on this beautiful, chaotic planet: both learning to feel at home here and also making peace with regularly feeling like a stranger here, often, too. Everyone in the global coworking community is addressing these challenges. First, by taking a more active role in surrounding themselves with community, which I’ve learned to define as “everyone who believes in you each moment you can’t believe in yourself.” And second, by ensuring that showing up as a stranger is a regular part of their lives. Community, plus strangerhood working hand-in-hand changes us, broadens us, until we become awestruck new beings both oddly familiar and also unrecognizable to our old selves…We are all so much more than the old world of work allowed us to be.

Jacob Sayles: Staying connected to our values and our history is critical. Open Coworking was founded to address this and they need help to be successful. Join today!

We are all getting advice about how “do business” and the typical way of doing things doesn’t take into account the authenticity that makes our communities strong.

Jeremy Neuner: After ten years, coworking is still struggling for legitimacy. I still hear people referring to coworking—in casual conversation and in the media—as a “trend” or a “movement.” It is certainly those things, but I think coworking has earned the right to be called an industry. Sure, that word “industry” has some negative connotations, but I think it also lends a sense of credibility to the idea of coworking. Customers gather around industries. Investors invest in industries. Ecosystems develop around industries. And industries re-shape and re-order societies. Coworking is doing all of these things and needs to be taken seriously as an industry.

Liz Elam: I think the biggest challenge the global community faces is staying true to the roots of coworking. We need to not worry so much about the competition, but instead focus on our strengths. At this point there is enough demand for everyone. We have yet to see a saturated market (although a few are getting close.) We need to continue to reinforce across the industry and the world that we’re collaborators not competitors. We reinforce this at every GCUC and will continue to do so but we need everyone to embrace it.

What does the future of coworking look like? What would you like to see?

Alex Hillman: I think the future of coworking looks a lot less like ‘shared office space’. I come to think of the last ten years of coworking as a big laboratory experiment. At Indy Hall, we took a look at the “workplace” which was already in flux of definition, took the opportunity to strip away all of the expectations of work needed to look and feel like, and started to rebuild it from the ground up. What bad habits can we unlearn? What old skills have we forgotten? And how does that all fit together in a modern context?

We’ve already learned a lot that’s useful outside of coworking spaces—techniques around recruiting participation, building commitment beyond “binding” contracts, sources and patterns for innovative problem solving, and, of course, the key elements needed for effective collaboration. The next ten years of coworking, for me, is about remembering that most of the world will never work in a coworking space as we know it…so our future lies in making these same kinds of tools and patterns available to more kinds of organizations, companies, teams, and individuals. And when I think about it that way, it’s easy to see that we have a lifetime of exciting, fulfilling work ahead!

Ronald van den Hoff: The future is bright for the right and relevant locations, whether these are coworker locations, schools, corporates offices and/or a mix. We see a global group of connected locations forming an ecosystem in which professionals are developing themselves daily, just by being part of the ecosystem. An ecosystem like that is almost a competence platform in which you are not only offered relevant people, but also relevant knowledge, events and collaboration software solutions the moment you need them.

Ashley Proctor: Coworking is absolutely the future of work. We are riding the first wave and it’s only just begun to gain momentum worldwide. I would love to see a day where the term is obsolete, where it will simply be ‘working’. The new normal. I look forward to raising a glass with the other ‘coworking pioneers’ and reminiscing about the days when we had to explain what ‘coworking’ was.

Tony Bacigalupo: Coworking, as a movement, is a transformative force. That transformation will alter society’s understanding of work, so over the next several decades, we’ll associate it less with being compelled to commute to an office to work for someone else and more with going to a place of our choosing to do work of our choosing alongside people of our choosing. Coworking is changing the definition of work as we know it. It’s not going to stop until it’s done that, and for all the growing it’s done, it’s got a long way to go.

What I don’t want, is to see coworking go that route by way of it becoming simply a consumer experience. Some see coworking as a pure hospitality experience: pay us money, and we’ll provide you with all of the amenities you desire. That model leaves out some of the most valuable and important components of this movement. Participatory cultures that champion people getting together to support each other are going to be so much more valuable to people, and you just don’t get that from a place that’s committed only to serving you as a customer. You get that from a place that’s committed to empowering each person who walks in the door. That’s the kind of mindset that people are going to have to have if they’re going to make it in the new economy.

I’d love to see coworking spaces challenge people to un-learn their old thinking around work and individualism. Coworking spaces can play a massive role in shifting our relationship with work to be one that is more intentional, collaborative, holistic, and positive. I’d hate to see future generations suffer the way past ones have. Work doesn’t have to equal suffering for a lot of people now, but that’s only going to happen if the people shaping the new paradigms put effort into making that a reality. I care so much about coworking because I see the potential it has to liberate people from the old ways of doing things. I’ll continue working alongside many others all around the world to help ensure this movement never loses sight of that.

Tara Hunt: I hope it looks like a worldwide community of spaces, including the venture-backed spaces. I hope it finds a sustainable model for the grassroots spaces, which are essential to local communities. I can’t predict the future, but this is what I hope for coworking.

Lori Kane: Adult humans feeling confident enough in themselves, others, and the space between to imagine anywhere as a shared coworking space in the same way that children can look at a tree and see a fort or imagine a park bench into a ship together. Adults being comfortable enough and ok enough with public discomfort to create/work/play wherever they go. People experiencing finding, creating, hosting and working within shared spaces, and moving back out into private spaces, and back again, as a fluid, natural part of being human—like geese into and out of Vs—because we humans are just that cool.

What would I like to see? I’d like to see more messy coworking spaces that are deep neighborhood resources and learning centers for everyone in the neighborhood. I’d like to see people who host coworking and run coworking spaces move themselves beyond individual bravery into collective bad-ass-ery and community magic. Swapping spaces, for example. Trying wild-for-you ideas together, for example. Becoming nomadic and taking your “space” on the road with you, for example. Seeking out, inviting in, and learning from people thinking well beyond the business world: teachers groups, parents groups, neighbor groups, farmers, food truck chef/owners, homeless tent city dwellers, children, neighborhood event planners, public space creators, artists, and people protesting in the streets, for example.

Jacob Sayles: There are going to be a lot of new faces as the community is always changing. There will be some big players and lots of small players. I’m hopeful all the small players will find sustainable ways of staying grounded in our values and our history.

Jeremy Neuner: It’s worth remembering that coworking is a response to a much bigger trend. We are in the early days of a once-in-a-century shift in how, where, and why people work. Coworking is a response to that shift, and it’s also helping to drive that shift. The implications of that shift are huge. Figuring out how, where, and why we work is the central organizing principle of any society. So if we’re changing the way we work, we’re really changing…everything!

This shift towards mobility and independence will re-order our society with the same profound impacts as the Industrial Revolution had 100-150 years ago. This shift will change not only how we work, but where we live, how we educate our kids, how we get ourselves from place to place, how we keep ourselves safe and healthy, and, ultimately, how we define a life worth living. Simply put, I’d like to see that re-ordering happen just a bit quicker. I’m hopeful that this once-in-a-century shift in how, where, and why we work will result in a society that is happier, safer, saner, more innovative, and more productive.

Liz Elam: It looks like off the charts explosive growth, driven by a new way to work; nomadic, free and independent. People are being sent home in droves, or they are choosing to work differently, and they have all the tools they need to do their work from anywhere. I would like to see the healthcare industry and the government rise up to meet the changing tide. We need affordable healthcare. We need laws that protect the workers and the small businesses that are pouring their hearts and wallets into their business every day and barely making it. For coworking, I want to see us continue to make the world a better place, one happy human at a time.

This interview first appeared at Shareable.

By Cat Johnson

Cat Johnson is a freelance writer focused on community, the commons, sharing, collaboration and music. Publications include Utne Reader, GOOD, Yes! Magazine, Shareable, Triple Pundit and Lifehacker. She's also a musician, record store longtimer, chronic list maker, avid coworker and aspiring minimalist.