[FoRK] Co-working spaces (was Re: LA Traffic - solution?)

J. Andrew Rogers andrew at jarbox.org
Mon Sep 3 23:21:59 PDT 2012

On Sep 2, 2012, at 11:44 AM, Stephen Williams <sdw at lig.net> wrote:
> To have environment, support, and / or equipment not convenient or possible at home.  Chief among these should be really excellent video conferencing meeting rooms, preferably using 360 degree cameras and HD.

Most companies don't have those facilities. Nonetheless, co-working arrangements have these kinds of things to the extent you would expect to find them at a typical company. They're available, it just costs a bit more if you want something fancy.

> To have a verifiably secure corporate space, etc.

Co-working is antithetical to a high level of security unless you make things very expensive. This is by far the biggest weakness. The level of isolation required for security is equivalent to "satellite office". (I heard a rumor that someone was planning on turning a local SCIF into a co-working facility but I'll bet it won't be inexpensive.)

On the other hand, the normal levels of basic security you find in most businesses can be found in many co-working spaces.

> Many companies, especially large ones, cannot reach a level of comfortableness to even seriously consider the prospect of work at home or co-work.

Let's talk about the myriad that *are* comfortable with it but still can't make it work. People in Silicon Valley are too diffuse for co-working to make sense in most cases. It is a simple problem of employee distribution across the greater metro area and the median density in any particular easily commuted region. If your company has several thousand employees *and* employees that live near each other also work in the same unit, then you might as well invest in a satellite office. Having employees "co-working" in spaces that are not shared with any other employees (because no one else that matters is all that close) is like having employees working at home but with a lot less security and control. 

> The fact that there are several million people in the SF/SJ/Oakland/Berkeley metro area but only a few hundred, perhaps, working in co-work spaces seems indicative that this is an entrenched problem.

Co-working has the same structural economic issues as co-transportation (aka public transit). When they have functioning public transportation system in San Jose then co-working may too be viable.

> My point was that a properly designed service might get significant numbers over the threshold of at least considering the prospect of co-working.

Your argument would have us believe that only in Silicon Valley can no one properly design a co-working space. That is not a compelling argument for why co-working doesn't work there. 

> What was it about the existing co-working spaces that sucked?  Did you detail that already?

Co-working spaces in Silicon Valley are actually not that different in terms of facilities than co-working spaces anywhere else. Fiber, nice conference rooms, video, etc. The locations, on the other hand, are uniformly terrible.

The problem is that they are usually located in the commute-in business wastelands for a variety of good reasons such as fiber access and zoning. In Silicon Valley these are never conveniently located as far as commuting goes. As a result people tend not to use them because for the level of inconvenience involved you might as well go all the way into the office. Once enough people do that, the co-working space is a zombie option that no one actually uses. I've seen this pattern over and over and it makes perfect sense. It is the same reason I stopped using co-working spaces. For co-working to work, you have to make a space that people actually want to go to enough to offset the downsides of not being in the office. Somewhere like Santana Row would be a better locale if they had the square footage for the purpose.

> I can think of a dozen features that haven't been tried to make those entities much more interested in a solution that solves the commuting problem.

What are these features that haven't been tried? I've seen some fairly creative stuff on the larger company side as well but it is usually not called "co-working" even if it is co-working-esque.

> You seem to be insisting on a particular small startup friendly flavor of co-work space when the concept is much more broad and mostly unapplied to date.

I think you are improperly reading my criticism of your proposal for large companies as some kind of focus on small companies. If you had been a little less fixated on your "suburban sprawl is not a problem" narrative you might have noticed that I was discussing potential models for larger organizations that exist in some denser cities.

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