Coworking is as big in Medellin, Colombia as it is in New York or Philadelphia. Well why shouldn’t it be? The changes affecting the American workplace are not isolated. Coworking fit my lifestyle in Lancaster, PA before my relocation. I frequented the Candy Factory in Lancaster, PA. Much more than just a place to work, the Candy factory is stimulating local and regional industry innovations. It advocates for new health insurance models, creates childcare solutions, and promotes employment legislation that favors independent contractors and sole proprietorships, i.e. the typical coworking member.
Where does Medellin fall on the coworking spectrum? For starters, about 23 coworking businesses throughout the city exist for its 2.5 million inhabitants. The majority are in Poblado and a good portion of those cater to the digital nomads that bounce through Medellín on a regular. Colombia is not yet at the point where new types of insurance coverages can be designed for the members of coworking centers, but give it time. Colombia is at the point at which a significant segment of society can hook into coworking as a viable workplace alternative.
No surprise then that in Medellín coworking can fill the same needs I had in North America. One day walking through Laureles, a trendy neighborhood near my apartment, I stumbled across La Casa Redonda (the round house).
Exactly what needs are coworking businesses filling? Well for starters, La Casa Redonda promises a vibrant professional and social community for me to connect with. As with all coworking endeavors, members serve as both potential collaborators and clients. La Casa Redonda exists as a safe space for members, as comfortable as a second home. Originally, more than creating a business, the founders wanted a common space in which friends could work.
Beginning November, I’ll work at La Casa Redonda for a couple of days a week as an entree to a deeper exploration of the coworking concept and how it’s been implemented in Colombia. Of course, it’ll also serve as a place for me to get work done. Too frequently, productivity eludes me in my apartment.
Filling the Intangible Void
The world of work has changed. Folks no longer commit to a single employer, or even a few employers, over the course of their careers. Likewise, employers no longer provide that reciprocal commitment. Coworking has emerged to fill a part of that void. Not the employment part, just the location part, plus other intangibles. It provides entrepreneurs, startups, single-person businesses, and a variation of other types of workers with office space. But along with a desk, locker and unlimited coffee comes membership in a unique community. The social aspect of coworking stuck out like a pirate at a business seminar at my first Casa Redonda event, their Halloween party, as robust an event as any office party I’ve ever attended. I hear tell there’s a party every weekend. My first just happened to coincide with Halloween.
Caretakers of Community
While a job with a traditional employer focuses on a production bottom line, an ancillary benefit has always been community. The latter should not be overlooked. We spend as much time at work as we do at home with our families, sometimes more. Even in the 21stcentury, human beings remain social creatures with a need to connect with others. That need has always been independent of the widget production goal. But an unintentional consequence of the widget manufacturer creating a space to produce their widgets in, was the social community the widget producers unconsciously needed. La Casa Redonda founders’ precept of creating a comfortable home away from home makes perfect sense.
A coworking center like La Casa Redonda may not be a job, but we don’t need it to be. We come to coworking spaces with the job already secured. The community that evolved at the traditional workplace, tangential to the bottom line, is the bottom line for a coworking business.
Mingling at La Casa Redonda’s Halloween party, a few folks asked if I worked there: an interesting twist to a standard question. I answered that I will work there during November.
Frankly I don’t know who I met at the party because just about everybody wore a costume. Hopefully they’ll remember me and will introduce themselves again when I’m “at work” next week.
Oh, I did know the mermaid: Juana Restrepo, one of the founders and the director of La Casa Redonda.
I’ll write more about coworking and La Casa Redonda in the coming weeks.