Are Wi-Fi and sofas enough for coworking?

Note: There is a version of this blog post in German on LinkedIn.

My friend Christian Cordes has an upsetting topic that he can always complain about (if he didn’t have essential things to do and say, and he has). The use of the unprotected term coworking. Nowadays, just about anything can be called coworking. And unfortunately, there are countless examples of this happening. Everything is coworking.

More than three years ago, on a walk through Brussels, we both stopped in front of a mix of car dealership and restaurant. This place was called Smart City. There was a restaurant on the ground floor and a showroom for Smarts in the basement. According to an outdoor sign, there was also a coworking space. Skeptical, but also curious, we walked in.

In the basement, we found a lot of small cars and a wannabe cool looking interior. A staff member came up to us and asked if he could help us. We asked about the coworking space. He pointed to the exhibition space and said that there was free Wi-Fi and that we could work on the sofas if we wanted to.

I don’t know if it’s because of the lack of a cool term for an offer like free Wi-Fi and comfortable seating that this was called coworking, but it isn’t enjoyable. Sometimes more and sometimes less, it always seems to depend on my current mood. At the moment I am very annoyed by places like this.

The coworking space of BNP Paribas Bank Polska

On my last holiday in Gdańsk, I came across such an offer again. This time it was from BNP Paribas Bank Polska. The connection between coworking and bank interested me immediately. Together with Sparda-Bank Berlin, we from St. Oberholz have achieved a unique combination of the two sectors with the BLOK O in Frankfurt (Oder).

Two bank employees present allowed me to visit the branch and take photos of the coworking area. There were various seating areas, two meeting rooms, and a high bench for working. I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of the bank’s offices, they were located in the back of the branch and looked just like bank offices can still look.

The BNP Paribas Bank Polska at Rajska 4 in Gdańsk

I can’t understand the often garish design in Polish banks, it’s not my taste, so I don’t want to judge it further. The place itself seemed unloving and not very well thought out. There was no front desk, the functions were distributed in what I think were the wrong places in the room, and a community concept was not even recognizable.

This was also called coworking and unfortunately had nothing to do with it. Coworking is all about working together. But the coworking area of BNP Paribas Bank Polska was separate from the branch team. There was no sign of any attempt to bring different people together. Nor did it appear to be a concern of the bank.

You can only feel the difference on site.

There are other such examples. From insurance companies, butcher shops, cafés, libraries, and many other banks. There is probably hardly a retail concept left that has not been refreshed with coworking. The only thing that helps is pointing the finger. To make the lack of ideas in such concepts transparent.

It’s perfectly okay that work tables are offered for mobile working. I like to use them myself when I’m traveling. But this has nothing to do with coworking. There is no compulsion to work together in coworking spaces, some people only want to work alone in peace, but there is usually a real community.

This is often only noticed on site. Therefore, I recommend visiting two or three other coworking spaces before you decide on a coworking space. This is the only way to get a first-hand impression. You have to have walked over the threshold of a place to experience it and to understand the atmosphere there at least a little bit.

Not every coworking space will appeal to you. That’s fine too because our personal needs are different. But you will notice if the place you visit has an interest in people at all or only wants to increase the time you spend there. Then you’ll sense very quickly whether coworking is in there, too, where it’s written on the wall.

Header Image: Tobias Kremkau, Brussels 2016