Why we don’t like the idea of “Proworkers”

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There have been debates recently about “proworkers” vs “coworkers” in the coworking world. It appeared in some panel discussions during the Coworking Europe Conference in Lisbon this year, and it left several coworking players in a kind of doubt.

We don’t like this concept of proworkers. Let us explain why.

A “proworker” would be a kind of coworker that allegedly just wants to “get his work done”. He is described as somebody often coming from the corporate world. Some people have been urging coworking spaces to address this new audience. Well, to be honest, we don’t really get it… First, what does it even mean to be a proworker? Does it mean that coworkers are just not “professional” – that they’re like silly kids doing insignificant stuff, who don’t need any kind of professional facilities? Does it mean that coworking spaces don’t offer real, “pro” infrastructure (whatever that might be)?

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Let me tell you one thing: coworkers are very professional people. They’ve created their own job they’ve defined their own career. They did not ask anyone the permission to do so, they didn’t wait in line for it. And believe us, it’s not an easy thing to do. Certainly not something you do if you’re not professional.

Coworkers – whether they are entrepreneurs, freelancers or remote workers – have to build their own reputation, network and skills without the institutional support of a traditional company. They have to be good at many different things at the same time. At every moment, they have to be autonomous, self-reliable and creative. Those surely are  the most important skills in most industries right now. So, with these skills and abilities alone, making a difference between the two sounds absurd…

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And to say that “they just want to get their work done” creates a ridiculously limited vision of work. Work is everywhere and in everything you do. The value of coworking relies on its ability to bring serendipity and opportunities to people, even if you might not be able to tell exactly what it’ll bring you. Coworking is pushing a door, connecting to ecosystems and seeing what you’ll get out of it. It’s not just about getting things done.

Just getting your work done can happen in almost any place. Your home, a café, a library, a business center… Connecting to a community, belonging to an ecosystem and building a network based on true relations and not just transactions is a kind of work that will end up being very valuable to yourself and your business.

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The simple thought of a bunch of people aggregating in a space, getting their work done on a super fast WiFi and top notch equipment and then going back home just freaks me out. That’s not our vision of work for the future – not even close. That’s a sad adaptation of old fashioned work canned in a slightly different box.

That being said, if the debate is about increasing the level of service and offering always better equipment to your community, it is obviously a good thing to do… But there is no debate about it: if you start targeting traditional white collars that don’t give a sh** about your community and you’ll soon lose what coworking is all about. Most of all, you’ll end up doing again something that have been tried for a long time and already failed: third places that are clones of traditional office, but just closer to your house. Talk about a revolution…

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Coworking, fablabs, makerspaces should stay true to what made them what they are: communities. And yes, improving your infrastructure and starting to attract new people BECAUSE of your communities is obviously a good thing. But this concept of pro-workers sound like a load of nonsense. If you can’t see some passion shining through the eyes of a coworker, he’ll probably make a rather poor coworker.

That’s our view. What do you think?

11 thoughts on “Why we don’t like the idea of “Proworkers”

  1. I could not have expressed it better :)

  2. + 1 here! :) I realized just recently that it basically comes down to “I AM HERE TO TAKE” and “I AM HERE TO SHARE” kind of people…

  3. Gastropoda

    Dans la #cocosphèrie nous avons des #cocotravailleurs qui #cocogitent pour le #cocochangement sans #cacophonie _@.°°

  4. You are absolutely right Eric. I don’t agree with the “Pro working” word. There’s only one concept and philosophy of Coworking.

  5. Ray Lindenberg

    There is a significant difference between the COworking and PROworking that is important for our industry to wrap its arms around — and it’ll require the same amount of open-mindedness to do so that it took some Business Center Operators to come to grips with the fact that there was a key difference between COworking and BC-working.

    When COworking really caught fire in the past decade, some BC Operators scratched their heads thinking that: ‘isn’t what we offer and what our clients/tenants do inside our BC space basically ‘COworking’? Don’t people working under one roof, sharing the same services, staff and common areas invariably COwork? What’s the big deal?’. Wrong.

    Truth be told, some BC Operators still feel that way. Regus went as far as audaciously celebrating the 20th year of pioneering and providing COworking in a massive PR/ad campaign a few years ago. Huh?

    There is a significant difference between COworking and BC-working, in tone, culture, intent, heart and soul. And just like people working under a BC roof does not automatically qualify as COworking — neither does working in an Open Plan space automatically a COworking Space make. Some COworking Spaces have sadly evolved into providing little evidence and opportunity for the promise and ideals of COworking, as we all know.

    And just like there are differences between COworking and BC-working, there are also differences between COworking and PROworking, and the sooner we make those distinctions clearer, the sooner we’ll be doing the public and our serviced workspace industry a big favor. Nobody wins when there are misused terms being bandied about that only serve to confuse the public, or are done so to capitalize on a hot, popularizing category or term when it’s unfounded, or the Emperor has no clothes.

    BC Operators aren’t doing themselves any favor when they claim to be a COworking Space but overlook offering the advantages of the ongoing, overt collaboration, networking and community that is the hallmark of great COworking, and that suits so many workers exceptionally well these days..

    BC Operators are learning the hard way that it’s not “COworking”, when their Open Plan Space sections go largely vacant with nary a soul (or at least not enough of them) at what they marketed and presumed to be a “COworking” space. It’s a classic mis-match borne out of the fact that, again, Open Plan working does not automatically qualify as a COworking Space.

    But — and this is a pretty big BUT — there is something out there that does have a legitimate market and need … and is growing dramatically … that IS Open Plan working, but NOT COworking — and there are now over a thousand such highly successful and profitable ones all over the globe at airports and increasingly at Hotels — that do offer a different, and equally valuable form of Open Plan working … and they’re commonly referred to as Business Clubs or Biz Lounges — and they’re absolutely super. We’re even starting to see them in Downtown business districts and at BCs — and they are NOT COworking.

    Besides that, they’re growing leaps and bounds precisely because they cater to a burgeoning market of on-the-go workers who relish the flexibility, perhaps more casualness and less stodginess, looser term commitments, and the price points of an Open Plan space, but are not into their core COworking features. These places just ‘do the trick’.

    Often they come from Corporate environments where they’re more comfy with the tone and ambience of a traditional office space that PROworking Spaces offer — and this market need is exploding as more and more companies go to a Distributed/Remote work-way model and either shrink, forego, or close down entirely their Centrally Commuted Office Headquarters. And it’s a market that Coworking Operators have a head-start over BC Operators in catering to, and cornering.

    Plus it’s not even a new work-way phenomenon. People have been happily to-one’s-self Open Plan working out of Cyber Cafes since the 90s … and at libraries for eons … and they are perfectly productive and do fine in those spaces without ‘COworking’ it.

    The moral of the story is that: COworking is outstanding. So is PROworking. Same goes for BC-working. Virtual Officing is fantastic. Business Incubator and Accelerators are out-of-sight. Variations and hybrids on all these themes are super-duper. And while we’re at it, so is sushi and Led Zeppelin. The beauty (and need/value) is in the eye of the beholder (the market and workers). And they all serve a different, special, subtle and distinct purpose, function, requirement, market and/or preference.

    Open Plan working that’s not COworking needs clarity, defining and to be called something on its own, which represents the distinct market demand and departure from COworking, which is how the term “PROworking” came to be. It was pursued by the Real Estate broker universe, when they introduced it as a distinctive term at the Corenet Conference out in California a few years back (with some ‘big bang’ of the term occurring even before then) – and it has nothing to do with being a more mature or professional way of working. That’s a wayward inference, very much in the way that COworking has been pooh poohed as a newfangled term that some BCs erroneously presume they’re pros at and what essentially has automatically been happening all along at their BCs. Not.

    If COworking Operators or anyone chooses to view it as a slur, or to not recognize it as a separate, legitimate market demand that is being pursued and defined to describe places for on-the-go (oftentimes Distributed) workers who love Open Plan working but may not place a value on the core plusses of COworking, then I hope that misconception fades, just like BCs need to get ‘over it’ that they are not the masters, inventors and pioneers of COworking…unless they truly and firmly got into the collaboration, community-based, Open Plan working game with their heart and soul.

    Taken a step further — I’m not so fond of some COworking Operators themselves marketing their spaces as ‘COworking for Professionals’ or ‘COworking for Adults’. To me, that’s over the line and I don’t blame COworking Operators for cringing whenever they hear that term from their COworking brethren trying to make a marketing distinction that feels very much like a knock on the legitimacy, maturity and professionalism of the common COworking members and communities.

    But PROworking does not automatically translate to ‘Professional working’ as opposed to ‘unprofessional working’ that may be errantly inferred when these two words are conflated. We need to give the term “PROworking “ a break and some breathing room so it can flourish — and celebrate it in every way that COworking, BC-working, Virtual Office working, BI/A-working, and all the other shades of grey, deserve their space and distinctions to be heralded.

    They are all absolutely great offerings for different market needs and expectations — and there’s plenty of room in our sandbox for every one of them (and also for Cyber-Cafes, Starbucks-working, library-working, Home-working, and even traditional enclosed, cellular office working). Not one of these work-ways is generally, inherently and automatically better than any other … every industry, company, situation, need and worker is different…even they don’t match our utopian concept of all the goodness that COworking has to offer. They’re all super-duper work-way offerings n alternatives whose value depends on the specific needs.

    There have been a number of articles out there about Millennials and Invincibles — entrepreneurs who enthusiastically went to COworking Spaces and found them not to be their cup of tea — not relishing the collaboration or community aspect, or worse yet, finding there to be too much noise or interruptions for their liking. Why is that?

    It’s not because of the COworking Space itself … a COworking Space is a COworking Space — it’s because of the mis-match of needs and expectations. They were PROworkers who may have accidentally wound up in an Open Plan COworking Space that didn’t suit them. No harm — no foul … just, no fit.

    If anything — COworking is about alternatives … new ways of being, approaching, understanding and respecting … accepting that what we know and strongly believe in as a fantastic way forward for dream businesses and pursuits is worthy for all to respect, even though not everyone has bought into our approach, philosophy and vibe. We need to accept the advent of other work-ways, and take the high road — and give the same understanding and support to other ways of being that we demand for ourselves.

    Not every space is right for every situation … and there’s no reason why what works or is better suited for others can’t be afforded our nod. My daughter’s a Vegan. Mazel tov. It’s a different way of eating and preference than I’m not used to — and it’s wonderful that it suits her needs and soul. Open Plan PROworking, that’s about to explode on the scene, is also wonderful, and it’s up to each one of us to determine if we want pursue that market demand, or stick to our collaboration and community-based pedigree. Each road to take is a ‘good’.

    COworking Rocks … so does PROworking!

    This is a subject that deserves lots more poking and debating. Hope we get plenty of it because the apparent chunking-off of PROworking from COworking (and it’s not an evil twin but a market reality), and that burgeoning market demand, is a critical subject and strategic decision that we’re all going to face over the next few years.

    • Hi Ray ! thanks for your contribution. That’s a BIG and interesting comment.

      You’re right when you say that misusing words is not a good thing. I wrote this article after a discussion that happened in the Coworking Europe Conference, when someone was basically urging coworking space managers to switch to “proworking” … It just makes no sense to me ! It’s not proven in any way that proworking even makes sense but what is sure is that if it does and as you described it, it’s a different service than coworking.

      I also think the word proworking is a bad choice. Its similarity with coworking forces people to compare the 2 concepts. By contrast, if one is PRO, the other is not. So PROworking is for professionals and Coworking for community oriented people… That still makes no sense to me ! Acknowledging that while coworking matures and starts to appeal to a wider audience, it needs to serve different needs and increase the quality and types of services it offers is a good thing. Opposing the two sounds weird to me.

      I think an Open Plan without any sense community is a business center… Why do we need a new and confusing word for that ?

  6. Marc Navarro

    I totally agree with Eric but people who come from an environment where concepts as collaboration or community sounds like science fiction exist and although I refuse to call them “proworkers” because as Eric explains that denomination is pretentious and gives the impression coworkers are less professional to a new person in this matter.

    As the article says I think we shall not sell our soul but, in my experience, we can show those “corporate expats” our way. We can show them there’s a different (and better) way to work. We are lucky enough to have been raised to discover it while we were kids or teenagers but I think we have the obligation to show others not so lucky the way.

  7. I totally agree with Eric but people who come from an environment where concepts as collaboration or community sounds like science fiction exist and although I refuse to call them “proworkers” because as Eric explains that denomination is pretentious and gives the impression coworkers are less professional to a new person in this matter.

    As the article says I think we shall not sell our soul but, in my experience, we can show those “corporate expats” our way. We can show them there’s a different (and better) way to work. We are lucky enough to have been raised to discover it while we were kids or teenagers but I think we have the obligation to show others not so lucky the way.

  8. I don’t get where this sense of being threatened comes from. My clients won’t think less of my work because I consider my self part of a COworking environment. I don’t feel the need to distinguish myself in such a black and white, good vs. bad, PRO vs. CO manner. Sometimes I need to work more focused and efficient and sometimes I engage more in my community. As Ray pointed out, there is need and space for all sorts of services and work styles. I would try to stay away from a dogma where people are excluded because they come from a more corporate background. And I also wouldn’t blame anyone for trying to come up with a valid business model for their space. It’s not like we have all the answers. Demonizing the other side can’t be a solution either. In my opinion, there is enough room for all.

    • I totally agree with you in fact ! It’s just that you’re exactly the same person being PRO or CO or whatsoever depending or your needs and mood… I don’t care about people coming from the corporate background ! We’ve got some in our spaces and are perfectly ok with that. We just don’t consider them to be different from average coworkers. So I don’t see the need for another word. Co and Pro go together. It’s not like you’re either one or the other.

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