May 7, 2013


Coworking -- A New Working Style for Connecting People

Keywords: Newsletter Well-Being 

JFS Newsletter No.128 (April 2013)

We are now living in an era when we can work anywhere, just by using our personal computers. Freed from "the office," people's working styles are varied -- they sometimes work at home, sometimes at a cafe or elsewhere. Individual working styles vary, but some people who continue to free-lance for a long time gradually come to desire more association with other people. This is how "coworking" was born. This term refers to a working style in which people with different jobs share a workplace and communicate with one another.

Coworking is said to have started in the United States in 2006. In Japan, the first coworking space was established in 2010. As of 2013, the number of coworking spaces increased to about 200 in Japan and 2,200 worldwide. We interviewed Kyo Satani, who opened the first coworking space in Tokyo.

Let's Work in Party Mode!

Satani is the president and CEO of PAX Coworking located in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward. About three minutes' walk from Kyodo Station, it has a large room with several tables large and small; users choose their favorite place to sit down and start working.

PAX Coworking

Coworkers can choose their own style: some people spend most of their working time at the space (full-time co-worker); some visit there once or twice a week (part-time co-worker); and some just drop in and use the room for the experience (drop-in). Occupations also vary, ranging from IT-related workers, designers, editors, writers, and college lecturers, to farm-related workers, restaurant owners, etc.

While working on their computers, people can enjoy conversations with other users, and sometimes they share their small problems. Many types of collaboration can develop at coworking spaces. People may exchange ideas about a possible project in casual conversation, and in some cases such projects actually come together.

Satani expresses what coworking is all about with the phrase, "Let's work in party mode!" The environment needed to work well is the same as the one needed for a good party. The qualities needed are good, comfortable friends who can communicate with each other in a relaxed atmosphere. Such an environment can stimulate new ideas as well.

History and Background of Coworking

In the early 20th Century, the practice of several people sharing a single work space was seen here and there, for instance, when artists gathered in Paris and writers gathered in New York. In 2006, an individual entrepreneur called for coworking opened shop in New York, but the very first coworking space that is still in existence is the Citizen Space in San Francisco. After its establishment, coworking spaces began to pop up in the big cities in the United States and soon migrated to Europe.

In Japan, styles of working anywhere prevailed as the Internet became widely used. As more people began to receive individual orders from clients and do their work at home or in private offices, some people started to establish joint offices. After 2000, the number of rental and share offices utilizing vacant office space drastically increased. However, collaboration rarely occurred in such offices.

In the past few years as the Internet spread even further, more and more people started to work at cafes equipped with free Wi-Fi access. The writer Toshinao Sasaki coined a new term for these people - "Nomado" (meaning nomad), which is now well-established. There are, however, disadvantages to using cafes, such as not being able to use these open-to-the-public facilities for an extended period of time.

The coworking style was born to solve this problem. In Japan, the first coworking space, Cahootz, was established in Kobe, followed by PAX coworking in Tokyo in 2010.

Advantages of Coworking

Kyo Satani traveled around the world and met many people. The thing he found extraordinary during his travel experiences was that everyone was equal regardless of generation, nationality or social position. He used what he learned later in his career as a restaurant manager, and this led him further to launch a coworking space.

"Japan is very affluent, but we still see dark expressions on people's faces. I created a restaurant where people find it easy to talk to each other. I've been told that people often find themselves bursting into hearty laughter there. I began to think about whether it might be possible to create an office space where people can also have a good laugh."

This idea made him especially want to change the working style of long daily hours for not much pay. Around that time, he happened to see a photograph of the coworking space in London. It was exactly like the image he had. He immediately decided to launch a coworking space himself.

Several advantages of coworking distinguish it from share office and Nomado working styles. Besides the availability of Wi-Fi and electricity, coworking spaces have low service charges, fewer security issues, comfortable places to rest, opportunities for networking with peers and associates and a better environment for concentrating on one's work. These advantages add new meaning to working within a kind of community which provides opportunities for sharing knowledge and technology and finding business partners.

Further Possibilities through Collaboration

Currently, the number of coworking spaces has been increasing worldwide. About 40 percent of such spaces are located in the US, particularly in New York and San Francisco. Coworking has gained popularity in Europe as well, and the first European coworking conference was held in Belgium in 2010. In Asia, it has been spreading little by little, for example in China and Singapore.

In Japan, more and more coworking spaces have been established across the country, in both urban and rural areas. In fact, a number of new projects have been launched: for example, nana-music inc. provides a free social music platform for enjoying musical collaboration with people in other parts of the world; people record their singing and by sharing it through the Internet, they can sing in harmony with people in other places. This company has set up headquarters in the US, and operates its business through Cahootz first, later through Pax Coworking while collaborating with various coworking spaces both in Japan and overseas.

Other examples include an agricultural website magazine, Zackzack, which provides information both for producers and consumers with the support of many coworking members. Eggshell is a general incorporated association that provides assistance to family caregivers and working mothers so they can return to the working world. It is an example of people taking the initiative to establish new a coworking space on the basis of close collaboration with other members and experience of having worked in coworking spaces.

Many other coworking experiments are also taking place all over the country, including study groups, collaborations with major companies, and reconstruction assistance efforts for areas struck by the Great East Japan Earthquake.

"In coworking spaces, each member has his or her specialty, so talking with other members helps solve problems because what one takes for granted can be seen from a different perspective. I wish our entire society could be the same way -- a society where we can talk to others casually when we need help. And I believe if more and more offices have such an atmosphere, the society as a whole will change," Satani says.

Coworking looks promising as a new working style and a new way of collaboration. We hope it will open further possibilities for changes and a better society.

Written by Taeko Ohno