Cowork Niagara's IndyBlog

Why co-operatives and coworking go hand in hand

I've been meaning to write this post for a long while.

In the past 2 years of leading Cowork Niagara, I've come to realize that co-operative business is —bar none — the best-kept secret in business.

But it is particularly effective for coworking spaces, and I was gobsmacked to learn that we were the first coworking space in English Canada (and only, so far), and one of only several in North America.

I put together a few reasons why coworking spaces are ideally suited to adopting a co-operative structure for their businesses.

Every member is an owner

In a co-operative, every member is an owner of the business. This continually inspires them to get involved. As coworkers, this collective self-interest drives participation and provides a continuous stream of folks who just want to make things better.

Shared risk/reward

In many coworking spaces, the risk of success or failure rests on the shoulders of the owner/operator of the space. It takes a very special kind of sole proprietor to emobody the sense of shared ownership in something that is truly owned by one person. You need to trust that person to always be inclusive, to always do the right thing. It takes a long time to build that level of trust, and I think this speaks to why many spaces can stall at this point. If it goes well, the financial return goes to a single person. If it fails that financial loss is again a single person's responsibility.

In a co-operative model, each owner shares some of the risk and reward. Because of this, members can work sooner on building the trust needed to ensure the coworking space succeeds. You know right from the beginning that those who are in are in it together. If things go well, then the co-op's board decides how those profits will be used. They could be used to offset operational costs, paid back as a rebate, or reinvested to provide additional services.

Co-operation is in our DNA.

Many other groups have written membership structures into traditional for-profit and non-profit models. But the co-op model gives you these structures automatically. Also, all co-operatives share a set of principles, and one of the most important ones is co-operating between co-operatives. This means we actively seek out new ways to work together and support one another's businesses. We can do this at a pace and with an ease that far exceeds more traditional business structures.

If you're interested in learning about the co-operative model and applying it to your coworking space (or any other business idea!), I'd be more than happy to help.