The coworking movement has been gaining steam nationwide and has been especially popular throughout Indiana over the past 5 years. What was once thought of as a fashionable working trend or something only available to those in the larger cities has now become a way for areas of the state that are generally off the beaten path to keep innovative young entrepreneurs or remote workers living in communities that they love or were raised in.

In a recent phone call with a representative from a cowork space in Florida who was looking to create a similar network to the Indiana Coworking Passport program that provides reciprocal membership privileges to passport location members I was posed an interesting question regarding the success and development of coworking in Indiana.

“What sets a good coworking space apart from the pack?”  she asked.

I thought for a minute about the many great spaces I have visited over the past year and about the spaces that have struggled to gain momentum. What was the common piece that makes those successful spaces so beneficial to their communities and what adds to the struggle for those other spaces? A quick answer would have been cool amenities, lots of beer/coffee, or a convenient location. All important pieces to the puzzle but none seemed to be the determining factor in the success of a space.

I finally settled on COMMUNITY as my answer.

“Can you explain?” I was asked by my now-slightly-confused counterpart in Florida. It was obvious in her voice that she had been expecting a detailed list of physical amenities that they could provide that would rocket them to success.

As I explained more I realized how broad of a scope COMMUNITY entails. There are many tangible things that can be quantified as community such as pot luck lunches, donuts for the team, or shared learning activities. All things as cowork space managers that we can track on a spreadsheet and that look great on a report to the board of directors but the depth of community is much greater than that. It is being a part of something much greater than yourself or your company. It’s being eager to learn from others in your space but also give your time, knowledge, and energy as well. Its being curious and asking questions. Above all its WANTING to be a part of a community that helps to build a community. A space can host all the pot luck lunches they want but if nobody WANTS to be a part of the community then its just lunch. By attending that same lunch and making a new friend, asking questions about their business, and looking for opportunities to help them grow you are helping to build COMMUNITY.

In an innovative attempt to further coworking efforts in every region of the state , the State of Indiana has dedicated dollars and man hours over the past three years to the development of the Indiana Coworking Passport program and the community support provided through the Launch Indiana program.

The Indiana Coworking Passport program offers reciprocal membership privileges one day a month to any other participating statewide space. This expands the coworking experience for thousands of Indiana coworkers and allows them convenient work and meeting space even while they are on the road. The program acts as a convener for cowork space managers helping to provide a common connection for joint programming and the sharing of best practices helping to eliminate commonly made mistakes.

In addition to providing direct support to existing coworking spaces in Indiana through the Indiana Coworking Passport, communities can tap into planning, development, and capacity building resources through the Launch Indiana program. Mayors and economic development officials are free to reach out to this program if they are interested in learning more about what coworking is and how communities can use it as a tool to retain top talent in their communities.  Without taking the time and dedicating the resources to efforts such as coworking many Indiana communities are at risk of losing their talented young minds to regions of the country showing progress towards making new things happen.

As you enter your cowork space next time please look for an opportunity to make a new friend and ask them about what they are working on. You never know, a connection you make may just be the big break they are looking for to take their business to the next level.

Jason Whitney is program manager for Launch Indiana.

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