The Folks Behind Coworking: Alex Hillman

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IndyhallAlex Hillman cofounded Indyhall, Philadelphia’s answer to San Francisco’s Citizen Space. (On a personal note, when Indyhall was set up I closely followed the whole process in their blog, which I think really kick-started my personal interest in coworking. Go check out the earliest posts!) In this second installment of my series of interviews on coworking, Alex shares his thoughts and experiences.

What does Coworking mean for you?

We say that coworking isn’t about the desks. The desks are a vehicle, part of a clubhouse for a wider community. Having a clubhouse provides a focal point for interaction in a community. That community embodies trust, communication, collaboration, socialization, and a mutual respect for place and each other.

Ultimately, coworking is a community of workers, and that means more than a collection of workers sharing space.

Furthermore, coworking is a movement, a shift in higher purpose when it comes to not just where, but how, people are going to work in the future.

What brought you to Coworking?

I was introduced to coworking by two of the movement’s earliest catalysts, Chris Messina and Tara Hunt, who co-founded The Hat Factory (the first permanent coworking space) and then went on to open Citizen Space, both in San Francisco. Even before becoming a freelancer, I recognized that this could be valuable for Philadelphia as a way to bring together the disparate communities in my own city. As the project evolved, so did the vision, which included teaming up with Geoff DiMasi. Working with Geoff has brought a finer tuning to the purpose of IndyHall’s version of coworking.

Every Coworking Space seems different. What’s the focus of yours, what makes it special?

Our focus is 100% on individuals, humans. We don’t rent desks to companies, we have members join our community and have desks as a resource. When you take a holistic community approach to a coworking space, a lot of things fall into place that normally would take a lot of work. That’s not to say community development isn’t a lot of work, but it’s a whole lot easier to build something sustainable when the community groundwork is laid first.

By decoupling the desks from the real “magic” that takes place at IndyHall, we can accomplish things that couldn’t be done without the community being in place.

Where do you see Coworking in five years?

5 years isn’t a fair prediction, because the whole movement is less than 3 years old itself. Considering in the last 3 years, we’ve gone from less than a dozen spaces, mostly concentrated on the west coast, well over a hundred all around the world and a wider recognition of coworking as a buzzword, I think we’re on a stratospheric trajectory. The fact that coworking gets talked about by people who aren’t even aware of the movement and it’s history means it’s growing and growing fast.

My biggest hope is that coworking becomes more than a buzzword used to represent people sharing desks and that people really latch onto some of the fundamentals of coworking that set it apart from the otherwise failed business model of office suites and hot-desking. If more people understand what makes coworking really work (in the situations where it does work), I think it stands a chance of really turning business on it’s head and changing the way that companies utilize space, teams, and communication. All of these changes, obviously, are for the better.

Where can we find you?

At IndyHall, of course. IndyHall is in Old City Philadelphia, and online at www.indyhall.org. We’d love for you to come meet our community members and see what we’re up to.

Thanks a lot, Alex! Click here to read the other interviews with the folks behind coworking.

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