The Future of Coworking in NYC — From Microsoft to Beyond

| Kaivan Shroff, Microsoft NY Civic Tech Fellow

As real-estate prices in urban centers continue to climb across the nation, companies like WeWork have stepped in to offer start-ups, non-profits, and other ventures affordable co-working spaces. However, a number of groups have reimagined coworking spaces as more than just an efficient solution to expensive city office space. Organizations like Civic Hall, Prime Produce, and Cornell Tech have embraced coworking spaces as a means through which distinct organizations can achieve beyond their individual capacities. From co-ops to accelerators, collaboration spaces have started to focus on strategically selecting companies with a shared value set, development phase, or industry focus. Building a community of similarly oriented ventures across sectors and functions allows for both informal and formal collaborations that amplify each organization’s effectiveness and reach.

One such co-working space, Civic Hall, has an application process and requires that its members be working on projects related to civic technology. A core tenet of the space is that no endeavor can succeed without at least some degree of cross-sector collaboration. The diverse set of members at Civic Hall, from Microsoft to small start-ups, mingle at weekly lunch events on civic tech related topics, network over coffee in the shared kitchen, and ultimately leverage one another’s unique skill-set and talents.

Other coworking spaces are more focused on members having a shared process or phase of development. For example, Prime Produce, a co-op that describes itself as a “guild for social good,” is committed to serving as a shared working environment and community for organizations focused on decelerating their growth trajectory to focus on supply-chain, process, and quality. By working with a diverse set of companies, the team at Prime Produce hopes they will identify shareable insights and a consistent framework for both their members and non-members.

The insights on collaboration that places like Prime Produce and Civic Hall are working to codify are already being embraced by larger institutions. The much awaited Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island, for example, is designed to intentionally foster run-ins between researchers, students, and industry leaders. One campus center is made of two separate wings, one for students and one for researchers, connected by a giant glass bridge that serves as a cafeteria and shared space. A lead designer on the project, Michael Manfredi, explains, “it’s about making connections between someone who might be working at Microsoft and some doctoral student who is working on ways of assembling information.”

In each case, coworking spaces, have begun to shift from a reaction to the realities of city-living to intentional forums where the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts! We can’t wait to see how coworking develops and expands in the future.

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