R.I.P. Locus–Muzeum: Part I—SADNESS

It is with great SADNESS, great RELIEF, and great OPTIMISM that we announce the closing of Locus–Muzeum,  Locus’s first coworking space.

Locus–Muzeum closed its doors on April 15, 2017, after just under 7 years of operation. Don’t worry: Locus Workspace is NOT closing. Our 2nd location at Slezská 45 in Vinohrady is going strong and this was undoubtedly a positive move for Locus.

Why three such distinct emotions? And why wait so long to tell the story of why we closed?

This first of three blog posts tells the story of sadness. The next two will tell the stories of relief and optimism, hopefully conveying why sadness, despite its centrality, gives way to the more positive emotions of relief and optimism.

Mafia Night. Thank you, Nadya, for making Mafia Nights an unqualified success;
my favorite social activity at Locus, hands down.

WHY SADNESS?
There are many obvious reasons one might feel bad about closing the doors of one’s business: a sense of personal failure, financial loss, missed opportunities, or regret over poor choices all might be expected.

Fortunately for Locus and for me, none of those reasons plays a central role in the current situation. Instead the sadness stems primarily from having to say goodbye to something good.

I think they tell (part of) a good story about the entrepreneurial experience in general and about the history of the Czech Republic’s longest-running coworking space—yes, Locus Workspace—in particular.

1. Saying goodbye to a big part of personal and entrepreneurial history

Locus–Muzeum was Locus’s first location and my own first business (assuming you don’t count a lemonade stand or two, charging an entry fee to the living room at my parents’ parties when I was four or five, or my first attempt at starting a business in Prague in 1995, which never made it to opening day). It was also the second coworking space to open in Prague (after Coffice, the first coworking space in the Czech Republic, which closed its doors a couple years ago). And, at closing, it was the longest running coworking space in Prague, or the Czech Republic for that matter. It opened on May 4th, 2010 (about a month before Impact Hub’s Prague location).

Locus has a lot of history given the young history of coworking as a concept, and that history is now part of me, and a big part of what saddens me to say goodbye.

2. Saying goodbye to rich experiences, great accomplishments, deep relationships, and no small bit of idealism

More than that historical significance, closing Locus–Muzeum was sad because of the deep personal meaning it had, not just for me but for many of its members. My second son, Adam, was born the same month Locus opened. We had our first movie nights at Locus (thank you Evi and Yuri for your Belgian and Russian treats); joined writing meetups that were part of the completion of several members’ books and Master’s theses; participated in Mastermind meetings that saw people achieve major life-transition goals (career changes, finished degrees, business pivots including my own, etc.); imagined we’d write and perform an updated version of Čapek’s R.U.R. (the original story of robots) as a satirical play (or musical?!) using real—and really small—robots (thank you, Florian and Lauren for your passions to create!); became perhaps the first coworking space in the world to accept Bitcoin back in 2011, thanks to the time and passion from the creator of the first bitcoin mining pool and the first hardware BTC wallet, Trezor (thanks, Slush!); shared hundreds of lunches and dozens of pub nights with long conversations about philosophy, the future of work, inspiring entrepreneurial ideas, and ways we might all make the world a better place. Etc., etc., etc. Locus–Muzeum was an active center of my social-, work-, and creative life for 3 years, and it shared that center with Locus–Vinohrady for another 4 years.

R.U.R., the musical comedy?
It could have been the first show in the world with robots in the starring roles,
beating the above production by a year or two.

3. Closing Locus–Muzeum meant the end of a center for productive, enjoyable work

Bill King wrote the latest book for the World of Warcraft media empire in preparation for WoW–Legion and the Warcraft film (along with writing another five or ten books at Locus). Thanks, Bill, for helping make Locus proud! 
Illidan was lauded by many fans as the best storytelling the WoW universe has seen.

The saddest part about closing Locus, however, was knowledge of the effect it would have on the people who worked there. Locus was an active coworking space with about 50 members working out of that location at the time we closed (and hundreds of members from almost 50 countries over its seven years in operation). These members cared about Locus, helped make it what it was, and did not particularly want to see it close. Shutting down an office when it only affects you is one thing; for the most part it requires a simple weighing of financial costs and benefits. Closing an office when it impacts the well-being of dozens of others is an entirely different animal; not just a financial decision, but a moral one, and one that no doubt kept Locus–Muzeum running longer than it otherwise would have.

 

So, that’s most of what made closing Locus–Muzeum sad. But why relief and optimism? Just as the sadness came from saying goodbye to something good, the relief came from saying goodbye to some things not-so-good (and hello to something better). The optimism, on the other hand, comes from our anticipated future, a future that will be helped by consolidating Locus into a single Vinohrady location.

But this blog post is long enough already, so those two emotional stories—or at least emotion stories—will have to wait for another day.

— Will Bennis, Founder & CEO of Locus Workspace

The C in Coworking Space Also Stands for Community

We’re excited to be “syndicating” a blog post from Robin Terrell’s amazing blog on the future of work (with a particular emphasis on the location-independent variety): The Global Mobile Worker. This post in particular was meaningful to us because it’s about the meaning of community, and in particular the community Robin found (and helped create! – Thanks, Robin!) at Locus.

Along with creating this blog and being a member of Locus, Robin is a Berkeley-educated lawyer, a writer (her book, Two Broke Chicasa travelogue about her adventures traveling around Central & South America, Mexico, and Cuba with her partner–is available on Amazon), a technology / startup junkie, a proud Amazon employee.

We’re excited to be able to share her blog post here…

wordgram-of-cowork
When I first arrived in town I used Meetup to find people who shared common interest. That led me straight to Locus Coworking space. Once in the door, I quickly connected with both the startup community and the writing community, common members of co-working spaces. It has been almost three years now and although I never signed up to co-work at Locus, I realized that I spent time in one of the two spaces at least once a week.
When my new job took me away from Prague for months, my homecoming included reconnecting with my friends at Locus. I write every Saturday with a dedicated group, committed to various forms of media that involve the written word. We have bloggers, and novelists, and game script writers, and PhD students writing a thesis. We come from different countries, different generations, different genders. Our bond is a long-term fascination with words on a page.
It was through Locus that I joined my E-publishing Mastermind group that has single-handedly taken me from talking smack to preparing to upload my first ebook, Two Broke Chicas, a Travel Series, December 26th, just in time for people to use their Christmas gift cards and make their New Year’s Resolution to travel more. Mentor members, like successful sci-fi writer, Bill King, have made my dreams come true.
While plopped on a big fluffy couch to wait for the group to start, I realized how important Locus was to my social life, and sense of being, in Prague. What my virtual membership gave me access to, besides one day a month and access to my e-Publishing Mastermind group, was a community. A place I could belong with people who shared my passion for a flexible work life.

Community = Thrive

Just like we need a Tribe, we need a community. Research found that people who belong to a co-working space report levels of thriving that approach an average of 6 on a 7-point scale. This is at least a point higher than the average for employees who do their jobs in regular offices. Read more: Why People Thrive in Coworking Spaces
infographic-co-work
Grind, is a growing network of coworking spaces in New York and Chicago. Community manager, Anthony Marinos, shared, “When it comes to cultivating our community at Grind, we’re all about the human element. We consider ourselves as much a hospitality company as we do a workspace provider. Our staff knows all of our members by name and profession, and we’re constantly facilitating introductions between Grindists.”
Research in Forbes magazine showed that entrepreneurs with larger and more diverse networks grow their businesses bigger.Co-working spaces can be a place for women, known for being great communicators and collaborators, who don’t excel at building power networks can find a safe space to start. (Women tend to build deep and narrow networks women-networkwhile men wide and shallow ones.) I’ve added several women to my network from Locus, and started an informal dinner group to encourage young professional women to support each other, over a glass of wine.

Building Intentional Communities

Some experts believe that co-working space should be built more like intentional communities. Example, Brooklyn’s Friends Work Here. Founded by NYC-based Swiss-born designer and entrepreneur Tina Roth-Eisenberg, who’s also behind the international lecture series CreativeMornings (which happens monthly in Prague, but mostly in Czech) and Tattly. The space came as a response to Roth-Eisenberg’s negative experiences in “soulless” coworking places that are more focused on making money than cultivating inspiration among its members.

A Wealth of Human Resources

Locus is how I found my brief dog-sitting gig. I enjoyed several days of pretending to own a dog, forced to take several walks every day, which did wonders for my mental health. I’ve enjoyed people passing through town and people here for the duration, like my friend Sarah who first came when it was Czechslovakia, and still communist. She is at heart a historian, writes historical fiction, and loves talking about the history of this country she calls home, as a well-informed outsider.
It was hysterical and inspiring to sit in on Texas Holdem’ Poker night, where people from around the world turned into ruthless gamblers who might gut you for a pair of Ace. It was motivational to listen to Regina and Mike talk about becoming Courageously Free, and through that relationship I was interviewed for their podcast – which should be out just in time for my book launch.
There were people at Locus doing, looking for, thinking about the exact same things as I was. We all wanted to marry our fascination with social media and our passion for words. I could pick the brains of people who, like me, were inspired by Prague, determined to make their literary dreams come true. We figured out all kinds of ways to make money with words. My critique and Saturday writing buddy, Beth Green, will fix your words for a fee. Which still leaves her time to search for an agent for her first novel, represent on Booklust and @bethverde, and be a Wanderlust columnist at thedisplacednation.com.
My writing group has sustained me, in ways both creatively and emotionally, over noodles and pivo at the Vietnamese restaurant down the street from Locus. We’ve discussed our lives and our loves, U.S. and European politics and the meaning of feminism.
We’ve shared critique groups and book front-cover
launches, like Sonya’s soiree for Under a Caged Sky, held at Locus Slezka, where we toasted with glasses of wine under the skylight, with Prague as the backdrop.

Staying Engaged

partyOnce I’d had that moment of realization, that my co-working space was my community, I started to look around for other ways to participate. Engaged in the social media connection and found easy, fun ways to stay involved. I am looking forward to the Christmas Party catered by Ethnocatering, a social enterprise of migrant women that serves authentic food from Georgia, Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Armenian. You can’t find this deliciousness in restaurants. I know, I said it, that bad M word. Well, I must own it because here in Prague, I’m a migrant. A tax paying, law abiding expat seeking shelter and new beginnings.
I know I’m not alone in this revelation and would love you to share your experience of finding community in co-working spaces. Tell us your story in the comment section here at the Global Mobile Worker Project.

“Embarrassing confessions of a coworking space”; or “The evolution of a ‘clean your dishes’ message”

Dirty dishes have a negative effect on the coworking space for all members. The vast majority of members clean their own dishes and are annoyed by those few who don’t. It’s usually just glasses and mugs and spoons: easy things to clean. Given most coworking spaces’ strong commitment to the value of community it might seem that getting members to consistently pitch in and clean their dishes would be one of the easier challenges in running a coworking space.

Not so. Dirty dishes persist. And it’s not just the case for Locus Workspace: it seems to be an acknowledged problem for coworking spaces generally, including those well-known for their strong sense of community. Nonetheless, perhaps for the reasons just noted, it is not without some sense of… embarrassment? fear? impropriety?… that coworking spaces admit the problem. And now it’s Locus’s turn to air it’s dirty laundry dishes. Or at least to talk about some of the things we’ve done to try to end our tragedy of the commons (unfortunately without the greatest record of success).

We started from day one with the “Locus Rules“. Every person who joins Locus has to read the rules and click a box indicating that they read them. The rules are short, and cleaning up after yourself, including doing your dishes, is one of the few things members commit to (just in case they thought they were renting a serviced office rather than joining a coworking space). That worked for the most part when we were a very small coworking space, probably because members are more inclined to clean up after themselves than not, regardless of the rules.

But over time as the space grew, more and more dishes seemed to pile up in and around the sink. We joked about different things that might put a stop to it. We could just put a picture of a person looking at us above the sink. That seems to work! Better yet, make the onlooker in the image of Jesus (can you tell that one of my other hats is as a moral psychologist?).

How about surveillance cameras! But Locus (or to be fair, just I) had already been the butt of some members’ parody of the “Locus Rules,” turning it from a “Community Workspace” into a “Communist Workspace”.

Maybe surveillance cameras aren’t the key to building a strong community?
Instead we went for increasing the number of days the cleaning person comes and just reminding members periodically to clean their dishes and not be jerks. The problem persisted, but until recently seemed to stay pretty stable without getting too out of hand.

But over the months and even years the dish problem has occasionally reared its ugly head. Inspired more recently by a blog post from another coworking space owner who seems to have done wonders at building a strong sense of community (hats of to Angel K., founder of Cohere in Fort Collins, Colorado), we tried blatant plagiarism.

An image from Angel’s blog post, “the most effective message to date”:

 

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” right? Anyway, here was our version:

There are a lot of reasons I’m not crazy about this note. First, I’m not a big fan of plagiarism (neither is the community manager who put it up at my suggestion), despite the fact that in this context it doesn’t seem like a big deal, the original version was posted as a recommendation about what works to other coworking spaces managers, and adding a citation in this context would presumably undermine the message.
Second, it’s not the kind of language Czechs would use lightly, and Vlaďka is Czech (I remember signing a letter to a Czech back in the day when people wrote letters, “Love, Will” and being told–uncomfortably–that she didn’t know I felt that way about her). I guess Czechs have since become more familiar with English peculiarities, but the experience has stuck with me.
Third, it just doesn’t communicate how many of us feel about the dirty dishes in and around the sink. “Don’t be a jerk,” or, “We’re not your maids!” better sums it up. But I generally feel extremely lucky to have the group of members we have at Locus, so an angry sounding note that only applies to a small fraction of the members doesn’t strike the right tone either. But the “Cohere” message still felt to me like it didn’t have an authentic Locus tone.
So I was somewhat happy to see another community manager make light of the first message:
In case you can’t read it, here’s what it says:

“Washing a dish is not torture /

Unless it ends up in the mortu- /
ary.”
Still, while I like keeping things on the humorous side, the more words we use, the less likely people are to read them, and the more fun we poke, the less likely people are to take the whole thing seriously. Unsure what to do, however, I succumbed to a classic case of decision paralysis and did nothing at all.
Still, the dish problem has not improved.
Happily, I’m lucky to have another incredible community manager who has a knack for saying things directly and without pulling punches, without it being offensive. So here’s the newest version of the “do your dishes” wall of fame:

 

In case you can’t read it, here’s what it says:
“GUYS,
WE DO HAVE
DISH WASHER!!!
IF YOU DO NOT LIKE
WASHING UP YOU DO
NOT HAVE TO.
BUT! DO NOT LEAVE!
CUPS & GLASSES IN SINK.
IT TAKES 3 SEC TO
PUT IT IN DISHWASHER
& KARMA IS FOR FREE.
NO LOVE, LENKA”
Now there’s a message I can get behind. And behind that “No Love” don’t you just feel the love?!
Now what do we do about the kitchen without a dishwasher?

Coworking or Working in a Home Office

I have now experienced both working from home and working from a coworking space.  Both have their advantages and disadvantages. As my business changes from freelancing to bringing others on board to help, a home office is no longer suitable.

 
In an ideal world having both a home office and a desk in a coworking environment is the best option.  There are days when it would be great just to stay at home and relax more than I would in an office.  Very occasionally I miss having an office at home during the weekends. – I have ended up working weekends three or four times during the year, so it is not a huge drawback going to the office.

The Benefits of a Home Office

I always like the time saving when working from home.  Breakfast, shower, then work – rather than having to spend time going to an office.  I have sometimes found myself not leaving the house for two or three days, I am sure that is not great for my mental welfare.

Young Children and Home Office

My youngest is now nineteen months.  For the first two months, it was great working from home – though I did a lot less work than normal.  To be there to help was good for everyone.

Not Being Around Other People

I can find other people trying.  It is often much easier to separate myself and get on with work.  I have worked in places where co-workers would be highly negative, be very loud, interrupt with a bloody cat video that you really have to watch because it is such a laugh – there are times when people can drive me mad.
 
However, while working from home I found that a day or two could pass without having a conversation with anyone except my other half in the evening.  Sometimes the isolation was so much that I would walk to the shop just to get out of the house.  So my high points on personal interaction was a brief conversation with a shop assistant.  Not great.

Quiet

At times I need complete quiet around me for some tasks that require deep concentration or while creating videos.  It is impossible in an open office to have good sound quality on videos while others are talking nearby.
 
Thankfully the coworking space I inhabit has a meeting room.

High Self Discipline

During the last ten years, I have worked from home about half of the time.  This has created great self-discipline.  No matter what is going on around me I can sit down and get on with the work at hand.

The Benefits of Coworking

I work now from Locus in Prague.  For my clients, it would make no difference what city I was in.  I have met a few coworkers that use this flexibility to live in and see other cities in Europe.

Professional Environment

Only once while working from home was my office not a spare bedroom. Even then that office turned into a bit of a store room. Due to remotely working with clients I use video and screen share.
I find it embarrassing to have a bed or storage boxes in the background while having calls.  I know many do not like this – but image is hugely important in business, (and in life).  First impression matter.
 
It does not matter if others are in the background having calls or talking while I am on a call – this is what I expect in any office.

Office Address

Like most other around me, I find most of my business via my website.  I have seen competitors use their home address on their website.  It does not look professional; at least a virtual membership in a coworking space looks after this aspect.
 
Additionally, most coworking spaces are in the centre of cities.  This makes it easier to meet with clients.
 
Google local is likely the most important part of SEO for many smaller local businesses. It is much better to turn up in these searches in the middle of a city with higher search volume than in some small village or town.

Everything is Organised

The internet connection is fast and I never have to touch it.  The coffee machine works and I never have to clean it.  The trash is emptied and I never have to think about it.  You get the picture.
A large amount of trivial items that have to be organised in your own office are there and working.  This lets me just get on with work, instead of making lists of things that need to be done that steal away my time.

Being Around Other People

I run a few websites and an SEO company.  Ideas come more often when interacting with others.  I get information from people about tools for writing, publishing, project management, the list is endless.  I understand that I can look up this information online.  Running websites has imbued me with a lack of trust in most information online – everyone has an agenda – as one of my philosophy lecturers who was also a priest told me, as I was arguing about his agenda.
 
We started a mastermind group that includes six members.  We meet every two weeks, talk about problems, set goals, and are held accountable for these.  This has improved my work tremendously forcing me to regularly review goals and stick with them.

Separation of Work and Home

I have been out of my home office and back in coworking for the last three months. This has been the biggest advantage – when I am at home I am not thinking about work and at work I am not thinking of home.
 
While working at home, sometime during breakfast my head would move into work and I was less present for my family.  Lunch could be a challenge to talk about non-work related subjects.  I would eat my lunch and head right back to my office.
 
Now I find myself talking more with my other half during lunch on the phone than I did while working at home – who would have guessed?

Better Concentration Skills

Over time, concentration skills become better if you work in environments that are not completely quiet.  This can be difficult in the beginning and some perseverance is required.  But you can end up being able to work anywhere, which is a great habit to develop.
 

I have made my choice, working in the company of other people is more stimulating, encouraging, and motivational for my temperament. Leslie writes on his own blog, but more often on his company website.

The Benefits of Coworking – a Personal Perspective

Much has been written about the psychological benefits of coworking and being with others. In my case, it has been personal experience that has convinced me of the advantages.

I moved to the Czech Republic from the UK in 2000, and started working as a freelance editor, journalist and translator in 2002. In my early days as a freelancer I worked from home and didn’t mind; in many ways there was no choice because no coworking spaces existed in Prague back then. Cafés are a favourite haunt of freelancers, but much as I love idling away the hours in Prague’s coffee houses, working in them didn’t have much appeal, because I associate them with relaxation rather than earning a living.

But when I started freelancing full-time again in 2011, after several years working for an employer or regularly for a company on an external basis, I found that working at home didn’t have much appeal either. I had learned to be more disciplined and less distracted over the years, but I had also become much more outgoing and sociable than I used to be. And while I have many introverted personality traits and am happy to spend time on my own, I missed the interaction with people in an office, and the structure and routine offered by such an environment.

Thankfully coworking had then become firmly established in Prague, and I spent time at a number of the city’s coworking spaces. I went through a particularly difficult period in 2012 and 2013, when work from clients dried up. The situation has turned around, but coworking was of enormous benefit psychologically during those challenging days. It was a huge boost to be with others, not sitting at home moping. I also made new friends from different backgrounds and countries. I get a buzz from meeting new people from different places, and coworking was a brilliant opportunity to do so. I also appreciated the fact that I could be with likeminded people, socialize with them and go to lunch with them – without any of the office politics that employees have to negotiate.

The positive environment around me also undoubtedly helped me raise my productivity levels and get more done during the day. I am certain that I would not have achieved as much by working at home. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could balance work and having time for breaks and chatting to other coworkers, and getting to know them.

David Creighton