Coworking & Business Incubation

I'm coworking. I love my coworkers. I love “going into the office.” I love what I do. It's a strange thing for me to be writing because I don't have a “real job;” I got laid off from my “real job” two years ago. And, like many people, I haven't been able to find a “real job” since. So, like many people, I have carved out my own niche and grabbed opportunities when they appear. I adapted to the new realities of the world. Part of that new reality is a fabulous coworking community called Sierra Commons. They support my work. And, much to my own surprise, I have found work that I love.

Coworking can be defined as a method of work in which individuals share a common work space and have access to many of the tools and facilities that all small businesses and startups need to function effectively. Coworking allows those with a non-traditional job to have access to a traditional working facility. Ilana DeBare of the San Francisco Chronicle characterized coworking in a 2007 article as a “social gathering of a group of people who are still working independently, but who share values.” For Sierra Commons in Nevada City, the description is wholly accurate.

Samantha Hinrichs, who grew up in rural Nevada County on the outskirts called “The Ridge,” recently started her own business. She runs the nationally renowned “Mud and Pearls,” an organization that teaches skills traditionally held by men, to women. She has offered classes on blacksmithing and chainsaws, and has an incredible upcoming opportunity for cob-building. She notes, Working in a coworking space hones my skills, sharpens my wit, and allows me to bounce ideas off my coworkers; it makes my business lean, sharp, and focused. It would be much messier [without Sierra Commons.] Since becoming a member, her business has taken off.

I am seeing a world that is changing. I am witnessing a way of working and a career path that is more suited to my values.

In his book Sacred Economics, Charles Eisenstein notes,

In the past we always had a choice of what to do with gains in efficiency: work less or consume more. Compelled by a growth-dependent money system, we consistently chose the latter. Instead of working less hard to meet existing needs more easily, we have constantly created new needs to meet or, more often, transferred needs from the gift into the money realm or sought to fulfill infinite needs with finite things. Such has driven our ascent, the development of our gifts of hand and mind. Though the cost to nature, culture, spirit, and humanity has been high, this development is not without its rightful purpose. Today, as the natural and cultural commonwealth is exhausted, the context of our choice — work less or consume more — is changing. The age of ascent is winding to a close, and we seek to apply the gifts we have developed toward their true purpose in a new relationship to Earth.

I am seeing Eisenstein's vision emerge. So many of us have worked for too long without having a purpose. Today when I work, I work for something, not at something.

When the non-profit that I volunteer with needed help administering a grant to promote the use of food stamps at our farmers' markets, I jumped at the chance to help. Opportunity had knocked. 

For the first few months of my new “job,” I'd sit in my living room with my unruly cats, trying to organize a binder full of paperwork. I would haul it to coffee shops and try to find space to fire up my tiny notebook computer and get on the Internet to fulfill my obligations to my new “job.” I would do this day after day. And I was really lonely. I missed having coworkers. I missed having a workspace. I missed taking walks with people and eating lunch with people. I figured that because I was in a job doing my own thing, I was on my own. I learned recently that nothing could be further from the truth.

Starting to Cowork

Sierra Commons is a coworking facility in the historic gold-rush town of Nevada City. We are a rural county. Nevada City is the seat of that rural county. By some accounts, Sierra Commons is the only rural coworking facility in the United States. (I have no evidence to refute this. Though I would love to hear about other efforts, if there are some.)

At Sierra Commons, we share a fax machine, a copier, and an address. There is a conference room, a kitchen space, and outside patio area.  But we share so much more than that. Like so many other coworking groups and businesses, Sierra Commons creates opportunities for business development and networking by providing workshops, seminars, and patio mixers. 

Max Norton, the president of the board of Sierra Commons, which operates as a non-profit entity, shares this: Coworking offers an opportunity for people from all walks of life to try entrepreneurship, and the evidence shows it increases their chances of success. If we care about making our economic recovery long-lasting and sustainable, then we need to do all we can to boost the chances of entrepreneurs—including and maybe especially those whose businesses contribute to resource sustainability. Norton makes it clear that the coworking model offers the future now.

When I found Sierra Commons, I was overjoyed. Being a rural member of our society, I didn't have regular access to high-speed Internet and had spotty cell phone reception at best. Former executive director of Sierra Commons, Robert Trent, notes, Most people would agree that a fast internet connection, telephone, and something to write with are all vital for conducting business. To me, coworking is another fundamental component of my consulting career. Trent has since moved on as the director of a major economic development organization in our community.

For me, coworking has been the answer to a very real problem. I needed a place to do my work. (If you have cats at home, you know what I mean.) I needed a facility that could offer me the traditional amenities of an office. I needed a desk, a fax machine, and high-speed Internet. But more than that, more than any of that, I needed a community.

Coworking has provided that community. It has provided me with so many opportunities. There is something to be said for working amongst others. In the past two months of working at Sierra Commons, I have gotten more work done than I had gotten done in the half-year prior. My ideas have blossomed and my hiccups are now no more than a virtual blip on my working career. When I hit a wall, I have people off whom to bounce ideas. I no longer have to be alone.

I am a part of a tribe. I am supported. I have help. I am a coworker.

Coworking Resources:

~ Hilary Hodge


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