The Potential Energy in Coworking

When I look at a coworking space I see potential energy. Remember that concept from middle school science class? Kinetic energy is what you have when things are in motion. However, potential energy is invisible. It’s just sitting inside an object waiting to be released into kinetic energy. A tennis ball sitting on a table has potential energy, a tennis ball bouncing around a room has kinetic energy.

Don’t get me wrong, there is certainly a lot of kinetic energy in a coworking space. The conversations, the typing, the laughing and all the work that happens day-in-and-day-out. Some days are quieter than others, the kinetic energy is a little bit lower, while other days it seems like the space isn’t enough to hold all the action happening inside its walls.

Kinetic energy is great, but it’s not what gets me excited about coworking. I’m interested in all the potential energy that is just waiting to be released. What does potential energy look like in a coworking space?

  1. The serendipitous connections just waiting to be made: You’re struggling with a coding problem that has you absolutely stumped. You haven’t met the guy next to you, yet, but little do you know he just responded to a question on Quora that precisely relates to what’s driving you crazy. Or, as you hold the door open for someone as you enter the space you realize she’s wearing the t-shirt of the start-up your buddy just started and they’re looking for a consultant. The opportunities are nearly endless for all of these connections to happen in a coworking space.
  2. The member-led workshop that changes your business: You decide to sit in on a workshop that your coworking buddy is giving. Not because you’re super interested in the topic, but more of a show of support. Little do you know he ends up saying something that solves a very specific, yet annoying problem, in your own business and/or life. Boom, potential energy turns into kinetic.
  3. The beer with a coworker that solidifies a business deal: You head to happy hour with a friend you made at your local coworking space. You’ve built up a friendship over the past couple of months, have bounced ideas around with each other, and have landed on something you’re both excited to pursue. What was once a small nibble of an idea in the back of your head has become an actual project.

You get the idea. A coworking space is as ripe a place as any you’ll find to change potential energy into kinetic. What does it take, though? A tennis ball won’t fall of the table by itself. It needs something; it needs a nudge.

Have You Answered The Nudge?

Your coworking space owner or manager may be the one who lands that successful nudge. I’m sure they’re emailing you with announcements and opportunities all the time. Have you tuned them out or do you still read every email? Have you considered going to the after-hours get together or the lunch-hour brainstorm session — just to see what it’s like?

Maybe the nudge takes the form of one your coworkers convincing you to go to a workshop with them. Or maybe you convince someone to go with you. Maybe you can nudge yourself with the thought that with nothing ventured, nothing gained. The nice thing about stepping out of your comfort zone once (and potential energy IS comfortable, there’s no doubt about it) is that it ends up taking much less effort the next time you want to do it. One small success acts as a catalyst for the next time you want to change some potential energy into kinetic. It’s cumulative and exponential and you can act as the nudge to get the newest member involved in the process.

Potential energy has never changed the world. It’s only when we release that potential that we begin making connections, making changes, and seeing positive change in ourselves, our spaces, and if I may be so bold, the world.

Sam Spurlin is an American graduate student studying the intersection between developmental and organizational psychology. He writes and coaches at and is spending the summer in Prague working in Locus Workspace. He’ll be sharing his thoughts and observations about coworking here for the next couple of months. You can follow him on Twitter (@samspurlin) or send him an email (samspurlin AT gmail DOT com).

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