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We’ve gone full tilt on co-op exploration!

Exploring Cooperative Ownership

Can a coworking space be owned – and operated – by the members who use it?

Works Progress is exploring the feasibility – and desirability – of transitioning from a traditional one-owner business to a member-owned cooperative.

Marnee Chua, Co-Founder

Why are we doing this? What does it mean? Will it cost more money?

While we don’t know the answer yet to all of your questions, we have created this fact sheet as a step toward helping our members, possible future members, and our neighborhood community explore the concept.

If you read through this and have immediate ideas, concerns or questions, please email me at marnee@worksprogressseattle.com.

In addition to the FAQ below, we will try to send updates every month as the process moves through the feasibility study.

Works Progress Coworking Feasibility FAQ:

Why are you doing this?

You may be wondering why I am encouraging the idea of transitioning from owning my own business to creating a member-owned business. The truth is that I’ve always been a little bit in love with the cooperative business model. And, after six years of running Works Progress, I have begun to think more about the long-term lifespan of our community. If I don’t run it forever, who would be the next best owner?

I firmly believe that the transition to a member-owned cooperative would solve the question of long-term sustainability of our coworking community. I also think that members who also owned the space would love it even more.

Is this a done deal?

No. We have enough interested members right now to run a feasibility study and learn more about what this particular business model would look like as a co-op.

The only thing moving forward at this time is a feasibility study to learn if it’s worth doing.

Now is a great time to submit your ideas and concerns to either myself (marnee@worksprogressseattle.com) or Mary (mary@worksprogressseattle.com), who is the chair of our exploration committee.

What cooperative model(s) are you exploring?

Have you been to PCC Market or REI? We are looking into this form of consumer or member-owned cooperative (where consumers have a choice to buy into membership – or not).

This model provides the opportunity for an independent, democratic, and community-owned coworking community that anyone can join.

Member shares of the co-op would be an equity investment in Works Progress, and these would help to purchase supplies and equipment (like better chairs!), finance operations, and minimize outside debt. Owners would also support the co-op through patronage of the workspace and event space, and by participating in the co-op’s democratic processes, like voting in elections or serving on a board of directors.

Would I have to be a member-owner to use the space?

Probably not. Unless solid financial reasons change our minds, we are thinking that anyone will be able to use the space as a regular coworking member, regardless of whether or not they purchase cooperative equity ownership in the business.

Will my rates go up?

The Works Progress rates are increasing in 2019 independent of whether or not we form a cooperative, if you haven’t checked out the new pricing plan, you can find it here. If a transition to a member-owned cooperative becomes a reality, the expenses and costs of running the coworking business will be managed by a core group of member-owners, primarily the board of directors – to be elected by the community.

One of the benefits of moving to a cooperative model is usually financial, in fact, we hope that the overall result is that your prices will go down as a member-owner! That’s because owners may be eligible for a dividend at the end of the year based on their patronage of the space and the profit margin of the business that year.

How much will membership cost?

This hasn’t been decided yet and will significantly depend on the feasibility study. There are lots of models to draw on for this and the exploration committee will be researching these, as well as reviewing the business financials.

What is the expected time commitment to members?

The cooperative model does not mean that you have to become a volunteer. If you are a regular member-owner, with no volunteer commitments, we don’t anticipate that you will need to spend more time on the governance of the coworking space, other than voting in elections. Of course, we still love you more when you make coffee and take out the garbage.

In fact, your friendly Community Cultivator may be here more often, not less. Further, as the cooperative develops over time, staff positions may receive better benefits than they do currently. This will be a positive benefit for retention of our awesome staff.

If you have been voted on to the board of directors, you may expect to spend between 5-20 hours per month assisting with space governance, planning, and business management. A healthy board will be between 5-7 people. Depending on finances, board members may also be compensated an honorarium for their time spent assisting the community and will likely hold up to two-year commitments.

There will still be volunteer opportunities: Works Progress has always had at least 2 volunteer positions for members who want to help out with tours, events, advertising, and managing reception. Members who apply for these positions take on a minimum six-month commitment to working 10 hours per week in exchange for a dedicated desk. We fully anticipate that these positions, and possibly others, will continue to be part of our business model.

What are the benefits for our community and me, specifically, to become a member-owner?

Cooperatives often have benefits in addition to community, ownership, shared values, and democratic participation. As an owner, you will be supporting a successful independent business that’s rooted in your community.

What additional benefits are developed will be guided by our members – the people we serve – and the ever-changing needs of todays’ working professional.

Some examples of benefits that a cooperative could provide include:

  • Increased business assistance for members, including accounting, scheduling, and marketing;
  • Travel protection plans and special pricing on trips;
  • Annual dividend based on your patronage;
  • Member-only special offers;
  • Discounts on classes and events;
  • Increased opportunities to give back to the local community;
  • Maybe: Collective health insurance and retirement savings options.

Does Works Progress have outside debt that co-op members would be paying off?

No. Works Progress is, at this point, 100% owner invested with owner capitol provided by both original owners. 

What happens if we don’t transition to a co-op?

Nothing much will change, you will be forced to continue to endure my constant desire to move the furniture and torture you on holidays. I am committed to the long-term success of Works Progress – I hope you will be too!

I don’t need to use the coworking space, but I’m interested in supporting Works Progress as a place for small businesses to thrive and for event hosting in our neighborhood, could I purchase a membership?

At this time, we anticipate membership to be open for anyone and we hope you’ll consider joining! If you are interested in learning more and ongoing updates, please let us know at info@worksprogressseattle.com.

What is a co-op anyway?

A co-op is a business owned and operated by and for its members. Co-ops aren’t owned by a single individual or speculative investors. They are based on shared ownership by people who have a personal stake in the business and its profits. Co-ops are a powerful economic alternative, one that acknowledges our interconnectedness and leverages our shared resources. If we move forward, Works Progress may become the first legally structured cooperative coworking space in the United States!

Co-ops act to fulfill their members’ needs and put their values into action. While co-ops are for-profit, they operate to serve their members, and follow cooperative values and principles. As envisioned by the Rochdale Pioneers, who spearheaded the modern cooperative movement, co-ops should embody the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity.

As far as we know, Works Progress would become the first coworking cooperative in the United States, and part of a global movement of cooperatives. There are over 2.6 million co-ops in the world, employing 250 million workers and owned by around one billion members. Cooperation helps communities meet local needs and have more control over their resources, like food, healthcare, housing, equipment, access to markets, and their own labor. Cooperatives nurture a long-term vision for sustainable economic growth, social development and environmental responsibility. Get a global perspective on co-ops from the International Cooperative Alliance.