Tucked into the back section of a multi-level, funky office building between CSU campus and Old Town Fort Collins, Cohere Coworking abides. Decorated with vintage furniture, a pastel palette, and a bohemian style, I feel at home in its cozy rooms. The quirky decor is between garage sale chic and Anthropologie, which I love, and as I sink into a couch in the communal robin’s egg living room I experience the general warmth that comes from more than just homey furniture. The lack of any corporate accouterments makes me feel at ease, thoughtful, and open. There’s no thin gray carpet, no hotel art, not a stainless doorknob or fluorescent light in sight.
As I wait I overhear several conversations between Coherians in the attached kitchen. Topics range from feedback on a pamphlet color scheme to crunchy versus smooth peanut butter and from client referrals to “whose bombass Indian leftovers are those in the fridge?” This relaxed chatter, combined with work collaboration, makes me nostalgic for the communities of my past: the shared house in college, the arts commune in Norway; it made me miss the teacher’s lounge griping and support, and my family crammed around the kitchen table gossiping and making pierogi.
How can that feeling of belonging be created? I know it can’t be falsely manufactured but must be fostered, but how? Cohere Coworking members seem more than tolerant of one another; they seem to rely on each other like a family rather than a team, like friends rather than people who work in the same building. As I interviewed Angel Kwiatkowski it became increasingly clear that the warmth I experienced is no accident.
I asked founding coworker, Julie Sutter, about what Cohere has that makes it so special. I wanted to understand how this community could feel so genuine. In the several years its been open Cohere hasn’t just paid lip service to community as another bullet point in a mission statement but has shown it to be a real priority.
“My experience with the culture of Cohere is that it somehow provides members with connections that are authentic enough to last for YEARS. Like I’m pretty sure I could reach out to any of the original Coherians today, and ask for their help in solving a problem, and I would not just get answers … I’d get rapid, thoughtful, empathetic, and practical answers. How that happened, I’m not entirely sure, but I’d point to the careful cultivation of community members and a consideration of fit, plus an ongoing approach toward community building that ensures you actually get to know one another. Not just the work stuff, but the life stuff, too. Cohere operates from a place of transparency and genuine human interaction, and never forgets there are people behind the businesses that land there.”
I’d venture to say a huge reason Julie found Cohere so transparent, humane, and supportive still is that the founder, Angel, has always been the constant.
Following a stint at Otterbox as the head of HR, Angel sought her own path in Fort Collins. When she heard of coworking, Angel thought it sounded like fun. “People doing stuff, working together, talking, fostering community: that’s what I love,” says Angel. She started a drop-in weekly coworking day at the Innosphere to test the concept and shortly the conference table was packed, they ran out of chairs, and ended up breaking the Innosphere internet. When Suzanne Akin, a local screen printer, designer, and owner of Akinz “a handcrafted lifestyle brand for the adventurer at heart,” arrived on the first day of coworking, Angel knew she had found something special. Within a few months Angel opened a small coworking space primarily because people who work alone were grasping for human connection and this seemed like the solution.
According to this Harvard Business Review study 40% of American workers report being lonely. “It’s an epidemic,” says Angel, citing the deleterious effects loneliness has on relationships, mental wellness, and even physical health. “Humans are wired for connectedness and yet we are spending more and more time alone on our devices experiencing “thin” human contact,” says Angel. Ironically our interconnectedness is the reason we’ve evolved, evolved to have the technology to work remotely, support the gig economy, and work when and wherever we want.
Angel says there are several reasons to choose Cohere or another coworking space over the life of a coffee shop nomad: the peer pressure of others working, not having to pack up your laptop whenever you need the bathroom, built-in second opinions of others you trust, ownership in the space around you, and the amenities of a work space. But friendship and the community earned through friendship is Angel’s highest good. Cohere is “heart-centered.” “We’re not a product or a service, but a lifestyle,” opines Angel. Coworking, by its very nature, offers the two factors needed for friendship= proximity + repetition. But it also takes time, a few hundred hours according to some studies. The organic community I witnessed was the natural outcome of this simple but vital equation.
What matters to Angel and Coherians isn’t what a person does for work, but who they are. The intake process at Cohere doesn’t involve the question, “What do you do?” because “Who are you?” and “Why are you here?” and “How do you work?” are better questions when trying to understand a person. Incidentally, there are almost as many professions represented at Cohere are there are members (98 as of publication).
Not only does Cohere enrich the lives of its members with friendships, “We save lives,” says Angel in all seriousness. Coherians have undergone mental health crises, received devastating news, and shared vulnerable moments with their colleagues. On one occasion a Coherian experienced a major life-threatening episode and his coworkers were able to get him medical attention. As remote workers, these folks would be utterly alone without this community. Or dead.
I asked Julie how coworking enriches not only the lives of those who do it but the greater society in which we all reside. She aptly responded,
“Coworking enriches the community at large. For one: it’s a way for people to find connection with others, particularly in a world where you can actually do a big part of your job every single day without face-to-face human interaction. As much as I found working independently to be productive and liberating, it can also be isolating and way less inspiring if you’re never around other people. Also, creative collaborations become so much easier when you can swivel around in your chair and ask another coworker to team up with you, or to bid on an additional project for an existing client. Or sometimes you can just plain outsource something to your neighbor immediately and entirely. So coworking accelerates economic opportunities while simultaneously creating close-knit connections. Neat!”
Natalie Scarlett is a freelance writer, editor, journalist, and teacher in Fort Collins, Colorado. She is the founder of Huckleberry Literary and Cipher Creative Productions. In addition to loving all things literary she directs original film, theater, and movement pieces. Her writing has been published in Splat, Aspect: Ratio, Mid-American Review, and (Salt) Arts and Culture Magazine. She likes to write about Fort Collins local color, immersive theater, and any kind of art.