An Interview with Jacob Sayles

Jacob SaylesJacob Sayles started Office Nomads in Seattle in 2007 with his business partner, Susan Evans. He is an active contributor to the International Coworking Group, a moderator for the Coworking Wiki, and is the manager of Nadine, an open source coworking software project.

Do you remember how you first heard about coworking?
I had a dream brewing for many years of a space that looked like a coffee shop and was also an intentional office for a number of different companies. The idea kept changing, and then a friend suggested I check out what they were doing in San Francisco. This was in early 2007. A few Google searches later I discovered Hat Factory, Citizen Space, and the word “Coworking.” I knew this was the direction I wanted to go in.

What do you mean by “intentional?”
People use coffee shops as workspaces, but that’s the space’s secondary intention. The primary intention is to sell coffee. It might seem like a minor point, but intention goes a long way in defining the culture of a space.

What do you like best about coworking?
Coworking is a great counterexample to old ways of doing business. It makes the traditional notion of competition look absurd and outdated. It is also a lifestyle choice with many rich rewards.

Have you ever used the Coworking Wiki before?
I discovered the wiki around the same time I discovered coworking. I became an active contributor and gardener of the wiki shortly after. I helped take over moderating the site a few years ago in order to reduce the spam.

What did you think of it?
I love the potential. It’s an expression of how excited we all are to share our experiences and the knowledge we’ve gained opening and participating in our local coworking communities. That said, it’s also an expression of how difficult it is to organize ourselves when we are so diverse and spread out.

What would you most like to see changed about it?
The current wiki is mostly hands-off. People step in, do a little work, and step out. Also, there’s an assumption that since we are all so personally invested in the wider coworking movement, our passion will overcome any disorganization. That’s not really how it works, and it shows. I think the answer to this problem is right in front of us in the coworking spaces we run. Every space is a community of people as well as distributed tasks. As space operators, we provide the necessary structure for our local communities to function efficiently, and I want to find a similar, optimal, and minimal structure for the wiki. That is why I’ve been focused on having a wiki team.

What’s your role with the upgrade project?

I wouldn’t say I have an official title. I’m coordinating a lot of the project. Director? I think that sounds a little pretentious.

Maybe. But in a good way.

What inspired you to get involved with the wiki upgrade?
I don’t believe the current state of the wiki is an accurate representation of our collective talent, passion, or drive to collaborate. I know that with a little elbow grease we can create something we all can be very proud to be a part of.

What do you want the coworking community to know about the project?
While I’ve publicized the plan and I’m stepping in to coordinate the early stages of the execution, this project belongs to all of us. I’ve been very appreciative of everyone who has offered to help out, and there is a place for everyone. I am also very open to feedback and would love to discuss any or all of the project in more detail if anyone has more questions or ideas about where it could go.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered so far with the project?
Getting the word out about the project has been surprisingly more difficult than we’d originally thought. With so many people on the Google group and at the conference in Austin, we thought everyone would know about this with a few simple shout-outs. Turns out most people are pretty busy with their local communities, and many still don’t know about the project at all.

How are you dealing with it?
While it’s frustrating to not have the communications channels we assumed we had, it also reassures me that what we are doing is exactly what needs to be done. We are reaching out to spaces individually by picking up the phone and calling them. It’s a much more personal approach and a good fit for the kind of business we are in.

What’s the best office prank you’ve ever heard about?
When we got back from SXSW a few years ago the team had gift wrapped everything on Susan’s desk, and made a huge cardboard box around my desk. It’s a good thing we don’t escalate things every time someone leaves town or things would be a little crazy by now.

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