By Kris Chari
When I talk about “our experience” below, I’m referring to the London coworking space Sam Glendenning and I set up.
Set Goals and Find Space (~30 hours)
What value does a coworking space add?
- EAs do valuable work, and the space can make them more productive.
- People form social bonds that keep them motivated to do the most good. Socializing happens more naturally than at an organized EA social.
- People bounce ideas off each other and learn from each other, which makes their plans more robust and higher impact.
- Students in your space are inspired to pursue high-impact careers as they interact with EA professionals in your space.
You might want to think about which of these sources of value are largest, and then optimize most heavily for those.
Below is an example of how you might reason about the value of your space, although please do this yourself and don’t use the actual reasoning below. The numbers below are totally made up.
Disclaimer: Don’t copy the reasoning below. It’s probably mistaken in important ways, so after you read it try to reason through the impact of your space on your own.
- You might ask yourself whether your space reduces burnout. Hypothetically, if 10% of professional EAs would burn out each year, that’s equivalent to a 10% annual reduction in total output. A great coworking space can help reduce that! (And less good coworking spaces could actually increase burn out.)
- Maybe your coworking space makes professionals some amount more productive? If it makes professional EAs, say, 20% more productive, that’s equivalent to adding 20% to their total annual output.
- What about how it engages students? Maybe it engages them more, provides a supportive community, exposes them to more exciting ideas, and shows them that working on high-impact projects is a viable career path. As a result, perhaps 2 additional students per year actually choose a high-impact career as a result of the coworking space.
- People will probably be exposed to ideas they haven’t heard before, have their cause prioritization challenged, have new project ideas suggested to them, and engage in lots of other discussions that help them maximize impact better. We thought that productive discussions would help people hit multipliers. A productive discussion can 10x the impact of someone’s work, and many productive discussions can make it orders of magnitude better.
- For example, switching from GiveDirectly to AMF could 8x someone’s impact, and switching from AMF to a farmed animal welfare intervention could again 10x their impact (80x the original impact). Maybe they do some really exciting longtermist project that’s at least 13x as impactful, and the scale of their impact increases even more to >1000x their original impact.
- If everyone had one really productive discussion per year as a result of the coworking space, total annual output would 10x, or an increase of 900%.
- In practice, it’s more likely to be unevenly distributed. But that means that if everyone was doing equally valuable work to start with but then half the people got zero good ideas and half the people got two good ideas, total output would 50.5x, or an increase of 4950%!
- Many things would change this number. For example, maybe the most impactful people hit the fewest multipliers because they’ve already hit most of them. Or maybe some people just hit lots of multipliers, so 1000x increases aren’t that rare.
- We concluded that although we’d make basic investments in people productivity, most of the value would actually come from their interactions with each other.
- So we made half of the office a dedicated social space with a variety of cushy, floor, and table seating, each optimized for 2–3 person interactions where we expect most multipliers to come from. We also turned part of the space into a dining area where people get lunch and dinner together.
- We put whiteboards everywhere, and literally turned one entire wall into a giant whiteboard using whiteboard paint.
- We also created an explicit policy of “You can always talk as much as you want wherever you want whenever you want”. And everyone else can wear our provided noise-cancelling headphones. This made some people avoid our space on days they wanted to work in a quiet area, but this seemed like a worthwhile tradeoff.
- Our basic investments in productivity were still significant, like 32” 4K monitors, keyboards, mice, Bose 700 noise cancelling headphones, caffeine, l-theanine, free food/drinks/snacks, access to showers, phone booths, standing desks, and more.
- But most of the productivity stuff was just a set-up cost and we don’t think nearly as much about it as optimizing for valuable interactions.
Find a good space
Unless you have a full-time office manager yourself, you probably want to get a serviced office space. Serviced office spaces take care of cleaning, building access, maintenance and repairs, provide cutlery and wash dishes, and offer basic furniture.
If you’ve thought about where most of the value of your space comes from and decided, for example, that it’s from people interacting with each other, you might want to find an office space that has multiple meeting rooms and can fit a large social space.
Also consider how attractive the space is. You want good air conditioning, lots of natural light, an intuitive way to enter and exit, and a nice feel overall. Yale EA had trouble getting people to come to their coworking space, and they suspect if may have been because these factors were suboptimal.
Some other points to keep in mind while setting it up:
- Add little quirks to give it character. Ask people to recommend their favorite EA and EA-adjacent books and make a little library with those books in it. Get some plants, put up some wall art (maybe by DALLE-2 :D).
- Stock it with board games, and maybe keep one of them (e.g. chess) out on a social table. And add anything else you think of that might catalyze interactions!
- But also don’t make the space feel too tight; it’s nice when it feels a bit spacious.
Set Up Airtable (~2 hours)
Note: The Airtable system will only work well long term if you play around with it and actually understand how it works. Checkboxes indicate set-up tasks you should complete and other text contains helpful explanations of what’s going on.
- Currently in
We have the second form open alongside the sign-in form on an iPad at the entrance of our coworking space.
Nothing to do here! When someone signs in, they’ll show up in both Currently in views unless they check the “Private” box, in which case they won’t show up in the public view.
Nothing to do here either! The Gallery shows you everyone who’s filled out the full sign up form. All Data shows you every field, and “Have ever visited” shows you everyone who’s ever signed in.
- Feel free to change the text on the form!
- When people sign up to use your space using the forms in People, they’ll show up as options under “Who are you?” in the sign in form.
- If people mark their visit as private, they won’t show up in the Currently in (Public) view in People.
- Have this form open 24/7 on an iPad or something else at the entrance and exit of your coworking space.
- Chronological just shows you all the sign ins and sign outs in order.
- Grouped by person does the same, but groups each person’s sign ins/outs together.
- Fix Real Time lets you fix the time of someone’s sign-in or sign-out if it’s not accurate. For example, someone may have arrived at your space at noon but forgot to sign in until 2pm. In this case, you’d want to enter noon in the manual override column.
- Unpaired Sign Outs is used for an automation we’ll set up soon, so don’t change it.
Each visit is linked to one sign in and one sign out. Visits help you calculate how long people are spending the space, by calculating the time difference between someone signing in and signing out.
Description of Views
- Clean up
- Chronological shows all the visits in order.
- Grouped by Person groups each person’s visits together.
- Longest Visits helps you find anomalies. For example, we once had a 96-hour long visit because someone forgot to sign out until their next visit 4 days later.
- Orphan Visits is used for the second automation we set up above, so don’t edit it.
- By date
This helps you see how busy your coworking space is on different days. It’s also helpful if you need to send a COVID exposure email to people who came on a certain day.
Description of Views
- Coworking Space Feedback: We donate $10 to the Against Malaria Foundation every time someone fills out this form, in order to incentivize people to leave feedback. If you don’t, make sure you delete the text that says that.
- Anonymous Quick Feedback: This form is less complete and we don’t donate to AMF for it, but it’s useful to get quick bits of feedback.
- If you donate to AMF when you get feedback, Pending Donations helps you track that. When you’ve donated $10 for a feedback record, check the [?] Donated column.
- All Feedback shows you all the feedback you’ve received!
- People can request food using the form. Make sure someone is getting email notifications for new food requests! Either:
- You can see all the food requests in the Grid view.
- Food requests from the Expression of Interest form also get added here.
It’s probably important for liability reasons, and good practice anyway, for people to have an easy way to log an issue / share something more serious.
- That’s the purpose of the Something’s Not Right form. Scroll through it and make sure the wording is how you’d like it.
We put this form up on our coworking space Notion page so people can request events they’d like to see happen / organize!
The Pending view shows all unevaluated applications. You can accept, weekend accept, ask for 1:1, waitlist, or reject people. If you click “[!] Send email”, applicants will automatically get an email with the decision, a link to Sign Up (in the People table, if they’re accepted), and a link to your coworking space guide (if accepted).
(You can get rid of “weekend accept” as a category. We used it because we were less busy on weekends and full on weekdays.)
- You might want to CC or BCC yourself in all the emails.
- The first time they enter the Airtable system is when they apply to the coworking space by filling out the Expression of Interest form.
- If your decision is Waitlist or Reject and you click “[!] Send email”, they’ll get an email letting them know. Their record will leave the pending view. If your decision is “Ask for 1:1”, they’ll remain in the Pending view. After you have your 1:1, you can update your decision and uncheck and click “[!] Send email” again. If your decision is an acceptance, they’ll get an email letting them know, asking them to read the Notion guide, and asking them to subsequently fill out the Sign Up form.
- Once they fill out the sign up form, they’ll receive an invitation to your space’s Slack. They’ll also now show up on your Gallery view and, when they’re in your space, the Currently in views.
- The first time they sign in, they’ll appear on the Sign-in sheet. Airtable will simultaneously create a Visit. It’ll be an “Orphan Visit”, because it doesn’t yet have a Sign Out linked.
- When they sign out, a signing out record will be created in the Sign-in sheet. Airtable will link this Sign Out to the Orphan Visit, so it’ll no longer be an Orphan Visit. This visit will now have a duration calculated.
- If they ever fill out Feedback for Food Requests forms, a record will be created in those tables. You can also see this from People > All data! Just look at the Feedback and Food Requests columns there.
- If they ever fill out the Something’s Not Right form or Event Request form, they’ll show up in those tables!
Set Up Notion Guide (~2 hours)
Open and Evaluate Applications (~5 hours)
Yay! You’ve found a space, set it up, and created all the digital infrastructure to support it! Now you just need people.
- In Airtable > Expression of Interest, copy the link to the form and share it around.
- We shared around this message:
- Soon you’ll be evaluating people’s applications!
- Think about the main sources of value your space provides. What sorts of people are you trying to attract?
- In our case, we wanted people who were really serious about maximizing their impact and most likely to hit the biggest multipliers.
- We wanted many new and excited students, because them changing career paths seemed quite valuable. But we didn’t want too many new and excited students, because almost all of their interactions would then be with other new and excited students and not thoughtful, inspiring professionals.
- All cause areas excited us, so we accepted professionals working on global health and development, animal welfare, AI safety, pandemic prevention, and many other areas.
- Our thinking then was that while we may be most excited about longtermist work, maybe we were wrong, and we felt uncomfortable making decisions based on how we personally had reasoned through EA.
- It isn’t obvious to me (Kris) in hindsight that this was the right decision—everything is the result of personal reasoning (like deciding to create an EA-only space in the first place), so creating a longtermist-focused space isn’t categorically different. Maybe we should have thought more about this. I suspect we would have admitted more people doing longtermist work, but we’d still have had some animal welfare and global health professionals.
- It’s better to have a half-full space with exclusively super cool people than an almost full space with medium-cool people. Don’t feel pressure to accept people just because there’s physical space for them.
- We suspect many people will find this hard, because we also found this hard at times.
- Here’s something we often thought: “Everyone is just so cool, and they’re more impressive work than me!! How could I reject them??”
- And while everyone is cool, it’s unlikely that they all bring uniformly high value to the coworking space—the marginal value of some people being there is probably significantly higher than that of other people, whether it’s because they improve the student:professional ratio, they engage in more productive discussions, they come across as more approachable, they’re more thoughtful about their work, they do more exciting work, etc..
- So if you find it hard to reject applications outright, you (a) reduce the value everyone else gets out of the space and (b) if you end up with more people than desks, you just give yourself the even harder task of asking people to leave once you’ve already accepted them.
- So, again, it’s better to have a half-full space with the best people than a full space with medium-cool people.
- The actual process of making decisions is pretty easy. You just tell Airtable your decision and click “[!] Send email”. It’s figuring out the criteria that’s hard!
🎉 Effective Altruism at UCL is excited to announce that our coworking space is now open!
🚆 We're located next to Goodge St station in London and are a 9-minute walk from Warren St and Euston Sq stations.
🍵 Our space has external monitors, whiteboards, noise-cancelling headphones, and free food/snacks/drinks. Our capacity is 14 regular + standing desks, a social area with varied and informal seating (seats ~10 people), and a 5-person meeting room. You can schedule a viewing of our space here: https://calendly.com/ucleacoworking/viewing
📝 If you're interested in using our space over any portion of this summer (between now and Aug 31), please let us know here: https://airtable.com/shrXJH4hcQCNJO7Fj, and feel free to message me or contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions. Please invite anyone you think would benefit to also apply! We likely won't be able to invite everyone who expresses interest, but we'll try our best!
Keep people coming (~10 hours/week)
- Help people be productive. I spoke about our approach in the goals section above, but people need to be at least a little more productive at your space than wherever they would otherwise go.
- Make it easy to get to and attractive. People would much rather come to a bright office with a cozy library nook and large social space than a dark office up 5 flights of stairs and a moody security guard.
- Catalyze social interactions. People interact organically once they know each other well, but not at the start. Make an effort to get to know each new person yourself—grab food with them or go on a walk or something. Maybe set a default lunch time (we do 1pm) when everyone gets food together. Also consider organizing some office socials (one or two of: taco tuesdays, pancake wednesdays, hot chocolate thursdays, friday board games, daily lunches. Not all of the above or you’ll overload people 😀).
- Encourage intellectual conversations. You could run a weekly discussion group on a specific topic (e.g. Population Ethics, AI Safety) or someone can suggest a different reading each week.
- Provide everyone’s favorite food. Whenever anyone fills out the food request form, add the item to your weekly grocery order so it’s always stocked. People love when all their favorite foods are in your space!
- Keep it clean and organized! Consider getting a freelancer to come every week and thoroughly clean, wipe down, and vacuum it.
- If some people stop coming, follow up and ask them why. That’s really important feedback! And in general, act immediately on feedback people submit.