When you live with your co-workers

But not just any co-workers. Lots of people live together who all work for some company. But those are situations where you can go up to your room and shut the door whenever you want. I mean people with whom you live and work toward commonly held goals employing commonly held values.

I’ve done it as part of a 1000+ member collective that had a main base in Tennessee and several satellite operations in cities around the US. My experience was at the main place, well known as The Farm, and later at urban centers in New York City and Washington DC. I lived at the main Farm for six and a half years, in DC five years and NYC less than a year.

We lived in groups. The fewest people I lived with under one roof was four and the most was more than thirty. Adults, singles, teens, kids, babies. We llived together and worked together. In many cases I worked side by side with the people I lived with, most particularly in the urban houses. A couple of things stand out as commonalities that made it workable, and I think worthwhile to share beyond just being a good story.

You have to like the people. Each one of them. And if that’s hard to do, you have to keep trying to find enough likeble things about them (and they to you) until you gather up enough to make the relationship enjoyable. And that goes for each person. Because you are going to be spending a lot of time together. It has to include plenty of fun times.

You need basic agreements about commitment. Once a choice is made to move in, it can’t be impossible to get yourself out of being there, but it needs to matter enough that you do not want to give up and leave, or on the other side try to compel someone else to leave, without a clear understanding that first everyone is going to try hard to make it work. This is a big part of what defines it as different from just living together in a house.

You need to be honest. Very honest. But also compassionate. When you live together and spend your work day together too, you start to learn a whole lot about the other person and it is inevitable that some of what you discover will irritate you. What do you do about it?

I think one of the most basic understandings has to be an agreement that it is healthy to be willing to give and receive feedback where the default is being more, rather than less, open regarding permissible subject matter. Otherwise too many things go unstated.

But, pushing someone too hard to “open up” can be counterproductive and discourage trust. Initial conversations where people say what they do and don’t feel comfortable discussing might be worthwhile. So, always with compassion and respect but not being afraid to bring something up early before it festers. Like so much in life, it’s about balance. What should you bring up and what should be tolerated? Suck it up or talk it over?

And again, it is directly related to having fun together. You can do a lot more nit picking when you know you can and will be having a good time again once the air gets cleared. And you really can clear the air if you stay with it.

Part of the art of this kind of living is being able to admit to something, and express resolve convincingly - right then and there - to do something about it.

The living arrangements might be egalitarian, but work often has hierarchies, even when trading project leader positions. It’s a challenge to be in charge of something, or at least to have some work-related decision-making authority over someone in your household, and then let go of that arrangement once you are out of work mode. And often, live/work modes switch back and forth through the day and night. It takes finesse. On both sides.

And it has to be ok to say something in the way of a personal critique to whomever is in authority. This too is something that defines live/work as far different than the usual business arrangement where you might get fired if you bring up certain things. (Even in California where there are lots of worker protections, you can be fired for insubordination. Thus you don’t bring up certain things, you just take it or leave.)

In the urban phase of group living, in New York and DC we were part of a nonprofit that had specific project goals. New York was a free ambulance service in the ghetto and DC was a kind of lobbying operation. In both cases we supported the basic economy of the household by some of us working together as a carpentry crew. It didn’t have to be carpentry, could have been something else, but some group-owned unit that makes money. That way we had more control over our own destiny. This meant that some people did more work directly tied to the project itself and some people didn’t. That was what I did - work on the money making crew. But we made sure that those of us who worked the non-project job had plenty of opportunity to be an important part of the project itself so that we felt unified. Nevertheless, it was something we had to collectively talk about from time to time to make sure everything played out fairly in all our eyes.

There is no one way to do this. And I wouldn’t want to project onto others too much of my own unique experience because it was pretty unusual and very much of its time.

But one thing I do know - do not shy away from conflict if you have to talk something over. But leave anger out of it as much as you can. Anger is polarizing and should be treated almost like a nuclear weapon. Don’t use it. Breathe evenly and keep things informational instead of emotional. Don’t make “you are” statements. Make “I think you are being” statements.

Relationships get stronger when you resolve conflict because you carry the knowledge that you can resolve it because you have already done it.

It’s good to know that over time, there can be less need to sort things out because the group arrives at a kind of equilibrium where everyone knows where they stand.


How much of your finances were a common pool?

@johncoate thank you! I realise I never asked about the finances in your group over the years. I assume a 1000+ member collective couldn’t have saved or spent in common, but what about in the house?

For context, we are learning from John’s wizardry, as we build The Reef in Brussels as a space for communal living and working… for edgeryders everywhere.

Pooling money

The Farm was a complete collective with pooled money from its start until sometime in 1983 when the people decided to change it to a cooperative which meant you had your own money and you paid monthly dues for living there.

When I left and moved back to California, it was still a collective.  so the entire time I lived there I never had any money of my own except that which was given to me for expenses by a central bank or someone with some checkbook authority.  And it shows in my “Social Security Statement” that I get every year that shows how much I paid into the system over the years based on how much I was on record as having earned that was taxed.  Most of the years of the 70s all say zero.

That is a pretty severe discipline and I imagine none of you are going to want to go that far, though some pooling inevitably happens.  When I lived in urban communes in NYC and DC the money was still centralized.  We ran remodleing crews so we bid jobs, got paid as a whole and then instead of paying our wages and taxes, we just handed it all over to our centralized money person.  We all had a say in what the money was for, but there wasn’t a lot of discretionary money around.  We had a lot of kids though.  Kids cost money.  And we were a religious organization so we had certain church-like tax exemptions.  I personally think it is kind of a scam for religions to get these tax breaks, but I didn’t argue the point at the time.  But my Social Security monthly pension will be lower because I opted out for all those years and didn’t pay in.  So it cuts both ways.  Every decision has consequences!


Pooling money, Las Indias version

I should not be speaking for @LasIndias , but I recently re-read their book, and they can correct me if I get it wrong.

  • The collective is a cooperative.
  • Members are employed by the cooperative.
  • Everyone is paid a salary.
  • BUT all savings are in common. This is the only economic loss of individual freedom they impose on themselves. This is done to align incentives.
  • I have no data, but from casual observation it appears that the saving rate is substantial. 
  • Part of the savings underwrite a contingency fund used to help members who wish to leave, for example to start a new business (and, in the future, to retire – though pensions should be provided via the usual channels of contributions made by the employer, which is the cooperative themselves.
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No contributions… hm.

“Severe discipline” (interesting choice of words :)) is not something I would think to do in the long run: not contributing for pensions is one thing, but living off of only what you spend in living expenses is risky. If you absolutely dont have options or not earn nearly enough to do something other than eat and sleep, yes. Otherwise, I’ve just turned 30 and I cant imagine going anywhere on earth where I could be well and not need anything else in the longer term…

I think our question for a communal space is becoming: what do we absolutely need to be cover(ed) for, so that we feel financially safe to actually build a future we want for ourselves, but also for those around? Can my community setup be able to support me and others when we personally need it? This goes beyond people in the community catching you when you fall, it means: rent covered; saving accounts; exit strategies throught through etc… I dont know what goes for me or others now, but will probably need to be addressed in the near future.

Planning for harsher times seems like the order of the day… speaking of broken care systems.

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Interesting… of later in life being cut from pensions funds etc…) but that’s probably more related to my past (living 30 years in a religious community) & how I distrust most communal systems.

Anyway the positive part is that maybe, maybe, these experiments can be done in transparency, compassionate settings, and real community values based on healthy human values. The experiment is certainly worth living !

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Did you experience anything similar?

Hey @Ricardo_Mendes we’d appreciate any insights you have related to living / working in community.

Hi @ricardo_mendes! Now re-reading this post as we move into the actual space next year - a house near Essaoira, Morocco which got rented for 4 months. @matthias & @hazem are leading this.

So more than before we’re curious about the religious community you lived in… how much is too much? When did you realise it’s not working out for you?

I’ve been leading a battle on this field from 2015 prior this conversation started to now… And it’s not finished… I think we could talk about it, lively. One part is a horror story, the other part is a human story. I won’t mind sharing it :slight_smile:

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@johncoate Your input is great, thanks a lot, although I might disagree on some points.

I live in the ecovillage Sieben Linden in Germany (~140 inhabitants, https://siebenlinden.org , sorry for few english content) and we are networked with a lot of other communities (for example via the GEN - global ecovillage network).

There are many experiences made by different groups and collectives all over the world and I think that there is great wisdom in all of the stories. Yet, we have not found definitive answers (and probably never will - also because the world is changing, too :slight_smile: ) and should continue to play with social forms and “tools” (like sharing in circles) and culture. I find it horribly difficult to share my experiences here and the various stories and experiences I heard of in an asynchronously interactive way. Once we meet in person, I am happy to chitchat about that whole nights at the campfires :slight_smile:

We have a somewhat funny saying about what differentiates our setup from a “sect”: In a sect its easy to get in but difficult to get out. In our case, its kind of the opposite: you cannot simple decide to buy a house and move in (e.g. because we have no privately owned houses and a year of probation and so on), but moving out is pretty simple (there are no obstacles at all).

Btw, “we” (and many other places) host workshops for giving and discussing information about our and/or other ways of cohousing/coliving/communities and offer coaching.