Catholic Coworking: Office Spaces That Combine Work and Prayer
More than workspace, coworking centers provide opportunities to grow faith and authentic friendships.
Even though Liam Collins’ home office in Colwich, Kansas, was located in a separate building behind his house, he still struggled to get work done during the COVID-19 pandemic because his three young sons often sought his attention.
“I’ll be gone for half a day and then I’ll come home, and they’re excited to see me,” said Collins, 33, a software engineer and entrepreneur, about his time working at home. “Then I go off to my office and I want to work for four more hours, and it’s really disappointing for them.”
By renting an office at a Catholic coworking space two blocks from his home, Collins has found a way to be close to his family but just far enough away to stay focused on his work.
Collins, who runs a software consulting business and two other start-up companies, works three days a week at Ora et Labora Catholic Coworking Fellowship, where he said he benefits from being part of a community of other Catholics working in diverse professions, including a financial analyst and podcast producer, but where he can always close his office door when it’s time to work.
Unlike the generic, non-Catholic coworking space he first tried, Collins said he appreciates Ora et Labora’s concept of making work a prayer, including by offering morning prayer and Mass at the site.
“St. Benedict was actually my confirmation name so I'm familiar with the idea of praying and working,” Collins said. “I like that idea.” (The Benedictine motto, ora et labora, translates to “pray and work”).
As many employees worldwide who began working at home during the COVID-19 pandemic continue to do at least some work remotely, and at the same time other workers are choosing self-employment in the alternative economy, the demand for rented, flexible, professional and inexpensive shared office space known as coworking space is expanding.
In 2023, nearly 13% of U.S. full-time employees have been working remotely, while about 28% are working “hybrid” — dividing work time between remote and employer sites, according to Forbes Advisor.
By contrast, before March 2020, just 3.4% of the U.S. population worked remotely, according to data from Zippia Research.
Of those U.S. remote workers, Zippia reported that more than 1 million did work in more than 6,200 coworking spaces in 2022, representing a 55% increase in spaces since 2017.
Catholics such as Collins are finding coworking spaces in the U.S. and even as far away as Lyon, France, to not only work flexibly and network, but also to pray, enjoy fellowship and often attend Mass with fellow Catholic coworkers while avoiding isolation or distractions at home or in coffee shops.
In many coworking spaces, coworkers pay a nominal amount for a “hot desk,” which is an unassigned space in a common area given on a first-come, first-served basis, often for entrepreneurs or contract workers seeking a cheap but professional space, according to EasyCowork.com, which helps workers find and manage coworking spaces.
Coworkers can pay more for a fixed or dedicated desk or even an office, as Collins does. Both options usually include Wi-Fi, printer access and other amenities, according to the site.
Some coworking spaces are tied to a hoteling system, usually managed via mobile services, which users reserve as needed, according to a blog on CXApp.com. Unlike reserving a hot desk, desk hoteling usually involves being able to reserve space further in advance from offsite, the blog said.
Travis Gear, 40, who founded Ora et Labora with a partner in late 2019, said he sought to “have a good space where [workers] can go and get out of the house and they have like-minded folks that they can interact with and just bring a little breaking the monotony to their days.”
Along with Collins, five other coworkers share space at the converted bank building located about 15 minutes outside of Wichita with employees of Gear’s website development company. Though working in different fields, workers come together to talk about faith, Gear said.
“In the course of our day-to-day work, there's the opportunity to engage in dialogue and interactions with those that are obviously striving towards the similar [spiritual] goal and then where we can just be open about that and be supported in that as well.”
Employees and coworkers often meet at the site’s outdoor deck and patio for lunch and for Mass monthly in Ora et Labora’s chapel, a benefit few workspaces offer, Gear said.
“It could be very, very fruitful in our daily lives to find a place of quiet or a place of support to have rest from the labor and also to find encouragement in our daily efforts from a standpoint other than ‘because that’s my job,’” he said. “So that’s what we hope to provide, and I think it’s a need. We have community here in Wichita that supports that kind of a mission as well.”
In providing a place of not only coworking but meditation, the Diocese of Lyon, France, has sought to create dialogue between economy and religion with its Parvis Part-Dieu (Part-Dieu Square) located in Lyon’s business district. At the glass-enclosed facility, which opened in 2022, coworkers can attend Mass, prayer and events regularly, go to confession and share meals. The coworking space is open to all, not just Catholics, according to the Limited Times.
“We wanted to have a place that was a point of welcome, meeting and listening to anyone seriously involved in the world of work and at the same time a place in the Church,” the space’s director, Mirco Iadarola, said.
Making it easier for Catholic coworkers to attend daily Mass was a big part of Jason Youkam and his partner Patrick Foley‘s mission in founding the Four Eight Project, a coworking space serving Catholics in Columbus, Ohio, that opened in February in a business collective building on Columbus’ southside. The space, which takes its name from Philippians 4:8, is located three minutes from a parish offering daily Mass, said Yoakam, 32.
As remote workers sometimes struggle with isolation, bringing them together with a shared Catholic vision has been more important to Yoakam and Foley than the details of the space itself, Yoakam said. Coworkers are often younger men seeking to escape family distractions and form authentic Catholic friendships, he said, but more seasoned workers are also among the space’s six current members.
What Yoakam said he has learned through working remotely “is that it seems really liberating to work remotely … but, ultimately, you just kind of start to feel more and more isolated, and we saw this a lot in 2020 with the pandemic.”
Along with finding fellowship, Four Eight coworkers also can pray the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin together throughout the day at regular intervals and other prayers, he said. Praying together is a way to create spaces of safety, collaboration and support in an increasingly hostile world, Yoakam said.
“It feels as if the world is becoming more and more dark, and we just need those little places, those little oases, the little lights in the darkness, so that’s really what we’re trying to be is a light in the darkness.”
Another Catholic coworking space in St. Paul, Minnesota, located very close to a church offering daily Mass, confession and Eucharistic adoration is called the Quarry, said Roger Vasko, one of the space’s founders who also plans to offer talks by priests during the lunch hour.
Vasko and other members of the local St. Joseph Business Guild decided to refurbish space in the parish’s school building to create the Quarry’s work and meeting areas after the K-8 school closed permanently in 2019.
The Quarry debuted in May and now has 4 coworkers, a number Vasko hopes to increase to 20.
Like a fitness center whose members come at different times, Vasko anticipates that coworkers, including from local Catholic organizations, may work at different times but still benefit from networking opportunities they might miss while working at home, he said.
“Just to be able to have the fellowship with other people working,” Vasko said. “I know that people say at home they don’t see anybody. But you can learn stuff from people at lunch or before or after work.”
Those interested in using some coworking spaces agree to adhere to Church values.
“There is a level of commitment to upholding Catholic values,” Gear said. “Anything’s possible but I don’t think anybody’s coming in here just looking for cheap space to rent. They’re wanting to be in here because there is the Catholic component.”
Catholic coworkers have the chance to make authentic work friendships with others who share their faith, said Yoakam, who added that Four Eight Project also plans to offer career-related spiritual-development events.
As work norms continue to evolve and coworking gains popularity, the idea of sharing office space and prayer with other Catholic workers, even those in different fields, seems to be gaining traction.
“For the first time ever, we have a very unique opportunity for people from all different workplaces, all different walks of life, to come together in one space and concentrate around their faith,” Yoakam said. “It’s a very unique opportunity, and it’s something that we can take advantage of for our growth and for the good of the Kingdom.”