Re: Work participation success stories
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Mon, 4 Jan 2021 20:24:33 -0800 (PST)
There are many, many posts in the archives on workshare, but as someone noted 
most of them are complaints. With Covid we are in strange times but this how 
workshare at Takoma Village has developed over 20 years:

1. We figured out what needed to be done and how to do it and how to cluster 
jobs and form working groups around task areas. That took years. And acceptance 
on the part of some that freeform doesn’t work on a long-term basis.

2. After several years, we scheduled workdays so tasks could be organized 
around them and people would show up to work with others. And have lunch. The 
focus is on specific tasks — rake, sweep, wash, sort, etc.

3. We ask people to be the point person for a room (Living, Kids, Kitchen, 
etc.) or a specific service (elevator, HVAC, parking gate, light bulbs, sump 
pumps, etc.) 

4. New residents. The Resale and Rental group has organized tours and 
information sessions so we have a list of informed people well before a unit 
becomes available. When they move in they are well aware of that 
self-management means “you do the work." They get full information about tasks, 
workdays, teams, etc. And people listen. I would say that without exception, 
new residents are more involved than those they replaced. Even when the 
previous residents were significantly involved. 

Initially I was very committed to developing a system of recording workshare 
hours. I wrote policies and designed a database to track people and tasks. 
Studied the process of other communities. This went on for years. A few of us 
agreed to post the jobs we were doing and the hours we worked. We felt that 
some people just didn’t understand how much works was being done by others, or 
what the tasks were—this would educate them.

I hated it. It was tedious and added work. And raised unresolvable issues about 
whether a task really took 5 hours, or if this task was really community work 
or work that needed to be done.

I finally realized that I didn’t care how many hours people worked or how many 
more hours I worked. What was most important is that people were engaged and 
responsible. And the things I needed done to feel secure were getting done, 
even if I had to do them.

Engaged means residents are “visible” on email, at meetings, etc. You know who 
they are and where they are.

Responsible means reliable. We could depend on them to take responsibility for 
a task. Not just doing it in the moment but ensuring that outside help was 
contacted when necessary and the community was kept informed about any needed 
maintenance or upgrades. Being proactive.

For example, one person realized early on that we needed a lighting monitor. 
She figured out all the kinds of bulbs we needed, organized the ordering so 
replacements were always on site, set up recycling for burned out bulbs, and 
found people on an ad hoc basis to climb the tallest ladders to change the 
bulbs while she held the ladders. She monitored and others informed her when 
bulbs needed replacing. This whole process was functioning well before many of 
us realized it was even being done. Years later she arranged her own 

This kind of proactive taking responsibility meant that for 20 years, neither I 
nor anyone else has had to even think about a burned out light. How many hours 
did she spend on this task? I have no idea—our bulbs are energy efficient and 
long lasting. But no matter if it took an hour a month, it was worth far more. 
We have others who have taken responsibility for other areas in the same way. 

I have taken on tasks that I thought needed to be done and just did them. Early 
on, asking for permission and finding who to ask for it, would have taken 
longer than doing the task. For some tasks, I was the only one who knew how to 
do them or knew they needed to be done. It has taken time for everything to get 
sorted out but we are now more formal about who is taking responsibility for 
what and have it posted on the website.

There are still a few repeated requests for someone to take over this or that 
task but far, far fewer than we used to have. And there is less anxiety about 
whether they will get done or not. The largest problem is that we now have some 
huge 20-year replacement tasks that take a lot of time but are harder to divide 
and share. Having too many people organizing/supervising means communications 
get disjointed. Not good when dealing with consultants and contractors with 
$200,000+ budgets.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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