Last week Talent Garden’s Rasa Strumskyte spoke at the Global Coworking Unconference (GCUC) in Berkeley, CA. For those who’ve never been to an “unconference” before, the concept is quite simple – freed from the shackles of a fixed agenda, an unconference lives or dies by the strength of its attendees and the connections they build in the room. It’s rather like coworking; giving greater freedom to discover, flexibility to create, and space to innovate.
Coworking is, of course, all about space, and the unconference fittingly began with a potted history of the industry from Tony Bacigalupo, founder of NYC-based New Work City. In Europe coworking is still a nascent industry, but we soon learnt that many of the features, trends and pressure points are the same across the pond. With this in mind, here are our top three takeaways from the unconference:
- Corporates are clocking on to coworking
Coworking has traditionally been the preserve of startups, freelancers and the self-employed. Yet as many corporates seek new ways in which to innovate – often turning to smaller companies for help with R&D activity – the cross-pollinating benefits coworking offers are gaining recognition. Big business wants in.
This brings with it benefits in kind for coworking operators. As Micheal Nieman of CBRE noted, having a corporate on board helps immensely when brokering deals with landlords and negotiating leases, offering the promise of a longer-term, more “stable” tenant.
But letting the corporates join the party isn’t without its issues. The common ratio amongst co-working spaces is that 70% of users opt for open co-working space, and 30% habit private offices. Once this ratio becomes skewed towards private offices, the atmosphere can quickly shift.
As we’ve learnt, simply adding more square meters rarely equates to a quick fix – any real solution must centre on building a united community of workers that goes beyond physical boundaries.
- Architecting for atmosphere
At Talent Garden, we’ve put significant time and effort into architecting the best possible space in which our members can flourish and thrive, so we were pleased to discover that this was another key trend that emerged from the GCUC. As Jerome Chang of BlankSpaces asserted, “successful design is easily within reach, but execution is everything’’.
Like us, Chang believes in taking inspiration from the natural world when it comes to space design, as well as providing clearly delineated areas for different kinds of working. Chang calls for private offices to coexist harmoniously alongside public zones, communal spaces, and relaxation areas, where much of the creative thinking happens.
- People vs. property
Our final trend from the GCUC goes to the very heart of coworking, and the key to its success – are we in the business of real estate, or people?
Approaching coworking purely in terms of people brings with it the danger of the “summer camp” mentality. Coworking communities are transient, and investing all your finite resources into bringing people in, building a community and creating a buzz is a risky strategy.
On the other hand, coworking spaces need to cater to local communities and steer clear of becoming faceless entities. Mark Gilbreath, Founder and CEO of Liquidspace, agreed that the minute coworking operators place too much emphasis on real estate and not enough on people, coworking loses its soul.
In the end, the conclusion was that effective coworking is dependent on parity between real estate and happiness. To keep this in check, co-working operators must build a multi-skilled internal team, consisting not only of office and business managers, but also of change agents and community evangelists. Preserve this balance, and we believe that there will be many more GCUCs to come!