Let’s Become Coworking Shepherds

Will coworking become a non-word within the next 5 years? Will we simply call it “working”? How do corporations play a part in this?

These are a few of the many questions we wanted answers to ourselves.

So, Ryan Chatterton, founder of Coworking Insights and Christoph Fahle, founder of Betahaus and I organized an event to learn from the collective intelligence of the community.

We gathered over 60 people for an 8 hour Coworking and Coliving Summit in the bicycling city of Copenhagen on September 5, 2017.

We loved the hip venue in Copenhagen’s meat packing district.

Our attendees included mostly those in the coworking business, a handful of us in coliving, students studying the future of work and then a last group that surprised me.

This group consisted of people sent on behalf of large corporations: Volkswagen being the most noteworthy, and multiple commercial real estate firms. These ones wanted to hear firsthand how we felt the future of work was changing.

They wanted to know how they could incorporate this change into their companies, or build out spaces that felt like coworking/coliving spaces.

The system is changing

We started the event with some opening activities and I then shared a model called Two Loops that explained how systems evolve, change, and essentially keep looping.

As a system dies, there is another one simultaneously sparking and gaining momentum. It takes time for the general population to catch onto this new system and they need education and guidance on how to do it.

During the summit, I explained this Two Loops model in detail and asked participants to come stand where they felt their industry was on the two loops model (we’d put tape on the ground to display the model).

We had participants stand where they felt their industry was on the loop.

I was surprised by how most coworking space owners who’d been in the industry long-term stood as stewards in their industry. They had worked through the naming, building communities of practice stages and now stood stable for the next loop or system to start.

These were the ones who didn’t feel the term “coworking” was novel or descriptive, it was simply work to them. They felt we would eventually just call coworking “working” in the new system; that “traditional” work would evolve completely into what we call coworking within the next 5–10 years.

Explaining the Two Loops model to the group.

One thing that came out of this exercise: those in coworking/coliving were at the forefront of how this new flexible work/living system would be illuminated to the rest of the world.

The people who build the bridge on both sides of the transition process are keys to the success of the old system dying gracefully and the new system becoming stable and long-lasting (i.e., us in coworking/coliving showing the way to this new work system).

Large corporations and the general population are now looking toward us as pioneers. They are asking us to educate them on how to work and live in this new way.

Why are corporations eagerly seeking to learn from our industry?

The work system has changed and corporations are finally picking up on this. Our emerging workforce wants more flexible and creative spaces to do their work in; they want to be inspired, they want to keep learning, and they want freedom to do their work in the way that works best for them. Employees are asking for this and thus the whole market is now asking for this.

Some coworking founders expressed frustrations at multiple corporations coming in and asking for a 3 hour tour to interview them about their space. They felt the companies were trying to come suck what was good from coworking and copy it.

Some debates got heated and we loved it.

This lead to a heated debate about whether corporations were evil as an entity. The coworking space owners felt they left behind the corporate world for a reason and didn’t have the time or desire to work with them.

The other side debated the opportunity for coworking spaces to help illuminate corporations to this new way of working; that they are finally aware of this new system and are eagerly asking for help to transition to this new way of working.

The representation from the corporations at the summit said to the effect of: ‘Why can’t you help us find ways to do work better? Our teams are asking for this and we are trying to give it to them, but we don’t know how.’

From a business perspective, corporations find the coworking model appealing. They see the rise of freelancers, contract workers, and project based teams. They see the efficiency planning out work in month-long chunks, instead of leasing an office for 5 years at a time. Projects are becoming more fast pace and can shift suddenly with the market.

We all know how hard this is for corporations. Change is happening quickly and they are trying to keep up.

We couldn’t have asked for a better group of thought leaders.

How are real estate firms involved?

Real estate firms know there’s humongous opportunity in this realm as corporations ask to transition their physical spaces into more flexible and creative workspaces. They hear over and over again employees asking for more open work environments like those of coworking and coliving spaces.

We’ve all heard of properties being built and leased out that structurally resemble coworking spaces. But they have no heart and there’s no one to breathe the soul into them.

That’s the secret sauce here: buildings don’t make us more creative, how we structure our communities within these buildings do.

You can have the most hipster looking building (open space, natural light, wood tables and lots of green plants, etc.), but if there’s no one there to show you why people are leaving traditional work, you will fail to meet this need for them.

This is where I think the market is going

Someone needs to bridge the gap between corporation’s current work model and this new “coworking” work system. Corporations need education, guidance, and support to bring them up to speed.

We don’t have to sacrifice the heart of our coworking spaces to help them in this transition. Instead of corporations sending teams to “suck” the good out of our coworking spaces, why don’t we consult for them and turn their entire workspace into a coworking space?

We can shepard them into this new way of working; we can help employees enjoy their work spaces, feel more creative and have more freedom in how they work.

The industry is going this way anyways, why not be spearheading it?

I want to be part of this solution.

If you are a corporation looking for such consultancy or a coworking space wanting to consult, please contact me to work together. You can email me at brittneebond@gmail.com or check out my website below:

Founder at Remote Collective: We believe everyone should have access to remote work and we intend to make this a reality.