By way of sharing what we encounter as we criss-cross North America, this is the first in an occasional series of bits to help the curious with another perspective on how coworking is evolving, changing our workspace culture, our expectations and how our norms are affecting coworking in turn.

Just one perspective.

Background on our perspective: our experience rests in running, managing and advising on shared work environments since 1992 – ancient in today’s view. Those environments include “old-school” Executive Suites/Office Business Centers, high-tech incubators and the current hybrid environments; those that combine elements of coworking and business centers in a single business model.

We will share our own curiosities of particular models, understanding that there is a model for every user and the commonalities of success are, indeed, creating a strong community where these user-members are valued and relationships are the keystone of the experience….and the longevity of the center.

In fact, many of you who have already explored the coworking scene know of environments that relocated and kept the memberships intact. No greater testimonial.

Let’s dig in to recent experiences.

GCUC – Global Coworking UnConference Conference, Austin, TX. March 8-9. Second event of this size, although they’ve had a less formal structure that started in 2009.

What we learned along the way

  • most of the attendees and operators view it as a movement and or a mission
  • many are still grappling with sustainability (read as profitability)
  • there is a message that real estate brokers simply don’t get the concept, so don’t waste your time engaging one for your space search

Our extrapolation of some of the details is that it is a cultural evolution of how we work

For example, the 1960’s working culture moved from “The Company Man” to “Down with The Man”

The 1980’s evolved to “Greed is Good” made famous by Michael Douglas’ character in Wall Street

The Millennium has brought a greater sense of collaboration and community in the workplace – “let’s work together, break down barriers, share knowledge and resources”. Work to Live not Live to Work

While it is a 24/7 opportunity to work, it is also work when and where you want to because you can

Work is being measured on productivity, not face time in an office

HOWEVER – we still need a work community in order to feel connected to a bigger purpose – even if you are a solo-preneur. Coworking addresses the idea of working in community rather than in isolation.

Coworking leaders are still grappling with

  • dealing with difficult members and how to ask them to comply or leave – without being heavy on “rules”
  • generating awareness of Coworking in the general population
  • member retention
  • making money (some operate specifically as not-for-profit, some feel this is a secondary objective, others absolutely established their model as for-profit)
  • specific technologies to track members, CRM, manage space scheduling and billing of members
  • how MUCH structure to create without being so restrictive or constrictive
  • Security in the space – whether to have lockable furniture, hard keys vs. electronic key cards
  • which onsite technologies to deploy as differentiators – 3D printers? (still uncommon)
  • the most effective PR tools and efforts
  • establishing an industry association as well as regional coworking alliances: These alliances are already in place in Toronto and Seattle

Other nuggets

Jean-Yves of DeskMag “Coworking = Physical equivalent of Social Media” – Love it!

We believe this audience may benefit from

  • how to understand the real estate brokers’ point of view so that Coworking operators can leverage those relationships and avoid common pitfalls (The broker doesn’t have to be the enemy…)
  • Clear set of objectives about how the Coworking space is going to run at the outset and have a PLAN
  • Having in place Member guidelines, Social Contracts, a set of Core Values to share with members
  • Engaging local operators of Office Business Centers – locally owned and operated rather than Regus. There is a great deal we can learn from eachother
  • Explore the Global Workspace Association as a resource of information to all types of shared environments

Next Up – feedback from our experiences in Chicago and Evanston, IL.

Cheers and happy exploring!

April 18th, 2012

Posted In: Blog, Coworking, General, International, Office Business Centers, Small Business, Workspace

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