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#CoworkingEU: first day report

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In Spain, coworkers are reshaping their working lives and society at the same time. In China, coworking communities of over 6000 people have emerged. In Germany, big companies are turning to coworking to re-energize their staff. In the US, shared workspaces of over 500 people are appearing. The first day of the 2nd Coworking Europe Conference heard a comprehensive summary of developments not just from across the continent, but from around the world. The event is developing as the most important focus point for the global coworking community. Here's Deskmag's notepad report from the first day.

The first day of Coworking Europe was nothing if not full of energy and enthusiasm. Over 200 people gathered together from all over to share insight, experience, and to ask questions about the growing movement.

As a first impression, it can be said that the coworking movement is truly a global phenomenon. From its early roots in large western cities, we now see spaces and coworkers on every continent but Antarctica – though perhaps we can call the penguin way of life coworking in a way. And as the development is happening (at the same time) worldwide we see synchronicity in the ideas and questions coming from all over the globe.

Alex Hillman, of IndyHall, got the ball rolling yesterday morning with his vibrant presentation style, getting participants moving and thinking. He shared the faces and voices of his community through video interviews, and promoted the idea of community as a way of propelling innovative collaboration.

The early results of the 2nd Annual Global Coworking survey were then shared by Carsten Foertsch, from Desmkag/Deskwanted. These impressions were shared yesterday on Deskmag if you want to know more, but in relation to the conference discussions of the day, what was really driven home, was that 96% of coworkers find the community aspect of their spaces the most important reason they enjoy working there.

As a shift in perspective, Carolyn Ockels and Steve King, Emergent Research, brought us back to the users of coworking spaces, the independent worker. They shared some surprising findings of their research, which focused mainly on the US and Europe. More than 70% of independent workers in the US stated that they chose to work outside of the traditional work model, with 80% of them being satisfied, feeling they have more control of their lives. Another find was that there are a large percentage of independent workers who are seniors, which could be quite interesting if coworking starts to court the demographic.

Beyond community and other facets which lie in the ideology of the coworking movement there are also practical matters to deal with, how do spaces fund themselves. Is state funding a realistic option? Tanja Mühlhans, of the Senate Department of Economics for the City of Berlin, and Dirk Kiefer, Federal Ministry of Econonomics & Technology Berlin/Brandenburg, gave perspective from the public side in Germany. It appears that there is much interest in coworking as a potential driver of innovation and entrepreneurship that is of interest, but it is still hard for them to find a connection.

The Global Coworking Survey showed that 64% of spaces are started with private capital, but how can they makes use of this new public interest and proposed support. From Mühlhans suggested that spaces should be very prepared and structured when they meet with state officials, that a good business plan was key. The suggestion of an association of coworking spaces seemed to resonate with Kiefer, who said it can be hard to identify the key players in the freelancing world, and the more organized groups are together the easier it would be to work.

The reactions of the German representatives was a bit different than some of the models that have been put into action in the US. Initiatives like Gangplank have received huge amounts of state support, through space and money, to propel economic development initiative and innovative strategies in nurturing entrepreneurship. Indyhall has also had a very interactive relationship with the City Hall of Philadelphia, with representatives regularly visiting the space and events from that community.

Designing spaces for coworking

To move on in the day, and give a bit of an aesthetic jolt, we met Oliver Marlow, from Tilt Studio. Tilt was actually born of the coworking movement, as its designers worked on spaces like the Hub in London. The most important concepts from their perspective when designing a space come from the community which will be housed there. They spend a lot of time in listening and engaging them to vocalize what they want from the space, what they plan to do in the space, and the overall emotional feel that the users want. They will also be launching an open platform online for coworking spaces to discuss how to deal with practical needs and finding the answers through design, we will be sure let you know when this is available for everyone.

As we have begun to see more and more, the idea of coworking is spreading into many different sectors. Juho Hyytiäinen, of Aalto Venture Garage and Aalto University in Finland, presented a very successful initiative first which has been propelled by students there. In just two years the ‘Garage’ has grown from an unused lab (come) storage space, into a giant coworking space and start-up incubation programme. Both the energy of youth and the coworking ideals have combined to create an unimaginable successful entity there. The eyes of Finland are upon them and so should everyone’s.

Coworking in China

A coworking space with 6,000 members?! Liu Yan, founder of Xin Dan Wei Coworking Space in Shanghai, shared her space and their concepts of opening the community reach far beyond the walls, not to mention capacity, of a space. With a focus on the grassroots creativity egged on by necessity, the community managers of Xin Dan Wei promote strength through shared support from a strong network, as she represented quite well through an ethos one can visualize from a Banyon tree. She also called for more global networking and broad community connectivity, something that would reverberate throughout the day.

From New York, via webfeed, we met Adam Neumann, of WeWork. He described how his model has easily grown from one floor of a building, to a community of over 500 people in six buildings around the US. WeWork will soon break from the borders of the US and open doors in Tel Aviv and London. His final call to everyone at the conference was to ‘unify members’ and create a more global community.

Spain coworks its way out of the crisis

If you are ever travelling and/or working in Spain, it might be wise to make a visit to Utopic_us. Rafael de Ramon, the space’s founder, showed a space and a community which evolved out of the economic crisis, and which has a vibrancy, which can be felt, from a distance. They don’t plan the future beyond a day and focus on the community needs at hand. With events happening almost everyday it is clear that this is more than a place to work.

To completely turn the page, we took a look at the corporate world and coworking. Eric van Den Broek, of Mutinerie in Paris, which is in fact run by three brothers of the pirate type, lead the way. He brought some interesting perspective into how the ideas of how the necessity of a physical workplace has disappeared. No longer do we need to go to the equipment, for most jobs anyway, but we can work form anywhere. But how will the corporations man the ships so to say? If they want skilled professionals, they may just have to change from a top down to a more horizontal approach.

Big companies check in to coworking spaces

This was echoed later in the day by Christoph Giesa, of the Otto group, who has spearheaded a work programme in which employees of this multinational corporation, join coworking spaces as members. Their relationship with betahaus is an experiment which so far has had promising results, but it may still be too early to tell exactly how the relationships between the corporate world and the coworking world might develop.

Throughout the day we looked at the difference between coworking and other shared work schemes, from incubators to business centers. The clear difference was the sense of community which is propelled in coworking. The innovation that people are seeing coming from the spaces are spurred on by a space’s ability to control chaos in a space full of people with completely different skill sets and professions, all mixing together, working independently, and then collaborating.

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