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The rural way of coworking

Working space at Freiraum 87 (Image: Freiraum87.de)

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Coworking in small towns can be a very different experience to that in larger, more anonymous cities. Following last week’s story, we spoke with four operators of coworking spaces in smaller towns: Small cities often already have close-knit social networks, yet coworking spaces offer a way to create tighter and larger professional connections. Coworking spaces in these cities have a more varied age structure, allowing their members good opportunities to pass knowledge between generations.

 

We put our questions to the following four space operators:

Freiraum87, Frederik Littschwager, Kempten (GER)
Veel Hoeden, Joel Bennett, Pella (Iowa, USA)
Wexelwirken Härten, Christopher Schmidhofer, Kusterdingen (GER)
Unternehmerwerk, Ralf Jacubowsky v. Einem, Altenmedingen (GER)


Deskmag: Why do coworkers in small towns use their coworking space half as often as those in larger cities?

Frederik: Small towns have a denser social network. Everyone knows everyone, everything is less anonymous. For that reason, the desire for greater networking in everyday life is, initially, less pronounced. A second reason I think of is the lack of public transport. Those who live farther away must have a car. Our online survey showed that customers only accept a maximum of 20 km or 30 minutes to get to a location such as coworking space. Therefore their convenience wins more often and they stay at home.

Joel: I’d say we’re somewhere in between, but things change week by week. Some of our members are in sales and travel during the week with intermittent visits, while other weeks they come every day.

Christopher: Freelancers here often work for clients who are scattered all over the place, and they must drive to visit them. Also, many have families who occupy their time. But even though they don’t come in daily, I think they are very convinced of the coworking concept.

Ralf: We offer a space which is more diverse and less for the masses. We have rooms for lectures and seminars, as well as holiday apartments. These rooms are used more often for certain periods of a project, rather than daily. Furthermore, people in rural towns are more connected to each other and less depend on themselves. They usually also have more space at home. While big city dwellers need to flee often from their noisy shared flat community or the smaller rooms in which they live.


Deskmag: But why then are people in small towns even more interested in interaction possibilities than those in big cities?

Frederik: That surprises me a little. In a small town you get to know all the key players in your environment quickly. Perhaps coworking offers a new perspective and different opportunities since it is a little hard to build interest groups around specific vocations in small towns.

Joel: Hard to judge this one, but I do believe that coworking members in our town place a high emphasis on meeting and interaction with other small business people and entrepreneurs. And our biggest events are the ones where networking and interaction are the focus.


Deskmag: The Global Coworking Survey shows that although people are interested in interaction, they have bigger needs for privacy. How could this apparent contradiction be explained?

Christopher: Many coworkers in rural areas have families. To get out of the house, they take advantage of the coworking concept once or twice a week. We offer a quiet place to get some work done, but also interactivity in their professional field. That is the value of an office.

Frederik: This does seem to be a contradiction. Within the concept of privacy is protection from competitors. Most of people here grew up in this environment of competition. This model of sharing as model of success is something new to them, and it is something that needs to time to understand.

Many new coworkers at first express their desire for privacy. Therefore we offer two models to resolve this conflict slightly. One is a shared office with homemade small partitioning walls that are high enough so people can look around, but can't see each other’s papers. The second solution is to have smaller individual or team offices. We know this actually contradicts the coworking philosophy. We’re looking at whether it actually works in practice.

Joel: We also have requests for private offices and conference room options for times when people needed to get "heads down" work done. But the interesting thing is that those with private offices rarely shut their doors because they enjoy the interaction with our mobile/hot desk members.


Deskmag: One last question. Coworkers in rural areas are often older. Does this change the way of interaction among coworkers?

Joel: We have a pretty interesting mix of members in our space, with at least one member in their 20’s to their 60's. The bulk of our members are 30-somethings. However, this allows some interesting conversations between age groups, with the younger members sharing their skills with new tech and online resources, and the older members with career experience sharing and networking.

Frederik: Our users come from all generations. In particular, cities with universities have a younger average age, and this statistic is probably a simple reflection of the actual population average. Nonetheless I believe that the generations can learn from each other if they listen to each other. And because I consider this kind of networking to be particularly important, we are working on a generation breakfast. After all, where you can network better than over food?

Christopher: My experiences are not consistent with the statistics. Each coworking space is different, depending on who operates it. The age structure therefore depends on the openness of the operators. I find a heterogeneous age structure more interesting than a homogeneous one in order to share more with each other.

 

Deskmag: Thanks for the interview!

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Related articles:

Coworking in Big Cities vs. Small Towns

Coworking and urban affairs

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