Why is Coworking becoming one of the major trend of the decade ?

We turned off the lights of the second Coworking Europe conference a few days ago.

Besides the wonderful spirit and the incredible energy we experienced during these outstanding three days, one strong impression remains from all the discussions we had  : Coworking is becoming huge ! 

Coworking to shape the coming decade 

More than 220 people, originating from the five continents, gathered in Berlin.

If Europe was the most represented, an important North American delegation attended the event, alongside representatives from Asia, South America and the Middle East.

Coworking is not marginal anymore nor is it a western phenomenon. Coworking is a solution which naturally and independently arises in different locations of the world. It sounds like a common answer to emerging needs in the our fast changing economies and societies.

Accordingly, my conviction is that coworking is not only there to stay and grow. Coworking will be one of the most impactful trend that will shape the coming decade.

Similarities with the expansion of the internet

As a matter of facts, the short history of Coworking reminds us of some identical milestones of the early days of the internet.

Internet, just like Coworking, emerged out of a handful of isolated initiatives led by small groups of people motivated by different purposes. One day, those actions converged. The US Army was investigating the way to build a resilient communication and information infrastucture which wouldn’t be interrupted in the case of a damage in the physical network. Besides, universities had the need for a more convenient way to share knowledge and documents between academics. Many usages popped up with time. One day, Tim Berners Lee and other pioneers managed to connect everything. The internet, as we know it, was born.

The coworking movement surfaced, according to some consensus, simultaneously, in San Francisco and London. In 2005, developers in the Bay Area had a need for a new location to meet and get rid of the burden that was working out of a coffee shop. In London, the initiators of The  Hub  network, wanted to set up a platform and a community for social entrepreneurs. In the meantime, other players around the world had the idea to create – either as a side project, as a non for profit association or as a regular business – open platforms where nomad workers could drop in, either . One day, all these independent communities acknowledged they were part of a bigger one : coworking.

The common name and the values shared by the coworking promoters helped to build bridges between coworking spaces on the national and on the international level. In a way, the shared values of coworking (openness, collaboration, innovation, entrepreneurship, freedom, sustainability,…) are the TCP/IP and HTML of the coworking movement, the common understanding allowing the nodes to connect with one another.

a new way of working in the 21st century

Both, the internet and coworking, have grown thanks to the support of free, verry committed and value driven people.

Nevertheless, nowadays, as Alex Hillman puts it, coworking is not anymore in the hands, solely, of altruistic entrepreneurs or associations, although their role as pioneers is and will remain critical (just as the role of the “sharing driven” open source developers remain critical for the improvement and the strengthening  of the internet).

In the coming future, I expect Coworking to be more understood as a “new way of working”, a new way to set up inspirational working environment based on human factors, people openness and a collective will to achieve exciting things as well as to enjoy a meaningful professional life.

So, it’s likely that coworking will steadily spread out to new layers of the economical landscape, maybe under different shapes (“hybrid coworking“, or, as Sebastian Olma nicely writes :”something between between anti-corporate activism and Goldman Sachs investment banking” ?).

A matter of style and tastes

Alex Hillman compares the broadening scope of styles in coworking spaces with the variety we have in music. Individuals can enjoy jazz more than classical, listen to pop instead of esoteric… We all know these different styles belong to a bigger thing which is music.

I fully agree. I would add that tastes change.

I can, one day, be in a mood where I will be keen to listen to a rap. The day after, I could be looking for an opera soundtrack. Just as I will pick an Italian restaurant, one day, and go for a Japanese combo the day after…

Accordingly, the challenge of the multi-membership (individuals being members of a bunch of different coworking communities) could possibly arrive on the agenda of the coworking community, as well.

Coworking answering different challenges of our time – A list

So, why will coworking become a structuring trend of the coming decade  ?

According to me, due to the economical, cultural and societal shifts of the current time…  Here, is a list of reasons, I see,, partly inspired by the conference’s speaches :

The rise of the independent workforce

As the Emergent Research study showed during the Coworking Europe 2011 conference, the rise of the independent workforce is structural (at least, within the western world). Even more striking, the majority of the independent workers and entrepreneurs choose to become independent. They will need locations to meet, work and network.

New open innovation models

The technology is getting every day more complex. Innovation cycles shorten. Big companies are always more risk averse. Most of them can’t dance in a time of agility. Innovation is already coming from the outside, especially from startups and creative individuals. As the Otto Group company said, during the conference, coworking spaces can both play a role as trends watchers and serve as a bridge between innovators and big organisations.

The quest for a new corporate contract and for new corporate values

Not working “for” but working “with”. “Consider employees or freelances not as a ressrouce but as partners”, underlined Mutinerie. The economy is becoming more and more collaborative. So business organisations will (cfr Seats2meet presentation as well). Again, coworking sounds like the perfect platform/ecosystem to transform a human organisation into a more collaborative platform.

The integration of the GenY

The “twenty something” are turning their back to the traditional corporate model. They intend to be respected. They don’t tolerate to be yelled at by a boss just for the reason he or she is the boss… Nowadays, the perfect spot for them to work seems to be… a coworking space.

The emergence of a global “startupsphere”

We are at an age of rising micro-multinationals. What do you do, if you are a startup and need to expand abroad fast to breakeven, according to your business plan ? Ok, you can browse the web. But beyond that? What if you know no-one outside the walls of your city ? The coworking network is a community of communities where you will be able to get, at least, advices and connections, if not support. Nice to say, less obvious to achieve, however, warned us Liu Yan, from Shanghai (Xindanwei). Building a business, locally or internationally, is first a matter of trust building and, more and more, of sharing. Start with that. With respect to that, the coworking movement can help.

Need to bring the creative economy in cities and to interconnect local ecosystems

Coworking spaces create local ecosystems wich help to connect organically many players in a given town or city, much more efficiently than many other public intiatives with the same aim. The Berlin city, for instance, confirmed its interest regarding the impact coworking can have in the bridging of the local communities.

Jean-Yves Huwart

Coworking Europe 2011 conference initiator and co-organiser

Deskmag 2nd Global Coworking Survey