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Coworking Is Dead, Long Live Coworking

Coworking as a name is dead and we have all contributed to it. The practice continues strong in a select group of coworking spaces dedicated to helping their members and not just providing a hot desk.

Zombie hand coming out of the ground with the text Coworking Is Dead overwritten
Coworking raises from the dead. Beware!

Coworking is dead. I know it may sound a bit harsh and that it may lead to confusion. The practice of coworking is alive and kicking, but the name coworking has lost its sense. Anybody offering any kind of shared workspace is calling it coworking, although most of them don’t do any coworking.

From the early days of coworking there was a community focus that differentiated coworking from traditional business centers that just provided hot desking.

Let’s start with a definition of coworking that I wrote and used for the European Coworking Assembly when I was the president, and that was also approved (and ignored) by the then nascent coalition of Belgian coworking spaces.

Coworking definition

These are the elements that define a real coworking space:

  • Call itself or the service it offers coworking.
  • Have a fully dedicated space for coworking (not just a few hours or a cafeteria shared with patrons).
  • Have an active community of members, not just clients.
  • Have at least one facilitator dedicated to connect the members and build trust among them, engaging in activities to build the coworking community.
  • Treat coworkers as 1st class clients.
  • Promotes and encourage collaboration, interaction and serendipity.
    Offer one or many kinds of membership (full or part time).
  • Does not discriminate who can become a member or how they can participate with hidden or implicit rules.

These elements should be self evident, but they are not. I’ve seen websites of business centers that just had coworking written in white on white background, in an attempt to trick search engines. These centers did not use coworking to define their services because they saw it as a lesser offering, not worth it of the standing of their business.

Many had absolutely no interactions among the members and did not want to get involved in anything beyond having a reception. Some said that they had a community because they included it in the contract (legal WTF). When meeting these spaces they said that it was not worth it to invest effort on the community side because it was a lot of work and they did not see a clear financial link to their profits (at a time where their businesses were losing clients and contracting).

Most did not have a single person dedicated to the members beyond the reception. No connections, no event organization… Just mail, photocopies and telling visits where their meeting room was. They definitely did not do a single thing to promote any collaboration among the members. In fact for business centers this run against their core offering of a private office.

Way too many treated coworkers as second class clients, as fillers of bad space that could not be dedicated to have an office and “real” clients.

The discrimination part is trickier to evaluate, but some centers will not admit members based on personal preferences and discrimination, not on a public set of requirements.

The WeWork bullet

The beginnings of coworking spaces where mostly of ignorance, paternalization and dismissal by traditional office space providers and many professionals that did not understand the new service it was offering.

Then WeWork arrived and managed to get the word coworking in media all over the world. They managed to turn hot desking into something cool by using a modernized design and the word coworking (although from my visits I saw that their buildings are mostly focused on providing offices, even single person offices).

Me and many others fell for it too. We saw it as an opportunity to show that coworking was great and that it was a business. I shared messages in social media about their rounds and valuations as a way to promote my own space.

The death of coworking

Soon traditional business centers saw an opportunity to renew their offering just by changing the name, not by adding any value, riding the WeWork and the coworking wave.

As the word coworking became more commonplace, everybody started using it for shared offices, for bars… for anything where there was the tiniest shared space.

Many consultants wanting to become cooler towards corporations started naming their offices coworking spaces so that it would be easier to sell their innovation services and conferences, using the “coworking space” as a loss leader.

Today the word coworking is well known but it is dead. It has lost all meaning. Except it is still alive in many real coworking spaces around the world, delivering value to the coworkers and dynamizing local ecosystems and economies.

The future of coworking

Real coworking spaces have a bright future ahead of them, because they deliver value to an ever growing number of independent professionals and small entrepreneurs. Some remote/displaced employees take advantage of them too, but their numbers are much smaller. There is a lot of work to be done with less and less jobs, that is being provided by independent workers and small companies that do the job done by bigger companies not so long ago.

As long as coworking spaces focus on delivering value to the coworkers and going beyond a simple desk offering they will be able to compete and thrive. The biggest competitor of coworking spaces is still the home of the prospective coworkers, which is free. There’s no way to compete in price, the competition has to be in value.

True coworking spaces walk the walk of community, they do not just pay lip service to it.

If the clients just want a place to work, they can and will also join coworking spaces, and once they are in they will be trapped by the relationships being built and the opportunities that do not exist in other working spaces because they lack a community.

There will always be challenges, as with any business, but because there’s a fundamental value offering attached to coworking spaces they have a meaningful future as businesses.

Free Coworking Community Webinar

Get your questions answered and improve running your coworking space with Ramon Suarez, author of The Coworking Handbook and founder of Betacowork.

On Thursday February 7 I will be hosting my first free webinar to answer your questions about coworking communities. I would like to focus on the community side, but please ask any question you need help with.

It will take place at 9:30am SF time, 6:30 pm Brussels time. Find out your local time here.

Countdown by countingdownto.com

To signup and send questions, please submit the form below. Limited seats available!

Looking forward to it!

Coworking Community Course Outline Draft

I’ve started preparing my online coworking community course following the videos provided by Udemy (kudos to them, awesome onboarding experience with he Setting Your Goals and Making Your Course Outline video courses).

This is the first draft of the outline of the course. Please let me know what you would like to include in the course in the comments. All questions and ideas are welcome.

Make sure that you do not miss the launch deal and updates by signing up to the newsletter

Who is this course for?

This course is for owners or employees of coworking spaces that don’t have a community yet or are struggling with creating, growing and maintaining an active and healthy community.

Course outline

  • Intro
    Welcome
    What are you going to learn in this course
    What will you be Able to do at the end of the course
    Who is the instructor and why is he the best person to be teaching this course
  • Community
    Why is community important for coworking
    What is community
    The value of community
    Your role as a community manager
    Take care of yourself and of the community
    Trust, Ethics & Personality
    How community helps you get and retain more coworkers
  • Build a growing, thriving and helpful community of coworkers
    Strengthening links among coworkers & accelerating serendipity
    The power of introductions
    Introduce yourself
    Introduce others
    Be on the look for win wins
    Start your community
  • How to grow your community
    Reach out
    Get people into your space
    Events: attend, host & organize
    Events to organize in your coworking space
  • How to nurture your community and keep it healthy
    Creating and strengthening links
    How to deal with conflict
    Have more events and more attendees at their events
  • Event Organization
    How to have more events at your space with less work from you
    How to get more people to sign up to your events
    How to get the attendees to show up to your events
  • Getting and giving help
    Helpful coworkers that contribute positively to the community and to the coworking space.
    How to get help for the community
    How to get help for the coworkers
    How to get help for yourself
  • Conclusion
  • Bonus lectures

As part of the bonus lecture I’m thinking of including some tips from the leading practice specialists in the coworking world, and of course deals.

There’s also a Sales & Marketing course in the making, learn about it through the coming email updates.

PS: this course is one of the projects of my entrepreneurship challenge. Check it out, you may find inspiration for your next professional or personal challenge.

Coworking Advantages: Benefits of Working in a Coworking Space

Coworking brings a lot of advantages to coworkers. Among the main benefits there’s an increase in productivity, business and happiness. So far I’ve listed 27 advantages of coworking (this is the updated list of the advantages of coworking that was originally included in The Coworking Handbook):

  1. Grow your business faster: be more productive, expand your network, receive your clients in a professional setting… Coworking spaces are made to help you grow faster.
  2. Expand your personal and professional networks: you will meet a lot of interesting people in a coworking space. Some will become friends, some will be professional contacts, some will be both.
  3. Facilitated introductions: the most important part of a coworking space is its community of members. The people running them and other coworkers look out to introduce members based on common interests and possible win wins.
  4. Find new clients and grow your income: joining a coworking space expands your network and makes it easier for you to get new clients. Make sure you introduce yourself and that your coworkers know what you do and the kind of clients you are looking for. This coworker got 25 times his membership in jobs thanks to joining a coworking space.
  5. Find talent and people to work with: you are surrounded by professionals with knowledge and networks you can tap into to find talent and feedback.
  6. Hire and be hired: coworkers tend to book other coworkers to work with them in projects. It is much easier to ask a person sitting close to you than to run an internet search and vetting process.
  7. Be more productive: get more done, faster and with lest effort.
  8. No distractions from family members: they are well intentioned, but they interrupt when they shouldn’t and this strains family relationships.
  9. No temptations from the fridge and TV: procrastination is easier to beat at a coworking space.
  10. Be more motivated to work by surrounding yourself of hardworking professionals like you: having other people around you focused in their work helps you focus in your own work more easily. Reduce effort and increase productivity.
  11. Be more creative: getting out of your home, having interesting people around you and engaging conversations will help you be more creative. There are so many ideas and projects in a coworking space community that you will be inspired.
  12. Share with soundboards that will improve your projects: the coworkers around you have a lot of experience in different fields. Talk to them to get their input and improve your own projects.
  13. Better work life balance: separate work from your home. End the cycle of days that get longer and work productivity that gets slower.
  14. Work in professional environment (get out of your home and your pajamas): work in a clean and professional environment that motivates you surrounded by other professionals.
  15. Get a professional working routine with your own schedule: adapt the use of the coworking space to your own schedule. Coworking is made to adapt to your needs.
  16. Work by yourself, not alone: focus on your own work while working with other people around you that could give you a hand if you need it or that will be open for a chat around a cup of coffee. It is a bit like if the support network of a large company was recreated with independent professionals instead of departments, and without the political backstabbing.
  17. Eliminate isolation: don’t isolate yourself at home. Be with peers that go through the same hardships and joys as you.
  18. Increase self confidence: a better working routine will increase your self confidence and make you feel better about yourself.
  19. Be healthier: being in the company of others has been shown to improve physical and mental health. Work / Life balance improves too. Getting out of your pajamas and having a welcoming place to go to every day will help you have healthier habits.
  20. Better Internet connection: why limit yourself to a home Internet connection when you can enjoy the benefits of a profesional line? Upload and download files at the fastest speed so you can focus on the work that ads value instead of waiting.
  21. Flexibility: choose a plan based on your needs and change it monthly to adapt to you. If you have a mission at a client’s or you are leaving for a trip you can just halt your membership instead on paying like with a traditional lease.
  22. Reduce your commute: if your job is far away, you can reduce your commute time and expense by joining a coworking space near your home.
  23. Complement your work from home: the flexibility of coworking spaces allows you to choose and change plans to adapt to your needs. You can work some days from home and others from one or more coworking spaces.
  24. Cost efficient: cheaper than renting an office and they come with a lot of extras like events and effortless networking.
  25. No utility bills: coworking spaces cover this expenses themselves so you can focus on your business.
  26. No dealing with service providers and repairs: another nag that you can discard. Just make sure that you pay your coworking bill and they will take care of getting everything running.
  27. And last but probably most important: happiness! Mehdi reminded me and he’s right. I’m much happier thanks to coworking and so are the people around me

coworking-makes-you-happier

Coworking has disadvantages too, but  they are very easy to address.

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I’ve sold Betacowork and it is great for its coworking future

New and old owners of Betacowork Coworking Brussels
Erik, Toon, Ramon & Eric

Last week I closed the deal to sell Betacowork to three of its coworkers: Toon Vanagt, Eric Rodriguez and Erik de Herdt.  This is great news for me, but it is also for Betacowork and its community of coworkers. I love coworking but I don’t want to manage a coworking space any more. I want to be just a coworker and move on with new businesses and learning.

Ever since I decided to sell Betacowork I’ve been trying to find the best solution for the business and the community . I first tried to create a cooperative with the members so that they would take over, but it did not work. Then I started contacting some members and coworking entrepreneurs that I thought could be a good match: interested in coworking and Betacowork, understanding coworking, looking forward to the benefits of acquiring a profitable business and to take it forward.

I could not have thought of a better match than the three coworkers that have taken over. They’ve been members since the early times of Betacowork, they’ve launched their companies here, they’ve found each other and some of their employees at Betacowork… We have mixed DNA! And all this without counting all the time that Toon Vanagt has spent being my counselor, bouncing ideas back, and helping me out.

Another page of the book of my life has turned over, and this gives me great relief. I’m still part of coworking, I just don’t own a space any more. The next things to do are relaxing, learning (mostly programming), and getting my motivation and energy up to launch new businesses and projects.

In the last six years I’ve managed to create an amazing place to work and to bring together an extraordinary community. I will do all my new stuff while working from Betacowork: it is the best place on earth to work from. Why would I go anywhere else or, much worst, stay at home?