Coworking as Infrastructure for the Future of Work

Hi all. My name is Jeannine. I have run a network of coworking spaces in the Netherlands called de Kamer (which is Dutch for “the room”). The first one opened in 2010.

I was planning to take all the coworkers on a party bus tour of all the locations for our 10th birthday this month but, er, see, there was this global pandemic. :slight_smile:

I am also involved with Open Coworking, the people who bring you coworking.org, and with the European Coworking Assembly. So I stay busy.

My opening date means that we were operating in the aftermath of the Great Recession which in the NL went on through 2013. It was my experience that coworking spaces can serve their coworkers and themselves in these times even more effectively than when things are good, which is a bit paradoxical. It was our time of most rapid growth and the time when our coworkers were working together as they and we did not before or since.

It is my own basic belief that coworking is best framed as the infrastructure of the future of work. I also think that COVID-19 has not so much changed the world as revealed to us things that always were there already and required us to deal with them. It has been a pulling back of the veil in that way.

I think the future of coworking has great potential; I also think that for a lot of coworking spaces it is a real question whether they can hang on through the now long enough to get to that future. What I see around me is that the notion of coworking as rental of event space or as rental arbitrage is not sustainable.

I have to watch out for confirmation bias though as this has long been my opinion, honestly. I should probably say it differently: I was never able to make that work.

In may ways coworking has been internally focused and complacent with it, there are huge portions of society who have never heard of it or who have not been included as part of the movement and that is also not sustainable. These are things which must be addressed, I think, now more than ever.

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@JvdLinden thank you very much for this introduction!

Your point about the right understanding about what “co-working” actually is, how it goes beyond rental of event spaces and how only with this right understanding there is potential and sustainability of the field is very interesting!

In preparation for this summit I did an Interview with Faye Alund, who pioneered co-working in Indonesia, and the way she stressed the meaning and potential impact of such places and the mindset that comes with the right understanding of them also as places of empowerment inspired me.

Here is the interview transcript, in case you are interested:

we still have to smooth it over a bit for easier reading, but there are some points inthere I could imagine you could connect well over with her.

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Also, the kinds of work that function well in a co-work environment keeps expanding, esp as companies come to terms with how long this situation is going to continue…like years.

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I really like your point coworking = “infrastructure for the future of work”. It reframes its position.
I also agree with the sector being more inclusive and outward looking, which I believe comes from awareness and actual visits to spaces. I think teenager and college students should all get to visit various coworking spaces to understand the potential of the spaces both as their future location for work and as community hubs.

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Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say co-working is the future of knowledge work? Just because nurses, gardeners, electricians, etc…

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So true, that it is applicable to only certain roles. But you might be surprised at how things are changing and any of those roles you mention with either admin work or the ability to consult virtually (e.g. health consultations remotely) are appearing more and more. Vets working remotely? https://www.barkyn.com/ virtual consultations for pet owners.

It’s funny you should mention that as the first real identifiable cohort of coworkers in the first space was in fact nurses. Home nurses, to be specific.

In the aftermath of the recession in the NL, it became both public policy and also wildly supported by companies to take folks on as freelancers. In my town of 50,000 people was located a company which employed home nurses and sent them out all over the region. In one go they changed them all to freelancers, women (mostly women) who had never been nor had they ever wanted to be entrepreneurs.

I call these the accidental entrepreneurs. People who either are switched from employment to freelance or find themselves with no alternative but to freelance. This happens to women a lot and has for generations: My grandmother was an accidental entrepreneur, my mother was one, and I was one.

So as a coworking space we mobilized a six week crash course in basic entrepreneurship: we got a guy from the Tax authority to come tell them how to do their taxes and keep records, we got a lawyer to come tell them that their rights were and to look at their contracts, we brought in several coworkers who were intentional entrepreneurs to come talk to them about the good side of freelancing. We had a guy come talk to them about pensions and about disability insurance. That kind of stuff.

It was great fun also.

In one of our locations we specialize in the trades: electricians, plumbers, roofers, painters, floor guys, the whole ball o wax. It is a warehouse space. They don’t need desks and it only has like two and one meeting table for meeting with suppliers et cetera. What it does have is lockers – did you know that many people in the trades keep tens of thousands of euros worth of specialized equipment in their vans parked on the street? I did not. Eek. It has forklifts and it has a space for prefabrication.In short it has what they need, which is not a designer space featuring baristas with short skirts. :slight_smile:

Somebody needs to come to terms with how the world is changing for coworking to reach its full potential but I am not at all sure it is the coworkers. I think it’s us.

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Jeannine - the 6 weeks crash course in entrepreneurship is genius. I agree that many of these freelancers etc are accidental/by chance entrepreneurs… but once that path appears to them, if you react with the support needed and advice. I imagine amazing things happen!

I am adding in @NACEC (Gary from Ireland) and @FayeScarlet (Faye from Indonesia) as these type of education initiatives they both spoke about with me in their work.

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@zmorda look at :point_up_2:t5:

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Industrial co-working…this I had not thought about before.

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I also wonder if some individuals and companies will use co-working spaces to test out ways that they might later use as they re-work their own office paradigms.