Last week, the Cobot team went to Mannheim to learn from the experts and to share our own expertise on coworking at the Coworking Konferenz & Barcamp 2019, otherwise known as Cowork2019. Our time at the event was split between talks and the barcamp, unconference-style discussions led by participants. It was a busy weekend, and that meant that we couldn’t sit in on everything, but we left the weekend with a few key points that are applicable both for spaces inside and outside Germany.
Coworking can cause exhaustion — we have a responsibility to take space design seriously
The first keynote was from Markus Albers, journalist and author, who detailed his experience working for the German branch of the magazine Vogue and how it shaped his perception of modern office design. His key takeaway was that as big players adopt the superficial aspects of coworking and open office culture, the negative aspects are more pronounced than the positive ones. We’re all familiar with the perils of open offices at this point, which is why it’s important that in coworking we take the positive lessons from open offices, and avoid substituting design for community engagement. People crave both openness and privacy, so turn your space into the place you’d want to work in.
As the speed of change increases, coworking spaces are well-positioned
Anja C. Wagner, a Future of Work consultant and writer, led the second keynote about the theory of “waves of change” in technology, and how the pace of this change is increasing over time. She quoted several executives who warned that workers of the near future are going to need to be constantly re-educating themselves in order to stay competitive. The upside to this is that coworking spaces have an enormous opportunity to be the drivers of that continuing education with their community-focused workshops, skills and career builders, and networking opportunities.
Rural coworking is a rising giant
When we went around the room introducing ourselves, the surest way to get applause was to mention that you are interested in rural coworking. What is driving this trend? One of our team sat in on a rural coworking discussion and heard from a few people who either run rural spaces or intended to start one. A key point is that we’ve transitioned from thinking: “How big does a community need to be in order to support a coworking space” to “What do rural coworking spaces need to support their community?”
It turns out, there are lots of differences. One, space size is usually not the limiting factor like it is in urban spaces. The size of the building might not be a financial strain, but it also won’t be a draw either. Getting people into your space is about providing the things that are harder to get outside of a city. Wifi and good internet might be your draw, or even computers capable of running more advanced software.
That said, some of the things done in cities are even more useful rurally. Networking, help with design and planning, courses on technological skills — they’re useful for everyone, regardless of where you come from. But opportunities to find these workshops are rarer outside of cities.
So much of popular culture focuses on cities and ignores people in the countryside. Coworking spaces have the opportunity to demonstrate (and popularize) the talent of people outside of traditional urban centers.
Social Media is a must — but German spaces have unique challenges
For a space to stand out, you need people to be able to find you. But in Germany, many of your coworkers will be skeptical of social media based promotions. In other countries, if you built the infrastructure for people to interact with your space, they will do so (i.e. set up hashtags, put some picture-perfect backgrounds, create birthday events, etc.). But in Germany, people are more skeptical of these and as such you’ll need to work harder to give yourself an online image.
What is absolutely necessary is that you get good photos of your space online. This isn’t a given, many space operators wait for their coworkers to post photos online and organically grow your online presence. Don’t wait for that to happen — get straight to the source and hire a good photographer and get those photos on google maps. When someone is looking for a coworking space, a good image is your best selling point.
Women are taking the lead
There has been a proliferation of women’s coworking spaces around the world, but there is still a disagreement on how best to approach getting more women into coworking. Everyone agrees that the industry must do more to make coworking equitable and bring more women into the fold, but the discussion looped back to whether it was better to have a women-led space, a women-only space, or just a women-friendly one.
Several space operators lamented that they couldn’t attract more women to work in their space, and they were trying different options without much success. Through the discussion, we talked about how a lot of the ways that men were trying to bring women into the spaces wasn’t nearly as comprehensive as it needed to be.
What was stressed is that women want the same opportunities and quality of workplace as men, and that the way to do that isn’t superficial; it’s not about daycare, it’s about creating a culture that fosters women’s growth, talent, and capabilities while also incorporating design elements that feature women-centric design. For so long, men’s preferences in the workplace have been treated as neutral and it’s necessary to rethink how we design spaces from the ground up.
As always, we came away from the weekend with a deep appreciation of the people who make coworking possible. Thank you to the German Coworking Federation, C-HUB Startup Mannheim, and everyone else who made the weekend possible. Your work helps us all grow, develop, and cowork together!
If you aren’t already using Cobot as your coworking management software, give it a go! You’ll find that our features can help you run your coworking space more effectively and grow your community. Just sign up for a free trial or a live demo session. And if you have questions, our support team is all ears!