Every spring we get the opportunity to participate in one of our favorite events of the coworking world: GCUC USA. Where else in North America can we find speakers from around the world, coworking entrepreneurs from a diverse range of backgrounds, and a whole lot of excitement? This year we found it all at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in Denver, Colorado! Why were we so excited to be there? In the words of founder Liz Elam:
“We come here to talk to people from all over the world and see what the trends are… I believe that coworking will be the death of the traditional office.”
To kickoff GCUC, Liz laid out the focus of the event: it’s about everything coworking, but this year the main point was the immediate and pressing need to address wellness in our world. Depression, anxiety, and mental health are on everyone’s mind, our goal was to discuss how to support the mental well-being of the people who will spend potentially up to (and above) half of their waking hours in a coworking space. Depression has a cost to businesses and productivity, but more importantly, it takes a heavy personal and societal toll. With this in mind, we dived into the sessions with a clear perspective on what we should be looking for.
One of the ways that design can positively (or negatively) impact both productivity and wellness was highlighted in the session “Vitamin N,” led by Philip Vanhoutte, author of The Smarter Working Manefesto. His basic premise was the idea that nature, and natural verisimilitude, can impact the parts of our brain that suffer from being contained in an office for long stretches; also helped by incorporating design elements that better mirror human workflows. He divided his idea into 5 actionable elements:
- Activity-Based Working
- Vitamin N
- Talent Gardening
- Experience Benchmarking
To sum up his points, there have been a number of workplace trends that have meshed poorly with worker wellness. We’re all skeptical of open offices by now, but the problem goes deeper than that: polished concrete and glass reflect sounds that grate on people’s nerves while discouraging workers from speaking to one another; offices have worked to bring together multiple activities in one spot, but humans like physical separation of tasks; and we spend an average of 93% of our day in boxes, but we’re more productive when we get time in natural environments. So if you want to put yourself on the cutting edge of natural design, start thinking about the sounds that you’re fostering and how you can engineer more natural variety and greenery into the workflow of your space.
Women to Watch
At the Women to Watch panel, we got to hear from Amy Nelson (Founder of The Riveter), Angel Kwiatkowski (Consultant and owner of Cohere), Ashley Proctor (Founder of Creative Blueprint and COHIP), and Iris Kavanagh (Women who Cowork) on their experience as women operating in the coworking world. Among the topics they discussed was a depressing statistic: only 1% of startups get VC funding; and of that 1%, only 4% are women and 1% are women of color. So in your space, you need to be thinking about resources to help women entrepreneurs get the fundraising help they need because the deck is stacked against women who take the plunge into entrepreneurship.
Another topic that resonated with the panel: even in non women-focused spaces, everyone should be incorporating design for women. Some things that the men in the audience might be unintentionally neglecting: free tampons, trash cans in bathrooms, a space for pumping that isn’t a bathroom stall, a small mini-fridge for the same purpose, as well as amenities for food preparation and everyday non-office tasks. Spaces are willing to put so much energy into beer taps — but not basic services for women. That needs to change.
Every year at GCUC USA, the organizers announce the winners of the Coworky Awards. This year, while a variety of spaces won, the big winners were spaces that took wellness and design seriously! In particular, IOS Offices in Mexico won a number of awards including Best Amenities. Our only complaint about this session was the lack of photos/examples provided for each of the winners, which meant that we couldn’t see for ourselves exactly what led each space to claim their prize. Hopefully that will change next year!
At the unconference, we sat in on sessions whose topics ranged from incorporating scent into your coworking space to designing a space for the unique needs of non-profits. These are opportunities to be as broad or in-the-weeds as you’d like to be, and we heard plenty of examples of space operators sharing their personal experience and trying to problem-solve together.
We got to talk to people from all over the world about their unique coworking situations. This included people working in non-profit spaces designed for community enrichment; spaces designed to house non-profits themselves; spaces designed around arts and culture; corporate-focused spaces; and spaces doing everything in between. Plus, it’s great to hear the personal stories of so many people who care so deeply about coworking.
- Denver is a beautiful city, and the spaces we were able to see demonstrated the versatility of coworking.
- Rural coworking is a hot topic everywhere in the world, and there are still a lack of solutions for spaces outside of urban centers.
- Even as major players move into markets, coworking worldwide is dominated by smaller, independent spaces.
- Mental health and wellness is of the utmost importance for so many people, and the workplace industry is only just recognizing the need to address it.
- With so many new initiatives starting to gain traction, it’s going to be exciting to see how the industry develops by the time the next GCUC USA rolls around.
Thanks for a great event GCUC — we can’t wait to see you next year!
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