2018 - what a year! “Busy” doesn’t even begin to describe it and we’ve grown, changed and done so much that we barely had time to appreciate what was happening at the time. The solution? To take the opportunity presented by a new year to look back at the one that just passed!
2018 in brief
During 2018, we:
Spoke at or ran a session in conjunction with no fewer than 10 gatherings or conferences, on 3 continents. (Did you follow our adventures on twitter?)
Organised an extra EXPLORE two-day workshop due to popular demand, making it two this year.
Gained 77 new CONNECT members, pushing us over the 100 bench-mark halfway through the year (now at 131!).
We have also experienced some staff changes, with David stepping down to move on with other projects (bye, David, we’ll miss you!). We saw Anne taking on some vital administrative tasks and Naomi donning the Head of Accelerate hat to lead us with purpose and direction. A warm welcome to our team, ladies!
What have we learned?
What type of reflection would it be if we didn’t take stock of our most important insights of the last 12 months? We already knew all of the below, but somehow it really hit home in 2018:
Coworking is extremely diverse
This year - through tons of first-hand experience - we cemented our awareness that coworking is happening pretty much everywhere, in a myriad of forms and at various levels. Nowhere is this as obvious to us as by looking at our CONNECT network. It has been expanding steadily, and now has 131 members from over 70 countries!
Would you like a taste of the scope of our membership? Well, EH49 Hub is exciting people with coworking in a small town in Scotland. Campfire Collaborative Spaces can be found in Asia and more locally takes on a metropolis like London. Arctic Coworking Lodge in the far north of Norway and Sun and Co. in Spain combine coworking with coliving, tempting with northern lights and sun respectively. Old Beechworth Gaol takes coworking to an abandoned prison building in South-East parts of Australia. ODC Hub are just about to open their doors in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. Some of our members have attended an EXPLORE workshop and are now working closely with us, such as the Scottish Coworking Network who are bringing coworking to libraries across the country. And this is just a fraction of our members! We find that pretty amazing.
Industry versus movement
Many articles have been written about what coworking really is; if you are reading this you probably agree with us that it is essentially about people. We try to reflect this by using words like ‘collaboration’ and ‘community’, and of course with CONNECT are gathering people who run their coworking business with these same values.
But it cannot be denied that coworking as a phenomenon is growing and spreading, and as such unavoidably changing. New opportunities are attracting real estate agents and corporate investors, and there are now plenty of places that describe themselves as offering coworking where community building is a low priority and where profit takes precedence.
In this context, we heard a very interesting and important distinction between coworking as an industry and coworking as a movement during Coworking Europe in October. We say it is an interesting and important distinction as it points to the motivation and values behind setting up a coworking business, and so is one of perspective. It uncovers the difference between primarily focusing on the social and human aspect of collaboration of coworking, versus starting a business venture aimed at providing a service to meet a growing demand - although these two of course are not exclusive and overlap! This distinction allows us to clearly articulate a current trend: namely that coworking as a movement sprouted and has been gaining momentum for over 10 years, whereas coworking as an industry is just emerging.
The great thing is that these two perspectives or aims cater for different kinds of people and needs, and that we can learn from each other - which was clear at gatherings and conferences. On the one hand, we met many driven individuals with really great business ideas and impressive gadgets (coffee on tap, anyone?) at Global Coworking Unconference Conference UK in September. On the other end of the spectrum, we spoke with development trusts, social enterprises and charities who were looking for the next project to enrich their community during the annual Development Trust Association Scotland conference and Social Enterprise World Forum. We are excited to see what great things will come from coworking as a whole!
It is ultimately about community
Whether focusing on a straightforward business venture or looking to create stronger bonds between people through a space, we still think coworking is ultimately and undeniably about community.
On the fundamental level, community is composed of the people in your coworking space. The people that greet each other, make cups of tea for one another and rejoice in each others’ successes - or indeed empathise with those unavoidable mishaps.
A flourishing community is of course a primary concern for most coworking space leaders, but at least in its minimal form is of interest even for someone who did not start their business with supporting people and collaboration in mind. Because, as Claire emphasises in all of her workshops, a well-designed space and good wifi might attract someone to a coworking space, but it is the community of people that will make them stay and in turn affect the longevity of the business.
The exciting thing about being part of the coworking phenomenon is that the core relevance of a community is replicated and demonstrated on the national and international levels. 2018 saw us travel to Poland for the Coworking Now conference and Malaysia for Coworking Unconference Asia to make new connections and learn from other communities; glimpse a different perspective at the already mentioned Global Coworking Unconference in London; catch up with our neighbours at Scotland’s first National Coworking Day; and meet old friends at the yearly Coworking Europe (we’ve been to every one!). And while we are always inspired and engaged by the content provided, it is the chats in between sessions and the introductions made at the drinks receptions that are of most value for their social element. In short, it is building a stronger community of coworking leaders and practitioners that really makes it worth it.
What do we want to learn?
Reflecting on what you have learned or grasped in a new way is useful and great to share with others. Looking forward is however equally - if not more - important. So, what do we want to learn in 2019?
More about community
With over 10 years of experience which we share at most of the events we run and facilitate, you might be surprised that we want to learn more about community. But we do! Coworking is forever changing and there are always new ways of looking at things and new ways of doing them. We are continuously asking ourselves what it is that makes communities tick, and as well as developing our own tools with people at the core, and we are always on the lookout for other people’s insights. If you have a particularly good community building tip, do tell us and we will share it within our CONNECT network - and beyond.
We want to know what you want to know
Let’s continue this meta-level community building beyond conferences and face to face meetings, or indeed include those who were not able to attend. Let’s talk! We would love to know what you want to learn more about when it comes to coworking. And if you are not already a member of our network but run or work at a coworking space, and have been nodding your head whilst reading this, do join us pronto - and again, tell us what questions are driving your learning.
Wrapping up… and happy 2019!
Having reflected on these past 12 months, it is still a challenge to comprehend just how much happened in 2018 and we are wondering what 2019 will bring. It is difficult to imagine a more full, satisfying year - but we will of course aim to make it even better. How?
In brief, we will continue doing what we do - and undoubtedly take on more. We will aim to keep doing the things that we do well and that work, and improve wherever we see the opportunity to do so. We will work towards our aim of accelerating the growth of coworking globally to create resilient enterprising communities locally. We will learn, share what we have learned and, most importantly, continue building and actively participating in our beautiful, international coworking community.
Here’s to a new year, and to continued coworking success!