Coworking Europe: this is big.

 

I just returned from an excursion to France, where the start of my trip was completely absorbed with the Coworking Europe Conference in Paris. They call it a coworking conference, but I can tell you confidently that when this group of people got together – 300 people representing 30 nationalities – the conference was about much more than just coworking.

The bulk of conversations surrounding this 3-day event were about connecting to the higher purposes of coworking. How coworking fits into a bigger conversation about our changing world – economically, politically, and socially. We discussed how coworking is – amongst other things – a manifestation of changes we are a part of in every corner of the world.

Coworking and jobs. We heard from Tony Bagicaglupo, Mayor of New Work City, about the ever-evolving “why” of coworking. When so many of us started our spaces, the “why” of coworking was to bring together a community of independent workers who were otherwise isolated in their homes and cafes. But as our spaces evolve, and as coworking spaces from around the world connect, share, and collaborate, we are learning that the “why” of coworking is becoming much, much bigger. For Tony, the “why” has now become a channel through which we can work to fix the job crisis ourselves. His rallying cry to the independent workforce of the world is to stop waiting around for jobs to “be created” by big companies, and instead create the jobs ourselves.

Coworking and political action. Joel Dullroy of Deskmag highlighted the increasing population of freelancers during his presentation on Day 2, and called out coworking spaces as “new political meeting houses” for the independent workforce. For the independent workforce (Joel was speaking specifically about freelancers, but I believe similar conclusions can be drawn to any independent), coworking spaces provide a gathering place and a sharing platform in addition to being a place to work. While on a day-to-day basis this might enable independents to work better and connect with others, coworking spaces also provide a rallying point for independents when they may need it most. He ran us through the story of Germany’s proposed €350 “retirement tax” on freelancers, and how through the power of grassroots organizing (in part via coworking spaces) freelancers were able to raise their voices and strike down the tax.

Coworking and community resilience. I was a part of many conversations about the art of cultivating a coworking community, the beauty of multiple communities emerging out of one coworking space, and how cultivating community is a skill worth learning beyond just it’s implications in the coworking world. The value of a strong, diverse community is possible to see on a day-to-day basis in the form of vibrant conversations, the sharing of skills, and the joy of shared experience. But the power of community is highlighted in an incredibly powerful sense when it is able to demonstrate it’s resilience. Tony Bagicaglupo started off his talk reviewing the quick response by coworking spaces in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in New York. We often talk about how a coworking community isn’t about the space it is in, and Tony gave us a clear view of that truth in practice.

I could continue to wax on and on about the many lessons I learned in Paris and I likely will for years to come. But know this – I’ll definitely be at Coworking Europe 2013. This is a conference not to be missed.

Big thanks to Tilman Vogler and Deskwanted for the use of these photos from Coworking Europe! 

 

 

Coworking Europe 2010

   

I was honored to be invited to speak at the first Coworking Europe conference in Brussels. The conference was amazing. I love talking about coworking and how great was it to be in a room with 120 other coworking enthusiasts. There were a number of folks from the US but I was the only space owner. I met people from all over including Brussels of course, England, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Russia, The Netherlands, lots of people from Germany and as far away as Latvia and the Ukraine. There were folks opening up spaces, established space owners, researchers, government officials, as well as representatives from Cisco, Medusa, and Steelcase.

The event was at The Hub Brussels which I have to say is an impressive coworking space. They have 5 very gracious hosts that work hard to make everything go smoothly for all their guests. The setup they have is a little different then how we do it at Office Nomads. For one, there are no resident desks. This leaves the room pretty flexible and everything is on wheels to make it even more so. We showed up on a Thursday morning and the office was in full swing. The next day, the first day of the conference, they had transformed everything into a large event space. Saturday, after everything was wrapped up, we watched as the hosts put it all back in a period of less then 15 minutes.

I talked fellow nomad Trevor into coming along so we could talk to folks about Nadine, the open source coworking software project we are working on. We also talked quite a bit about the CoworkingDB project and the topic of coworking affiliations and networks came up quite a bit. I’m still processing all the conversations so I’m not sure what to report on at this time.

After Brussels we went on to Amsterdam. We were stuck in our hotel for the first day due to stomach sickness but the second day we made it over to The Hub Amsterdam. From the Coworker.NL site, and from what we were told at The Hub, it seems there is quite a bit of coworking. I was not able to find anything on the coworking wiki and couldn’t get in touch with the folks behind coworker.nl. I would have liked to have more time to visit smaller independent spaces and make more connections in Amsterdam. It’s a great city and I would love to spend more time there.

Next stop was Berlin, where I am now. Alex Lang, one of the bright minds behind Cobot, put us up at his apartment which is quite nice. He’s traveling in Istanbul so we don’t get to hang out with him more. Today we are hanging out in Co.Up, his coworking space and there is a great atmosphere here. Lots of natural light and it didn’t take long before we were engaged in some great conversations with Thilo, Alex’s partner, and Jan, a member and developer for CouchDB. Yesterday I spent the day at Betahaus and had lunch with founders Christoph and Tonia. In the evening I went out to dinner with the team behind Club-Office. Between Co.Up, Betahaus, and Club-Office I’ve seen quite a spectrum of coworking here. If I lived in Berlin I’d have a hard time choosing between Betahaus and Co.Up since they both feel like home. Perhaps I wouldn’t choose.

We have a little more time here in Berlin and then Trevor flies back to Seattle and I fly to London on my own. I have plans to check out The Hubs and The Cube as well as Hub Culture, and Tech Hub which have nothing to do with The Hub. Also meeting with Richard from WorkSnug, an iPhone app that helps folks find a place to work.