For 3 days, coworking geeks from around the globe gathered in Kansas City for this year’s Global Coworking Unconference Conference. During our time together we shared, listened, learned, argued and laughed. As always when coworking friends convene, it felt wonderful to reconnect with the global movement. Coworking is not just this thing that we do in Seattle – it’s a movement of independent workers from around the world all looking to do better together.
Now back home in Seattle, I am eagerly diving through a long list of great ideas to implement here in our coworking community. Beyond what we’re getting up to here, I think it is important to share some of the bigger picture items that were discussed while we gathered together in the Airline History Museum (hence the planes in all the pictures – cool, eh?):
Forecast: there will be 1 MILLION coworkers by 2018
During the first day’s conference session, Steve King of Emergent Research provided us with this incredible nugget of insight into the future of work: 1 million coworkers around the world by 2018. That’s bigger than the population of Seattle. Bigger than Austin. Bigger than San Francisco. While the total number is impressive, it is the potential of this number that gets me particularly fired up. We have the potential to ensure that 1 million people don’t just have a great place to work, but that they are a part of strong, supportive, collaborative communities. One million people working alongside one another doesn’t sound all that exciting to me. One million people who are tapped into strong support systems and are encouraged to learn with and from one another is an entirely different data set that I hope to contribute to. Coworking spaces have a responsibility to adhere to the core values, and to shift the conversation away from our physical space and onto the communities that form within those spaces.
We’ll say it again: it’s not about the space
Day 2 was our unconference day, which is when we got to dig deep into specific topics with one another. It is participatory, full of great dialogues, and is the day that I personally get the most out of at this event. In the first session, I hosted a conversation called “Let’s talk about cultivating spaces that matter.” My hope was to highlight that opening and operating a space is the least exciting thing that we do. No city in the world is short on desk space or internet connections. What draws people to coworking is the possibility of having their emotional needs met.
Yes, it sounds woo-woo but it’s the most important work of coworking: addressing the human needs of the independent workforce. These tend to come in the form of social connections and opportunities to learn, not the ability to print something or upload a big file. During this talk, 100% of the conversation was focused around the emotional needs of our members and how to address them. We talked about how a sense of belonging happens, the delicate dance of cultural development, and how to encourage members to take the reins of the space themselves. It was fantastic stuff and reinforced what we’ve learned from 7 years of coworking here in Seattle: it’s not about the space.
Addressing the true needs of the independent workforce
The final session I was a part of on Day 2 was a discussion about “intentional coworking.” Tony Bacigalupo of New Work City and I talked about our experience bringing Cotivation (accountability/support groups for indies) to our coworking communities. Nicolas Bergé-Gaillard from Les Satellites shared about their member mentorship program, as well as their “Good Actions” project where members work together on a nonprofit project. The central theme of the programs we shared with one another was not that they were great marketing fodder or a way to generate revenue, but that they were ways to encourage our current members to make the most of their membership. Programming at a coworking space can be more than an event listing on a website. It can be another way to build a strong platform on which independent workers can create a community. Coworking spaces have the opportunity to be the platform, and great programming can be a way to set that intention.
Big thanks to everyone who came out for the conference – it was a delight to meet so many great folks from around the world. And thanks to the GCUC team for all your hard work, and for letting us borrow these photos for the blog. See you next year, if not before!