Global Coworking Unconference – Part 1

“We are getting in at the base of the bell curve and we will ride this thing to the top. We are starting a revolution and this is really exciting.” I am paraphrasing Liz Elam, organizer of this year’s Global Coworking Unconference in Austin, Texas, attended by about 240 coworking¬†operators and advocates from around the world.

Many people will ask “What is coworking?” The easiest way to describe it is shared workspace in which self-employed workers, freelancers, contractors, consultants, small businesses and others gather to work independently together. Coworking is more than just space, though. Effective coworking centers create a community in which members network, share, and come together to work on projects. It is something distinctly different from business centers, which simply seek to rent space to multiple tenants. You might want to check out his YouTube video…

Coworking is a 21st century way of doing business, enabled by the newfound ability of workers to go mobile, by increased outsourcing by businesses, and by the rapidly rising number of self-employed persons and small businesses. Since coworking spaces began to appear in the mid 2000’s, the number of centers has doubled each year. There are now about 1,320 coworking facilities worldwide. From a look at the conference attendees, coworking is a Gen X and Gen Y game. Perhaps three quarters or more of the attendees were 46 or younger – similar to studies of who occupies coworking space.

Some take-aways from the first day of the conference:

  • People are looking to pool resources and share in resources they all need to succeed. Coworking is an ideal platform for this kind of collaborative consumption.
  • Incubators are starting to look carefully at what a coworking model can provide as a means to encourage start-up and growth.
  • An important aspect of coworking is the freedom to express yourself and be yourself at work. There are a large number of people employed by corporations that are finding coworking spaces.
  • We no longer have one place of work. Different kinds of work can be conducted in different places – home, the traditional office, a coffee shop, a coworking space, etc. More than a third of the workforce is mobile.
  • The biggest competition for coworking is the third bedroom. Coworking gets workers out of the isolation of the home.
  • We have moved from an industrial society where economic development meant infrastructure, to a society in which competitive advantage is found in people.

Part 2 will share observations from a tour of nine coworking spaces in the Austin region.

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