The conference website describes coworking as follows:
“Professionals from different working areas, independent workers, nomad workers and entrepreneurs find themselves in the same physical space to work on their own projects.
They don’t only seek to break with their isolation and to find an alternative solution to their home office or to the company office they are used to work from; But also to belong to a community of individuals who are open to exchange ideas, and eventually, who are ready to collaborate.”
As of 2015, over 2,800 coworking spaces were recorded in operation in Europe – but the number of spaces is growing rapidly across Europe and the world. To find out about the latest developments in the sector, and to meet some of the fascinating people who have helped it grow, we attended Coworking Europe 2017 which, much to this writer’s delight, took place in the friendly and beautiful Dublin.
Our experience at Coworking Europe was a whirlwind of fascinating conversations, meaningful connections, and intel on some of the emerging trends in the sector which offered important insight into the industry. The diversity of delegates in attendance reflects the entire sector – with a huge variety of countries, cultures, and opinions represented. If you follow PLMR or Snapdragon on Twitter (which you should!) you will have seen some of our live coverage of the panels and events.
The diversity of the sector was on show during panel discussions, as often an insightful point about the direction of the sector would be rebutted by a completely opposite take – which also reflected the nature of collaboration and working together that characterizes the sector. The conference was not about making definitive conclusions about coworking, but rather gaining a better understanding of the viewpoints within the sector, and getting a sense of where the industry itself believes it is heading.
We learned at the conference, via statistics from Deskmag, that a large percentage (42%) of members of coworking spaces across Europe were working from home before joining their space. For these workers to make the move from home to an office hints that they are looking for a few things – human connections and networking usually being the key aspect – and the concept of a partner/support system being another. This is one of the key aspects that separates the sector from other flexible space industries. The quality of the partnership offered by a coworking provider can be what makes or breaks a decision to join a space. Attendees at the conference who enjoyed their coworking arrangements cited feeling supported and connected to a community – hugely valuable particularly to a freelance or startup worker.
Beyond the ways in which centres can be more appealing to coworkers and provide them with the best possible environments, some challenges such as retaining members and providing relevant events were also discussed at the conference. The elephant in the room when discussing challenges was Brexit. Brexit presents another range of challenges to be overcome in the next few years – though many European providers see it as an opportunity to welcome new businesses to their cities. However, the sentiment among many of the conference presenters seemed to be that the sector shows no signs of slowing down, and the entire industry is ready to face Brexit and tackle any challenges it presents. It was reassuring to see the optimism and tenacity of open space providers in the face of an issue that has worldwide implications. From where we are sitting, it seems the sector will continue to thrive, Brexit or no Brexit.
Overall, the discussions had during sessions and at the various networking events in Dublin all hinted towards a strong sense of optimism and a commitment to keep the coworking sector going strong. Space providers, users, and other interested parties all seemed to agree that the sector is experiencing a new wave of growth. The sense of community and collaboration at the conference reflects the ethos of the entire sector. By coming together and brainstorming solutions to our challenges, sharing success stories, and gathering creative ideas from others, the sector is certainly set to keep thriving. From our perspective, we will keep an eye on the trends and how they might have implications for the wider flexible space sector, so stay tuned.