One of the driving forces behind coworking industry – Global Coworking Unconference or GCUC, arranged a 3-day long conference in the USA this May. It gave all the newbies in the industry an excellent opportunity to gain knowledge from the best in the business. During a session called “Ask Us Anything” held on day one, four workplace industry icons came together to share their insights about coworking workspaces and more.
The session started with moderator Mark Gilbreath, Founder, and CEO of Liquidspace; touching upon the significance of the conference. His brief speech also covered the young industry of coworking and the potential benefits the audience can reap from the decades of wisdom the guest speakers possess. He then went on to let the four guests introduce themselves who were – Brad Krauskopf of Hub Australia, Mara Hauser of 25N Coworking, Ashley Proctor of GCUC Canada and COHIP and last but not the least – Shlomo Silber of Bond Collective.
Mark starts questioning with Ashley, who is one of the forerunners of bringing in new actors who are foreign in the area of coworking industry development. She has brought in real estate assets from public sectors and also donors who have contributed over 15 million dollars in her Vancouver project. As Mark asked her about her accomplishments, Ashley began by giving credit to her strong team, who have been working for the past five years to create partnerships between private and public sectors. For her renowned 312 Main Project, she made a property management agreement with the city of Vancouver which will stand for the next 30 years. So that allows her and her team to have full control of renovating and managing the property.
312 Main Project
Ashley mentioned that the downtown eastside is one of Canada’s most rough neighborhoods with high addiction rate and a lot of homelessness. They were terrified with potential threats of protests, stalling the project and even shutting the project down. Still, she believes this area possesses a robust and vibrant community full of social enterprises. Thus, she could raise funds for this project by getting in touch with the public service outreach programs and Canadian economic development platforms. She participated in meeting some of their development goals including job creations, which inspired 15 different organizations to provide rents and funds for her project. Ashley aspires this project to be a model across Canada and in extension, the world because it serves a lot of different community needs effectively.
Coworking Space tailored to Members Needs
Mark then moves on to Shlomo who has brought in new energy into coworking regarding hospitality and design of the coworking space. Shlomo explained all the steps he and his team went through to build a coworking hub tailored to satisfy their members’ needs. Shlomo’s team of Bond Collective has moved onto their fifth space, also designing it according to the community’s demands and feedbacks. For example, their space had a ping-pong table, a big screen TV, but the members of media and film industry proposed that a production room will be much more useful to them. So Shlomo and his team developed a production studio and a podcast booth, which is now being used every single day. All these steps have made Bond Collective much more appreciated, welcoming and flexible to its coworking members.
At this point Mark mentioned, this approach is in contrast with the pretty templated design perspective a company follows to achieve a higher scale, like Starbucks. Shlomo responded that they prefer being the Stumptown of the industry. He prefers ‘quality over quantity’. It’s better to have 20-30 coworking spaces which they can work on slowly than to have a thousand spaces where it’s harder to stay engaged with the community.
While asked about customer demographics, Shlomo mentioned they have more team players as members, as opposed to successful freelancers or operators. They spend more on the comfort of their staff than on their own. So people join their hub because it helps them attract the accommodating staff. “The community and the flexibility are what draws enterprises to Thirdspaces,” he believes.
Coworking Spaces – Cost-efficient
Mara suggested that joining a coworking space means significant resource saving for a company because the company doesn’t need to worry about all the facilities and maintenance that comes with it. They never have to worry if there is coffee, if the copier is working or if there is someone to greet the guests. The space takes care of all these services so the company can fully focus on their primary business.
Coworking reaches the suburbs
Mark then brought up the migration of coworking principles from the main cities to the suburbs. Mara shared her experience of how she brought in a high number of local professionals, who were looking for a productive space but did not know about the coworking concept. She also worked on introducing coworking spaces within residential properties. Mara and her team were looking for an under-utilized lapidated 10 thousand square feet area in an essential business district, and the only one they found was a residential high-rise. The first floor happened to be vacant, and her team made a partnership with the owner of the building, highlighting the opportunities for their company. This space also offered access to great amenities like health club, golf simulator, etc. to its premium members. Mark mentioned how there is a lot more creative freedom in the next few projects on the west coast. These projects will have ground floor retail and therefore zero underwriting.
One of the question asked was, “How to get the first followers in a new coworking space?’ Ashley strongly suggested finding those people before starting the space, because usually spaces like this are built and modified around the requirements of a particular already-existing community.
Erik from Fine Workspaces of Wynwood, asked “If gentrification is part of the narrative.” He highlighted how the “big boys” aka the big developers come in and change the neighborhood, washing out the graffiti, increasing per square foot price from $10 to $15. To this Ashley responded, their motive is not to grab the light before it goes out. They try to build a long-lasting community space built around people who were already there.
The last person asked Ashley about, “What drove her to create COHIP – the first Coworking Health Insurance Plan – for all independent workers in Canada?”
Ashley then shared her very personal and touching story about how she struggled against her fate to create something amazing out of it. She first lost her art scholarship, insurance, job, and apartment because of one bicycle accident. From there she realized the lack of coverage for a self-employed artist and as a result started working on a program. After three years, she and her team convinced an insurance company to take a chance and created a plan. Thousands of people went in on the scheme, maxed out their benefits, and thus the company closed the whole program. So she took the lesson from here and built COHIP which does not just aim at artists, but also entrepreneurs, freelancers, small businesses, volunteers and other large networks.
All in all, this session brought many significant factors behind the build-up, modification, and expansion a coworking space into the light and gave everyone the opportunity to learn from four of the best of the industry.