GCUC 2017 Highlights: “Coworking is the biggest opportunity of our lifetime”

This past weekend, May 5th – 7th, the Global Coworking Unconference Conference took place in none other than NYC.

Like Cat Johnson recently said in her article, there was something different about GCUC this year. But in a great way. “While last year’s GCUC USA event felt like a head-on collision between coworking and commercial real estate development–the latter getting the better end of the bargain–this year’s event felt like the industry has taken a collective step forward.”

The flexible workspace industry has grown and evolved, and we are all–vendors, business center operators, virtual office brokers, coworking operators, real estate developers, tech companies, transportation providers, incubators, accelerators–finally embracing the fact that we are all part of the same industry, and we are actively finding new ways to work together and add value to one another.

People. Place. Technology.

People

For years now, some have been saying that the flexible workspace industry is a combination of people, place, and technology. The way each operator focuses on these three aspects is what determines what kind of workspace they operate: coworking, virtual office, business center, incubator, or accelerator.

Since its early beginning, coworking has greatly focused on the value proposition of community, realizing that this was what most modern workers were in need of. They were right. At GCUC this year, Casper ter Kuile and Angie Thurston from Harvard Divinity School explained that individuals, particularly millennials, are searching for organizations or places that can provide them with a sense of belonging and community, the way religion has provided this for previous generations.

“The way in which people are engaging with institutional life is changing rapidly. Religious traditions are no longer meeting the needs that people have. Isolation and loneliness among Americans is high; 1 in 4 say they have nobody to talk to.”

Here is where coworking (as well as Crossfit and SoulCycle and others of their sort) come in. “We think that this is the new fabric of American life. People want to have conversations in these spaces, where they feel part of the community. These are places where there is a sense of togetherness and of healing.

While coworking operators knew this from the beginning, business center providers remained skeptical of the idea and concept. That is, up until now.

Today’s workforce is craving a sense of belonging, a culture that speaks to them, an authentic community that they can rely on. This is why flexible workspace models that actively work on their ‘people’ feature are the ones that are being the most successful. While those that continue to solely focus on the ‘business’ part of it, are facing difficulties.

Place

Just as much as business centers had to learn from coworking operators about ‘people’, the same can be said about coworking learning from business centers about ‘place’.

At GCUC this year, Felena Hanson from Hera Hub and Frank Cottle of The Alliance Business Centers Network spoke about why your address is as important as your community. Simply said, “if you’re gonna have an address, it should add strength and value to your community,” Cottle said.

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But the location of your workspace goes beyond adding value to your community, it should also add value to you and your business.

“Understanding how to use your address effectively both economically and to sustain the community makes it an important contribution.”

Most coworking operators don’t realize that they can greatly monetize from their address alone, by providing a virtual office product (more on this later). But this also means having a prime location, one that is desirable for its accessibility (transportation hubs, parking, nearness to home, etc) and also for its prestige (downtown, renowned neighborhoods, etc). In other words, when you are thinking about opening a new space or expanding your footprint, you really need to pay a lot of attention to your address.

Technology

Nothing annoys a modern worker more than choppy technology and an un-seamless experience.

“For me, when I walk into an office building, it’s like my phone stopped working; everything is so antiquated.” – Ryan Simonetti, Convene

The above is why Convene ended up building out a mobile interface for an office building. Now, we’re not saying you should all go and develop a mobile interface for your locations (there are technology vendors that can do that for you), but we are saying that you should make sure that your technology enhances the workplace experience.

This means thinking about every small detail, like how people access your workspace, the devices that they bring in, how they connect to your technology, and how they interact with it.

Word of advice from Nick Clark of The Common Desk: “don’t go with cheap security and technology.”

Tech is one aspect that everyone in the industry has to constantly be working on and innovating. Technology, now more than ever, moves and evolves fast, and you need to make sure you have the best of it and that you are getting the best from it. Think data, utilization, and space planning.

The best news here is that there are now various technology solutions made and created specifically for coworking and flexible workspaces. Tech can easily make or break the workplace experience. In case you’re wondering how to embrace technology and implement it in your space, check out how these operators got it right.

A final word on GCUC 2017

GCUC this year went above and beyond expectations. It was also a wake up call for everyone to realize how much of an impact coworking and flexible workspaces have on workers, corporations, and other industries as well.

Liz Elam rightly said at the opening of the event that “coworking is the biggest opportunity of our lifetime.” Together we can change the way people live, work, and interact. And we can continue this revolution with ourselves as operators, by working together, by collaborating, and by learning from one another.