GCUC Feedback: The Future Of Coworking And What Attendees Really Thought Of The Coworking Unconference

This post originally appeared in The Farm Soho’s blog, May 16th  2017

It’s fair to say that GCUC 2016 left many feeling a little disheartened as to the direction of coworking, so how did last week’s Global Coworking Unconference Conference (GCUC) rate with its attendees?

Thilo Utke, co-founder at coworking management software company cobot.me, said: “After hearing about the frustration and the raising antagonism between coworking and office providers in last years GCUC (and also Coworking Europe from peers) I was curious to see how it would play out this year.”

Utke added: “After the conference, I’m happy to see the tone has changed and now things are moving towards each other where both sides are open to learn. There will always be a need and place for all variations of shared work spaces ideally.”

It’s a sentiment echoed across the board and we caught up with some of the high-profile GCUC participants to ask:

How did GCUC USA change your perspective concerning the future of coworking?

Many attendees felt the event gave a more evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, vibe – but that the coworking sector is at a tipping point where it will soon impact on a range of industries.

More on that later.

The event itself was a unique and positive experience according to Jamie Russo, executive director at the Global Workspace Association (GWA), who said: “The clear theme at GCUC this year is that community reigns as the driving force behind coworking space owners that attend the conference. I’ve never been to a conference that exudes so much ‘emotion’ for lack of a better word. You simply don’t see the passion, the camaraderie and exuberant optimism for the future that you see at GCUC.”

Evan Oder, CEO at Find Workspaces, wasn’t convinced that the conference radically changed his perspective on the future of coworking, but left with a sense of optimism. “However, I can say that I feel more convinced than ever that we are still in the early stages of shaping the future of work as an industry. Coworking is still on the rise and we will continue to see it thrive for several years to come,” he added.

Finding your USP is one way coworking spaces can thrive as the coworking sector progresses. Nick Shewring, co-founder of coworking and collaboration network BizDojo, said: “What really stood out to us was how incredibly important it is to know who you are as a space, an operator – and most importantly – as a community. As the coworking market becomes increasingly competitive and diverse, understanding your uniqueness has become more important than ever.”

The key takeaway for Zoltan Szalas, founder at coworking platform Croissant, was this focus on community. He said: “There were so many great topics on how the future of coworking is being shaped, but the topic that resonated with me the most regarding the future of coworking was the importance of in-person connection – aka community.”

Szalas said: “As the world of work is transforming, digital workers are becoming more isolated, and it’s important for these at-home-worker, coffee shop dwellers to have a community and culture they can tap into. Coworking spaces that have and foster a strong culture and community will perform better over time than their counterparts.”

Lucas Seyhun, co-founder at NYC coworking space The Farm SoHo, said: “At GCUC, I realized the value of community and how it can anchor the future of tech. Coworking is the cure to a society that is moving towards becoming lonely digital zombies. We apply this treatment by providing business and personal growth to our members through a collaborative community that they call home. The Farm’s NYC loft event venue and its vibrant events calendar enable our members to experience outside the box thinking.”

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Bottom lines matter

While community and culture are important aspects, it means very little if you can’t balance your books. So, there was also an emphasis on financial health at GCUC, and Russo added: “I was relieved to see some focus on financial sustainability. While there is quite a bit of vocal resistance to arbitraging, dispassionate real estate professionals taking over the industry, the reality is that there are models that work and models that don’t pay the rent.”

“Based on the ‘profitability’ unconference session, I get the sense that new operators are asking the right questions around how to find the right balance between community and financial sustainability,” she added.

Bringing in the other industries

This is a sign of things to come as coworking spaces will need to learn to work with other industries to maximize their impact in the wider world of work. Bernhard Mehl, co-founder of KISI, explained: “GCUC USA made it clear that big projects can only be accomplished if everyone works together: coworking, real estate and tech.”

Mehl said: “GCUC USA showed that the future of coworking is to become a more modern, community driven form of real estate management. No one wants to work in cubicles, everyone is mobile. The largest companies are on it, it is happening now.”

Utke added: “I’d even like to go so far that coworking is damned to cooperate with the big players of office space services. As a future of commoditised workplaces without the human element that the coworking movement focuses on is truly bleak. So, I rather see the the scale of the flexible workplace industry with the ideas of coworking combined to shape a bright future for work.”

“Conferences like GCUC play an important role to forge the right connections for that future and this year Liz did a great job of putting the right people and topics on stage to cause enough friction to build and improve these connections for a bright future of work,” he added.

Cross-industry collaboration was clearly a key theme, as Jerome Chang, founder and architect at BLANKSPACES, said: “Coworking continues to influence new sectors. Even religion sees kinship with brands and communities that invoke a faith-level of fandom.”

A coherent message is starting to form, as Frank Cottle, Chairman and CEO of the Alliance Business Centers group of companies, said: “I believe that there were two major shifts that came to light at this year’s GCUC-USA convention.  First, was the overall recognition by everyone there; that we are a single industry and that by presenting ourselves in that manner our message of flexible workplace, community and value will be heard and received by a broader spectrum of the marketplace.”

Cottle added: “Second, was that we are growing…FAST!  We all know that, but I don’t think that the individual operator has a complete understanding of the massive trend shift that is occurring globally; and GCUC as THE global industry convention platform really is able to help keep everyone ahead of the curve.”

Ceci Amador, managing editor at Allwork.space, agreed with this perspective and said: “GCUC 2017 marked a tipping point for the coworking industry. It set the tone of a maturing and evolving industry that’s impacting much more than office space. I believe the future of coworking will be one that weaves together various industries, from CRE and transportation to hospitality and technology.”

“Coworking, in a sense, will become the nucleus of work-life integration in its many shapes and forms,” she added.

Exactly what the shape and form of coworking will be by the time the next GCUC event comes around will be interesting to see – but it is clear that a balance between industry-wide collaboration and a community-led identity must be struck for coworking to survive, thrive and maintain its identity in the years ahead.

The future of coworking depends on it.