GCUC Canada 2017: “A Return To The Heart Of Coworking”


“GCUC Canada has a reputation for being a deep, whole-hearted dive into authenticity, community and connection. It didn’t disappoint” – Cat Johnson

Following previous GCUC Canada events at Toronto in 2015 and Montreal in 2016, in 2017 it was Vancouver’s turn to take up the mantle. GCUC Canada took place at 312 Main, Vancouver’s Centre for Social & Economic Innovation, which in itself is pretty special.

“312 Main, where the event is being held, is creating Canada’s largest and most inclusive coworking space/community,” explained Cat Johnson, author of Coworking Out Loud and Allwork.Space contributor, who was in attendance at GCUC Canada 2017.

Although still under construction, Cat describes 312 Main as a “massive and multifaceted” venue, which plans to deliver a platform for social good, community and creativity. Led by Ashley Proctor, the 312 Main team “are doing game-changing work creating a community space that has the potential to transform a ‘transitional neighborhood’”.

It’s a stunning venue that ties in neatly with the coworking community’s core values, and we’ll follow up with a closer look at 312 Main on Allwork.Space in the coming weeks.

Now back to the main event…

1. Wild Spirits

Day One of GCUC Canada 2017 kicked off with a friendly welcome from Executive Producer of GCUC Canada, Ashley Proctor, and an acknowledgement that Vancouver is on unceded Aboriginal territory.

“We were welcomed by Chamiya (Janis Campbell) from the Squamish Nation,” said Cat. “She had us moving and dancing like the eagle, wolf, raven and salmon to acknowledge and honor some of the animals of the area.”

If you’re wondering what this has to do with the coworking movement, it’s exactly that: movement. What better way to connect with the local culture and community than to embody its sacred animal spirits?

On another level, Cat notes that this acknowledgement represents opportunities to create “more cross-regional partnerships that share information and best practices”.

2. Modern Convening

Later that morning, Jocelyn Macdougall of Creative Coworkers took to the stage to discuss some of the countless ways in which coworking spaces can connect people.

“Jocelyn Macdougall shared insights into creating more diversity in coworking space,” said Cat, “not just bringing people into the room, but creating a feeling of belonging for everyone.

“It’s important to elevate voices that aren’t being heard. One good way to do this is by listening more than you talk, especially if you’re in a position of privilege.”

3. The Future of Work: Working With Purpose

Always a hot topic, it just wouldn’t be GCUC without a frank and honest discussion about the future of work and the role of coworking within it.

The panel was moderated by Ashley Proctor and consisted of Devon Carr (COHIP and The Livelihood Institute), Jenn McRae (The Urban Worker Project), Humaira Hamid (Futurpreneur) and Liz Elam of GCUC Global.

“There’s a growing number of young people wanting to work with purpose, to do work that matters,” noted Cat. “This is a huge driver and a key reason why people are choosing freelancing and coworking over corporations.”

And it’s these same people that are expected to populate future coworking spaces. “Emotional intelligence, convening, collaborating — these are all values people look for and that can be found in coworking spaces — but only if we’re doing it right.”

Crucially, coworking stands to gain based on “the ethics of collaboration over competition”, which is drawing increasing numbers of entrepreneurial-minded people away from the traditional workplace and into a more flexible, open and collaborative state of work.

Of course, this is no utopia. ‘Working with purpose’ harbours its own challenges, which isn’t burdened solely by the individual. It’s a problem shared with — and recognised by — the coworking community, and includes:

  • What does retirement look like in this new system?
  • What does maternity and paternity leave look like?
  • How do we change the conversation from ‘corporations are evil’, to finding ways that work for everyone?
  • How do we make nonprofits responsive and agile to the (dynamic) world?

“We’re testing the work models we grew up with,” added Cat. “Previous generations had lifelong connections to their employer, but now, we’re looking at the challenges we face and how coworking can help us solve them.”

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4. The Future of Work, Continued: Can Coworking Handle It?

Continuing the ‘Future of Work’ panel, Liz Elam noted her predictions for the future, which included an increase in consolidation and the evolution of existing coworking brands.

However, Steve King made an interesting point when he said: “If 2% of corporations jump into coworking, you can’t handle the demand coming your way.”

One space couldn’t. But as an industry consisting of multiple spaces working together in unity, there is untold potential.

“Everyone here is a pioneer. We’re so much more powerful than [the likes of] WeWork if we band together,” commented Elam. “As an industry, the possibilities are limitless.”

There’s an over-riding feeling that coworking is essentially “building the plane as we fly” and designing new systems to accommodate change and new ways of working.

“We’re making the future” concluded Liz.

5. Your Space Reflects You

In the afternoon, Tony Bacigalupo of New Work Cities led an engaging discussion focusing on how to ‘Attract and Retain Amazing Members, and Have Fun Doing It’.

Dispelling a common myth, Bacigalupo argued that “the industry is not saturated” and shed light on its further potential by noting that even people who may not need to rent office space, still “do need community”.

Remember the new generation who want to “do work that matters”? This ties in perfectly with their needs. Their top values are “emotional intelligence, convening, collaborating”, all of which they can find in a community-focused coworking space.

Back to Bacigalupo’s talk, and he noted that there are now many free coworking spaces sponsored by corporate brands, such as Wix, Lululemon, Capital One, Cadillac lounge, and Amazon web loft.

How can coworking live up to these free spaces? “They have conference rooms, phone booths, and great spaces,” said Bacigalupo. “But the value of being able to get online is approaching zero, so that’s not what we need to create — we need to create communities.”

This is the key differentiator. As for building it, community isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. “If your members don’t have any emotional connection to your space, they will leave when they get a better offer.”

First, Bacigalupo suggests giving people a reason to come into your coworking space — such as programming events or workshops. Then, focus on developing a space that reflects the energy and commitment of the person behind it: you.

“No one can beat you at being you. And that’s what people connect with.”

6. CheckYoMate

At the heart of every coworking community is people. One poignant reminder of this was expressed by Liz Elam as she announced the launch of a new initiative, ‘Check Yo Mate’.

Cat, who is involved with the programme, explained:

“Liz announced the creation of checkyomate.com, a project she created with me, Iris Kavanagh from Coworking with Iris, and Sundaram Design, to help destigmatize conversations around mental health. Part of the inspiration for the project was the death of Bennett, a longtime member of the NextSpace Santa Cruz community, which Iris and I are both members of.”

#CheckYoMate takes place on December 21st, which is Bennett’s birthday. According to Elam, Bennett suffered from mental illness and “unexpectedly passed away this year, which left his community wondering if they could have done more.”

#CheckYoMate on 21st December is “a day to check in with the people in your life. Check in with your coworkers, office mates, friends, colleagues and family about how they’re doing.”


The Last Word

“My big picture takeaway is that GCUC Canada is a return to the heart of coworking,” added Cat.

“It’s a space to reconnect with the human-powered movement that transforms lives, communities, and the world.”

Thanks to Cat Johnson for providing feedback and photography from the event.

For more ‘juicy’ coworking insights, check out GCUC Singapore and use the discount code: ALLWORKISGCUC

Slideshow images: Cat Johnson
Featured image: GCUC Canada (sourced https://twitter.com/GCUCCanada/media)