Could Social Capital Unleash More Disruption For CRE?

How social capital, as a payment of mechanism, has helped SiGNAL stand out and grow its community
  • The UK’s first S2M social capital workspace SiGNAL opens
  • Social capital offers “a distinct and differentiated USP”
  • Digital social capital platforms are furthering the concept’s reach

From WeWork’s sky-high valuation to industry-wide concerns about the financial feasibility of coworking, you might assume flexible workspaces only focus on money, money, money – and this could be their undoing.

Because it may not be a rich man’s world after all, as the social capital movement starts to spread and disrupt traditional CRE business models. (S2M) is one such social capital operator. The basic premise is that a workspace allocates some of its space to freelancers and entrepreneurs for free so they can share their knowledge and experience with the wider community. So, although no money passes hands, you do have to give up your time to help others in a space.

The S2M social capital movement is starting to gain more traction. For example, Novotel Amsterdam Schiphol Airport and S2M created a space in April of this year.

More recently, in the UK town of Bordon, Hampshire the SiGNAL space opened, which is a completely free working space for business owners and the first S2M offering in the UK.

The concept of social capital has certainly helped SiGNAL stand out from the crowd. Emma Selby, founder of the SiGNAL coworking space, said: “We give our deskspace away for free but this creates huge value for us in real terms. We have a community of fans who are personally engaged with us and our project – the all important hearts and minds of the local community  – while at the same time they are using the space to create economic value that benefits everyone.”

“There is also no doubt that having social capital as the payment mechanism gives SiGNAL a distinct and differentiated USP from a marketing perspective. We often lead with this facet of the S2M concept and it usually generates instant buy-in from both potential users and collaborators.”

“Big corporates are more open to an approach for programme sponsorship or event partnership from a space that is putting its money where its mouth is, when it comes to facilitating start-up growth and encouraging access to up-skilling,” she added.

The concept has clearly struck a chord with the local community as solicitors firm Bookers and Bolton, which is based in the town of Alton (about 15 minutes from Bordon), will soon open a social capital space. The firm was already a regular visitor and contributor to the SIGNAL space,, and its offering, known as SiGNAL {Squared}, will allow locals to book a spot in a six-space room at the firm’s centrally located office.

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    Paula Langley, practice manager at Bookers and Bolton, said: “When we heard about SiGNAL, we were keen to get involved. We have expertise and knowledge to share and also want to learn from other businesses. We totally understand the idea of creating social capital by sharing spaces and, more importantly, ideas.”

    Langley added: “We are now in the process of opening up our boardroom space to anyone who wants to sit at a desk and use the wifi. By giving something back, that costs us nothing and would otherwise be underused, we hope to improve our links within the small town community we serve. What we gain is immeasurable – it is human connection in a world that seems to want to divide us.”

    Location, location, location

    You don’t have to use a S2M space (or even leave the house) to make use of social capital.

    In the States, the concept of time banking (you do an hour of work for me, and I’ll reciprocate) is well established and several off-the-shelf options are available. You just sign up and begin to barter your time in exchange for someone else’s time.

    Goodnik is one such skill-sharing platform for those offering professional services. When you sign up, you help people in exchange for ‘goodnikels’, which are a time-based alternative currency that you can then use to hire others to help with your projects. Each goodnikel is worth 1/10th of an hour of time, or in other words for each hour that you help someone, you earn 10 goodnikels, and can hire someone else to work for you for an hour.

    As a result, the Goodnik platform relies on an indirect bartering model. You don’t have to swap services directly with someone. Goodnik’s CEO, Nate Heasley, explained: “While, ultimately, we need some sort of cash for certain commodities, a large proportion of skills can be shared via a barter exchange but you need to have an alternative currency to enable indirect bartering.”

    Goodnik takes a slightly different approach when it comes to building communities compared to other services too. Heasley explained: “The idea that we are trading services with our neighbors makes no sense in the digital age. We don’t define our communities geographically as much as we used to, we define them by affinities and affiliations; people who share our values and experiences.”

    So, whether you’re in Bordon or Bangkok, you can use social capital to connect with the best person for your job.

    However, that doesn’t nullify the importance of connections, as Heasley explained: “In social capital situations, connectedness is important because participants need to get over the hurdle of accepting goodnikels (or whatever currency) instead of cash. There needs to be a greater amount of trust between the parties. That’s why it’s so important to have a community-based system rather than just a gigantic pool of random people.”

    The transcending of physical borders for social capital will, obviously, help broaden its reach.

    It’s also a concept that’s embraced by S2M. Selby explained: “Our users can gain access to the entire S2M network, at sites across Europe. Many of our users regularly do business in mainland Europe, so it was, in equal parts, a useful draw for potential users and sent a positive message about keeping a productive and open business relationship in a post-Brexit referendum world.”

    So, if social capital transcends borders and budgets, what could it do next?

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