- GCUC Canada took place October 21-23 in Banff and it combined the conference with a retreat.
- The conference was organized by Ashley Proctor and it focused on the roots of the coworking movement.
- The program and content presented focused on community, connection, authenticity, and collaboration.
The shuttle ride from the Calgary airport to Banff takes the better part of two hours. What begins as an unremarkable journey through an industrial landscape turns to farmland and prairie, which transition into the foothills of the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
The further you travel into the mountains, the more everyday life gives way to indescribable majesty. As a product of the U.S. Rockies, I fancy myself a mountain girl, but these mountains are like nothing I’ve ever seen, with their jagged peaks, sky-high snow-capped tops and massive, timeless beauty.
Not a bad way to start a six-day coworking conference and retreat at the Banff Arts Centre. GCUC Canada always impresses with its unwavering focus on the coworking movement, as opposed to the workspace industry. Produced by coworking pioneer Ashley Proctor, GCUC Canada gets right to the heart of coworking with programming centered on community, connection, authenticity and collaboration.
GCUC Canada has a reputation for challenging coworking space operators to do more and dig deeper into their role creating the future of work. We’re collectively designing the future and the gathering reminds us to take that responsibility very seriously—to make sure we’re creating a better future.
Sometimes the best way to do that is to step away from talk of commercial real estate, square footage and service providers, and retreat into ourselves, our global community and our deeper work.
The vision for GCUC Canada this year was to combine the conference with a retreat, and it delivered in fine style. The event struck a brilliant balance of expert presentations, resources sharing, community time, downtime and an unconference day, all enfolded in breathtaking natural beauty and a spirit of fun. (There may or may not have been a group outing that included karaoke and mechanical bull.)
The event was supercharged with a Women Who Cowork retreat on the front-end that set a tone of mutual support, honest reflection and sharing, self-care for overextended space operators and a spirit of collaboration. Led by Women Who Cowork co-founder Laura Shook-Guzman from Soma Vida in Austin, Texas, the small but mighty gathering offered participants a chance to decompress and refocus before GCUC Canada.
The biggest takeaway from the Women Who Cowork retreat for me was that everyone’s perspective—even (maybe especially) that of the newcomers is vital to this movement. As veteran coworking space operators pass the torch to a new generation, finding ways to support and learn from newcomers is essential. They face some of the same challenges and opportunities as the original space founders, and many different ones as the industry continues to grow and evolve.
Day two of the Women Who Cowork retreat overlapped with Camp GCUC, the first day of GCUC Canada. Topics covered included business planning, creating a sustainable business model, fundraising and more in a session led by Tony Bacigalupo from New Work Cities. A breakout on self-care and preventing burnout by Shook-Guzman surfaced the very real need for the people who take care of their communities to take care of themselves.
In the afternoon, I presented a session on brand storytelling. The focus of the talk was to bring more authenticity to your brand and content to attract members who will thrive in your space.
A Q&A with coworking veterans Melissa Saubers from Cowork Waldo, Proctor, GCUC producer and Link Coworking founder Liz Elam, and Deskmag co-founder Carsten Foertsch gave attendees an opportunity to ask real world questions about opening a space, creating community, working with city officials and other businesses, and much more.
Day two kicked off with an overview of the global workspace industry through a GCUC lens by Elam, and a talk by Proctor on the Canadian perspective on coworking, which reminded attendees that Canadian coworking has always had a strong focus on community.
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We were also treated to an impromptu explanation of the Net Promoter Score—a way of gauging the loyalty and satisfaction of current customers—by Oliver and Kate from Your Desk in Sydney.
Foertsch then took the stage to share data from the annual Coworking Survey. For GCUC Canada, he presented what he dubbed “Rare Perspectives on Coworking Spaces and their Members.” Among the interesting points were the following:
- Purpose driven organization are the most popular local partner for coworking spaces
- 30% of coworking members are extroverted, 47% are ambiverts and 22% are introverted
- Introverted members prefer the social atmosphere of coworking more than any other group
- Every sixth member of a coworking space considers themself a digital nomad
- Digital nomads feel almost as attached to their current coworking space as all members
View Foertsch’s slide deck and stats here.
The afternoon kicked off with a group photo, followed by an engaging story from Erynn Lyster and Jess Steinbach from the Commons Calgary. The takeaway for me came from a story Steinbach told about rock climbing. She reminded attendees to notice the chalk marks of those who have gone before and see if they work for you, but remember to chart your course by looking at the terrain in front of you, not just where others have gone.
We then had an open discussion about dismantling the loneliness epidemic and the role space operators can play in helping people feel connected, welcome and a sense of belonging in their space. Moderated by Shook-Guzman, with panelists Elam and myself, the panel unearthed conversations around mental illness, gender equity, diversity and inclusion training. We talked about how simple things, such as a “hate free zone” sticker can act as expressions of your brand values, and how coworking is already working to dismantle loneliness at the most basic level by giving people a place where they are not alone.
From there, people proposed unconference topics and attendees voted on which breakout sessions they wanted to participate in on unconference day.
Day three, unconference day, is always a crowd favorite at GCUC events. Unconference sessions give space operators an opportunity to learn, teach, get vulnerable, ask questions and share their expertise all at the same time. Unconference topics for GCUC Canada this year were around hospitality, apps and SaaS, meditation and yoga, onboarding, inclusion and diversity, coworking and childcare, consulting, hosting sustainable and profitable events, Women Who Cowork, social media marketing strategies, rural coworking, environmental impact and sustainability, working with local government and economic impact, art and design, measuring the impact of coworking and more.
Throughout the retreat, attendees were encouraged to take care of themselves—whatever that meant for them. We had access to outstanding hiking trails and walking paths, world-famous lakes, including Lake Louise, a pool and hot tub, a gym, on-site breakfast and lunch, art galleries, wildlife, including elk, eagles (I’m pretty sure I also heard a rattlesnake), and absolutely overwhelming natural beauty.
Imagine mountains like you’ve never seen, in every direction, as far as you can see, made even more beautiful by the changing light and sky and a community of committed, visionary space operators. The gathering was, in every way, absolutely unforgettable—a reminder that the fiery heart of coworking is not real estate, but people.