- Portugal will launch its first coworking assembly on October 7 and 8 at the Coworking Nativo event in Porto. The assembly hopes to unite stakeholders from across the Portuguese coworking sector.
- There are currently around 260 coworking spaces on the Portuguese mainland and the island of Madeira (and the Azores). This number is rapidly increasing as digital nomad visas and digital nomad villages attract digital nomads and encourage the expansion of the coworking sector.
- There is a growing argument for Portugal’s coworking sector to expand beyond the realms of its major cities and into small towns and rural areas.
In 2021, the Portuguese government adopted legislation requiring employers not to contact remote workers during rest periods. This extension of remote worker rights, alongside visas and villages dedicated to digital nomads, has made the Portuguese landscape attractive for local and foreign remote workers.
Consequently, there has been a significant rise in the growth of the coworking industry in Portugal. This growth has encouraged leaders and experts within the sector to look at establishing a Portuguese Coworking Assembly.
On October 7 and 8, Coworking Nativo will be held — in collaboration with the European Coworking Assembly — to launch the assembly and connect stakeholders from the Portuguese coworking community.
Allwork.Space spoke to Coworking Nativo Event Director Vika Zhurbas — who is also DNI.events Project Manager at Workcloud24 and the President of the Ukrainian Coworking Association — and some of her colleagues in the sector to discover more about Portugal’s burgeoning coworking industry.
Allwork.Space: What are the main factors behind the growth of coworking in Portugal?
Elisabete Tomaz (Associate Researcher at DINÂMIA’CET-Iscte): Many factors have driven the development of coworking in Portugal. I consider the following features most specific to the Portuguese context:
- The global economic and financial crisis of 2008 and the subsequent sovereign debt crisis in Portugal triggered the emergence of a set of collaborative spaces that gained momentum as the economy recovered.
- The startup ecosystem in Portugal has received extensive and continuous support from local and national public authorities, and coworking space development has been (in part) anchored to this support. Since the 1990s, many local authorities built entrepreneurial parks and set up incubators because they recognized that coworking spaces attract business startups, entrepreneurs, and, more recently, digital nomads.
- The most rapid expansion in the number of coworking spaces occurred mainly in 2018/2019 (and at the start of the pandemic). Some of those earlier coworking spaces are now closed or have suspended activity; however, a rise in the number of people working remotely has created opportunities for the emergence of more (and different models) coworking spaces.
- In recent years, Portugal (and Lisbon in particular) has been intensively promoted to the outside world, not only on tourism platforms, but also at international events for entrepreneurs — for example, Web Summit and Made of Lisboa. The promotional campaigns have produced positive results. Portugal is widely recognized as a safe, welcoming place with an attractive climate, beautiful landscapes and many other features desired by travelers and digital nomads.
Allwork.Space: What gives Portugal its competitive edge over similar expanding markets?
Simone Franke (Founder & CEO, Pappus Agency): Portuguese coworking is developing in a unique direction. The sector here is increasingly focused on people open to blending their private and professional lives. As Elisabete mentioned, here in Portugal, we have the optimal conditions for an ideal work-life balance that enables us to explore disruptive ideas.
The Traditional Dream Factory (TDF) in Alentejo, for example, transcends traditional coworking and co-living. This coworking/co-living village is officially described as a “prototype in developing a new form of living that is more in tune with nature and with human creativity — creating a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) governed regenerative village, sitting on lands conserved under the Oasa network.”
Elisabete Tomaz: Portugal is characterized by a range of competitive, dynamic and unique features that set it apart from other markets:
- A diversified and attractive territory with many opportunities to live and invest (not only in the major cities of Lisbon and Porto)
- A vast collection of resources within Portuguese research institutions
- Various public initiatives that aim to attract remote workers and foreign investment
- Extensive, untapped potential
Allwork.Space: We hear that you are setting up a coworking assembly. Why do you believe that Portugal needs its own coworking assembly?
Fernando Mendes (Co-founder, Coworklisboa): The history of Portuguese coworking originated from a single project back in 2010. My wife, Ana Dias, and I founded Coworklisboa — Portugal’s first coworking space. It was not designed to be a traditional business, but rather a solution to my own challenges as a designer. I had been losing clients due to the global crisis, and I realized that my skills alone could not respond to multiple challenges in the field. I needed more diverse people with a variety of different skills around me.
2010 to 2020 was an exciting but intense period. During this time we did not think about convening all the new coworking space operators in one place. We supported many people (from the north of the country and the islands of Madeira and Azores) without realizing that we were not contributing to a common idea of native coworking.
Now that coworking is no longer a novel concept, we believe it is the right time to gather all coworking operators and have a single, empowered voice.
Simone Franke: I have lived in Portugal for five years. When I started researching coworking communities in Lisbon, I felt overjoyed by the sheer number, variety and diversity of so many different coworking spaces arriving on the scene. In reality, I found that there was a lot more competition than collaboration within the sector. I made it my goal to redress this imbalance. I am grateful that I have found like-minded people such as Fernando, Bernie (Bernie J. Mitchell — European Coworking Assembly) and Vika, who all support me in that vision.
Allwork.Space: How will the establishment of a coworking assembly support the current and future growth of coworking throughout Portugal?
Simone Franke: Covid has shown how important it is to support each other through difficult times. Our highest priority should now be to develop a strong, united voice to speak to municipalities and create robust alliances. Germany, Spain and Ukraine are good examples of countries that have strengthened the core of their coworking sectors — facilitating a more open, diverse and inclusive coworking scene.
Vika Zhurbas: I think the support is in uniting. There are many exciting projects and places, but we still lack coherence within the coworking community. I see the Coworking Portugal Assembly as a space where all stakeholders can trust each other and share ideas, knowledge and contacts (among other things).
Allwork.Space: What other benefits will an assembly provide?
Vika Zhurbas: Our aim is to provide two elements missing from the Portuguese coworking sector: a communications platform — for sharing ideas or events about coworking, co-living and other industry news; and a basic landing page about coworking and co-living in Portugal.
As someone originally from outside of Portugal, I still find it difficult to locate coworking spaces (even through a search engine). A lot of information is still communicated by word of mouth here. My aim is to develop a web page with a map of coworking and co-living spaces in Portugal, as well as to publish salient research within the industry and announce upcoming events.
Allwork.Space: What does the future hold for coworking in Portugal? What is currently working well?
Fernando Mendes: The future of coworking in Portugal will be the same as the global future of coworking. The most authentic coworking spaces are characterized by a few core elements such as openness, diversity, community and free speech. If we remove these foundational attributes, the future of coworking will look dramatically different and far removed from what we currently call coworking.
In Portugal, we have a diverse range of coworking initiatives and a multitude of other shared workplaces in the country. This diversity is a positive development that facilitates and supports the expansion of coworking (outside of the biggest cities like Lisbon and Porto).
Simone Franke: I hope there will be more diversity and opportunities for coworking in rural areas. Institutions that were formerly known as “Casa do Povo” (House of the Folk/Society) could become multifunctional cultural centers which support social, leisure and coworking activities.
Generally, Portuguese people are very open to new things — however, the support from the local municipality could be improved. I consider Goncalo Hall, J Mendes and Sofia Martins to be among the pioneers of coworking here. Their tireless efforts led to the establishment of the Digital Nomad Association Portugal.
Allwork.space: Do you foresee any obstacles that could limit the growth of coworking in Portugal? How could these challenges be addressed to ensure coworking becomes a key, sustainable element of the future of work in Portugal?
Fernando Mendes: The first obstacle is the ongoing obsession with growth, scale and speed in every aspect of our lives. The global coworking movement could prove key in tackling this obsession. If we want to make the sector sustainable and a valued contributor to a better future for all, we should support “defuturizing” the world.
We are still living in a state of emergency — either in the way in which we work and/or how we learn and live. We are constantly learning how to adapt and cope with rapid changes in the world.
Too many companies confuse remote and flexible work with the notion of employees controlled minute-to-minute whilst working from home. This is a huge problem and certainly an obstacle to progression. We need to evolve and eradicate the micro-management that still rules in Portugal (online and in the office). Despite this, Portugal has all it takes to influence and inform new, sustainable (think physical place and mental space) ways of working.
Simone Franke: In my opinion, a closed-minded mentality and lack of courage are factors that always limit growth. However, I am very optimistic that everything will progress as it should here in Portugal.
Allwork.space: Thank you for taking the time to speak to us today. Finally, how many flexible work/coworking locations currently operate in Portugal and where are they predominantly located?
Elisabete Tomaz: Depending on your definition of a coworking space, there are around 260 currently in operation. Most of these coworking spaces are located in the Lisbon Metropolitan Area, followed by the Porto Metropolitan Area. The major cities still dominate the scene.
Simone Franke: In Porto, the locations are (on average) smaller in the city center, since the Portuguese way of construction is narrow and many buildings have restrictions in terms of what can be reconstructed (which actually adds a unique character to the place). In the suburbs, you will encounter bigger spaces or creative hubs.