Jo Meunier [00:00:35] Okay, well, thank you, Pauline, for joining us today. I’m really looking forward to having you on the Future of Work podcast. We’re really happy to have you here and thank you for joining us from Berlin. Pauline Roussel [00:00:45] Thanks for having me. I’m also very looking forward to our conversation today. Jo Meunier [00:00:50] Fantastic. And I know you’re in Berlin at the moment, but you don’t stay in the same spot for very long. And I’m referring to your co working book, which is a fantastic book called around the World in 250 Allwork.Space. And to research this book, you visited over 500 Allwork.Space across 50 cities, which is quite incredible, and I’m looking forward to digging into that. But before we go into all the research that you took for your book and the places that you visited, can you talk to us a little bit about coworking, where it came from, what it is and how it works?
Pauline Roussel [00:01:25] Sure. Thanks again for having me. I’m really happy to be on the podcast today. It’s actually a really interesting question that we are often asked or that we often use to ask when we conduct workshops, like who knows when coworking started? And I think a lot of the people have misconception through the big brands that it started around 2010. But actually there were a lot of movements already in the 90s, actually in Berlin and in other regions around Europe that were not called coworking per se yet, or they were not branded coworking. They were called shared spaces, collaborative workspaces. I’m thinking about Seabase, for instance, in Berlin, which was more of like a hacker space. And then there was another initiative in Vienna that started back in 2003. But the official start of the coworking as a movement was in 2005 in San Francisco. And the person who actually coined the term coworking as a place to work was Brad Neiberg. And I think coworking is also, if we look at it, it’s a trend that’s fostered by global innovation developments. Specifically, I would say, in the It sector. For one, is the innovation in technology that allows people to work from laptops and good WiFi Internet from places that are not their offices. And then the second innovation, if we can call it that, is the changing habits of the new generation that grows up with flexibility and mobility in everything they do. Specifically, in our case, when we look at the trend of remote work, for instance, combined with the enormous uptick in startups and small companies in the last decade, coworking really came as a natural solution, as an affordable and flexible workplace, so that’s like when it started, people were able to share a place to work from. But the next surge, I think, of coworking’s popularity came with larger brands investing heavily in marketing. And I think that started more around 2010, so five years after the initial start of the movement, and that really attracted more members and inspiring entrepreneurs to create their own Space. So this influx of users and brands has really diversified and professionalized for the industry, drawing also individuals who appreciate both the business and social benefits of coworking.
Jo Meunier [00:03:58] Right, okay, thank you for that. And you said that it comes a lot from hacker spaces originally, and can you explain that term and what that means?
Pauline Roussel [00:04:07] So when we talk about hacker spaces, it was people, again, very linked to the It industry and the tech world. So it was people who were kind of like coming into a room to work on side projects that were mainly tech related. So that was what was called hacker spaces.
Jo Meunier [00:04:25] And that technology that is still so important today, wherever you work, whether you’re online, offline, everybody needs that.
Pauline Roussel [00:04:37] I just want to say, if people are interested in CBaSE, the space I was referring in the beginning of the podcast, it still exists to this day in Berlin, they have a website that is still on and where they share the whole story and the genesis of why they started it. And I think it’s really interesting to look at. So if you look at Seabase in Berlin, you’ll have the full picture of what it is and what they stand for.
Jo Meunier [00:05:00]
Excellent. We’ll include that in the bio and the transcript at the end. Thank you for that. And you said that coworking came from a need of flexibility and mobility and that’s more true today, especially after the Pandemic, than perhaps ever before. So I’m interested, how has coworking changed in recent years? And in particular, what impact did the Pandemic have on coworking as we know it today?
Pauline Roussel [00:05:25]
I think initially in 2020 when the Pandemic happened and everybody was wondering what the future would look like, coheriting seemed to be really threatened by the Pandemic and COVID and everything, but I think eventually looking at it now, it really propelled the industry forward. The shift away from traditional office commuting led more people to seek Allwork.Space closer to home, aiding also the industry’s growth overall, I would say.
Jo Meunier [00:05:59] But yeah, I think if you want to talk now about where coworking is going next and how it impacts the future of work, that would be great.
Pauline Roussel [00:06:06] So it’s actually a very interesting question. People always ask us, where is it going? And I always wish I could predict the future to answer fully to that question. I can’t yet predict the future. But what I can see and what we can see now looking on the daily at industry movements are a few different things. I think today we see, for instance, coworking becoming more and more an amenity to many other concepts. We hear more and more about coworking being used to activate a building. I think this activation component is becoming very important and that can happen in residential or even commercial buildings. That also means that we see more and more commercial real estate brands or larger real estate companies looking into coworking. And they do that in few ways from what we see today in terms of movements. Either they start their own coworking brands from scratch or they would acquire existing ones. To add. Also on what I was saying maybe earlier, we also now see coworking operators developing more and more offers for larger companies where they develop, run and activate a space for them. So the company basically just comes in and the operator takes care of the rest. That’s what is called operated offices, serviced office. I think some of the interesting things we also see today, and I think it’s going to develop even more in the future, is the development of coworking spaces outside of the large cities. I think prior to the Pandemic, everything was happening a lot in London, New York or Paris. And I think the second to third year cities were not catching up. But I think that’s also something the Pandemic really shifted. We see that more and more coworking spaces in smaller towns are opening and obviously also in rural areas, which is really interesting. I think rural coworking, that being said, still has a lot of challenges ahead, particularly on developing a sustainable business model. But we already have plenty of examples and including in our book of the positive impact of coworking spaces in less populated areas around the world.
Jo Meunier [00:08:36] Yeah, and really because coworking can adapt and become so many different things depending on the needs of its specific community, the people in that area, it can really sort of, I want to say infiltrate, but it can really appear anywhere. It can pop up, like you say, in the suburbs, in the rural areas, in town and city centers. It can really be where it needs.
Pauline Roussel [00:08:58] Actually, while traveling, you said earlier that we visited 500 coworking spaces We came up with a quote which I think really illustrates what you just said and coworking is the same dish. Everyone cooks differently. So actually there are so many recipes. I mean, coworking is that dish that some people will add more salt, more chili sauce or more, I don’t know, pepper. But it’s still coworking. And I think that really illustrates what you’re saying. The model can exist in many forms and in many places.
Jo Meunier [00:09:29] Yeah, I love that. That’s a great quote. And I’m glad you brought up your book because I really want to hear about the research that you did. It sounds absolutely fascinating. So you visited over 500 Allwork.Space across 50 cities. So can you help us to imagine what that was like, what that experience was like?
Pauline Roussel [00:09:47] So maybe to give the listeners a little bit of background on all of that. It all started because Dimitar so my partner and I met in a co working space. I used to be the chief happiness officer of in Berlin, which means general manager, basically. And Dimitar was a member, so he was working for a startup accelerator at the time and he was entrepreneur in residence in that accelerator. Our coworking space was a little bit special in the sense that it was only accessible to early stage startup founders. And at the time in Berlin 2015, as I said, there were plenty of other spaces that were targeting very different audiences, like freelancers musicians or even parents. And when we looked at the scene in the city itself, we really started to wonder what was the daily life looking like in other spaces around us, but also how other operators were creating value for their communities. I think we were looking for those answers also for us on how can we improve and what can we learn from having those conversations with other people who do the same as us. Because although the scene was diverse, I think in Berlin back in 2015, coworking was not as popular as it is today, for instance. So we thought that being able to have those conversations were really important. And so to find out for ourselves, that’s how the research actually started. So we went out in the city and we interviewed, I think around 20 plus coworking founders and teams, always with those two questions what’s the daily life like in your space? And also how do you create value for your members? And one day we presented on a Friday community breakfast in our coworking space, which was open to anyone in the city and beyond, we presented the outcome of our research. So what did we learn and what did we figure out by talking to all those people? And that day was actually kind of interesting. We had a special guest in the audience, which was the founder of Talent Garden. So if people do not know Talent Garden, it’s one of Italy’s largest co working brands. And so after presenting what we’ve learned, david, the founder, he came to us and said, oh, you guys should come to Milan. We have a very different kind of way of doing co working because we have an educational component plugged to the concept. We actually have a school inside. And we took his words and we just said, OK, let’s go to Milan. But instead of visiting just his co working space, we took the time to explore the city. And we visited other concepts like a co working cafe office, but also other smaller, more independent coworking space. And when we came back to Berlin, we saw how different Milan was from the city where we were based and it really sparked our appetite for more. And I think from then on, we just kept on traveling, always with those two questions in mind and always eager to learn what people are doing, why they are doing it, how they are doing it. Now maybe should I add on how that comes into a book or do you want to?
Jo Meunier [00:13:07] Yeah, I think it would be good to know. What I could ask you now is any interesting co working concepts. So during your research, what were the most sort of interesting concepts you came across of all these different coworking spaces you saw and how they fit into their local culture?
Pauline Roussel [00:13:25] That’s also a very good question because I think we realized very early on how different one coworking space was from the other. And that’s mainly also driven by the team that creates and run the coworking space. So in the book we have 250 stories of coworking teams and concepts that are existing around the world. But I think if we go into the niche or into the things that you might not expect in terms of concepts, we have, for instance, coworking kitchens. So people who actually, they do not work on laptops, but rather they cook there. So it’s like catering businesses, food startups. And what’s really interesting about those is that usually the coworking space provides the latest technology in terms of material, which, for instance, in the cooking industry is quite expensive. There are a few stories in the book from Vienna or from Berlin where they did partnerships with larger companies to equip the space. And then the members, they have that chance to come in and use the latest technologies to develop products or to cook for their catering businesses. I think we even have a story in the co working space in Berlin that’s for chefs, where one of the startups developed a vegan tuna from that coworking space and they won a lot of prices for it and now it’s distributed in a lot of supermarket chains across Germany. So that’s one example. Another one I would really love to give just because it’s usually people are really reacting when I give it, is a coworking space for the elderly people. So the criteria to judge you see the criteria to judge is that to join sorry, is that you need to be 60 years old plus. And that’s really fascinating. It’s actually a brand from the US. And the reason why Thomas, the founder started it is because he understood that the moment you retire, you become irrelevant for the working society. But he saw a lot of potential for the elderly to remain active and connected, if only they would understand the technology we currently live in. So he created a free coworking space. So members who join they do not have anything to pay and they get every day when they go to the space they have the chance to learn about what’s an iPhone, how do you start an iPhone? All those things that might sound so easy for us but not for them. It has a lot of really interesting stories they also learn how to develop websites, how to develop their Etsy shops because a lot of the elderly women for instance, they meet so they would create their product and then they would put it on Etsy. But before joining the coworking space they didn’t know about Etsy. So that’s for instance also a story I find really interesting and quite different from what we are used to see when we think about coworking on the Daily.
Jo Meunier [00:16:24] Yeah, absolutely. And I was thinking, some people think, like you said at the start of our conversation, a lot of people think of coworking as being a shared office and that’s it. Desk, chair, a few people around you, and that’s it. But it’s sort of become so much more. And it’s become a term that’s used to, like you say, it’s not just sitting at a desk anymore. It’s bringing people together to learn new skills. And I’m curious. You mentioned before that there were some kitchen spaces. What other types of sort of hands on spaces have you seen? Like for example, have there been manufacturing spaces, industrial type spaces where people can go in and utilize the space and the machinery?
Pauline Roussel [00:17:06] Actually, there is there are plenty of different examples. So there are manufacturing spaces. There is one I’m thinking about, for instance, in Vienna. It was actually started by a larger corporate company who understood that know stay relevant to the time we are living in. They needed to innovate and they found in coworking solution to how can we innovate with the space we have? So what was really interesting, because they do hard tech, so anything related to building hardware. And their realization when they started to get close to the startup industry and the startup world was that when a startup based in Europe want to manufacture small components under 20,000 pieces, they have most of the time to go very far away. So like China or other countries, and they thought, but wait here. We could manufacture that. And that would save them tremendous time and tremendous resources. And so that’s how they started the coworking space. And actually, it’s quite cool when you go there. It’s called Factory hub for people who are curious. And you walk around, it’s literally an assembly line where you can see components being printed, being manufactured. But it is a coating space because all those things that you see, they are shared. People can actually yeah, it’s just like everything is shared one of actually a trend also those profession focused Allwork.Space are really popping up. For instance now this year in particular we don’t have some in the book, but if we write a second one or something like that, that would be in it. I guess it’s more like coworking for doctors or for people from the health industry. I saw Allwork.Space in France for dentists that we came across in Germany. There is like a chain of co working for doctors that came out. So that’s also interesting to see how they know, transforming the model and making it work for them.
Jo Meunier [00:19:04] That’s fantastic. I have a really difficult question for you now. Do you have a personal favorite? Yeah, that’s out of 500 spaces, what’s your favorite?
Pauline Roussel [00:19:13] Very difficult question. Even if I think about it for myself, I still struggle to find and say, oh, yeah, this one was definitely my favorite. And I’m really honest when I’m saying that. It’s very hard for me to say, if there was only one, that would be it. Because I also think that having a favorite is a little bit of a subjective type of feeling or it’s a subjective answer because my personal favorite, if I had one, would probably be different than yours, the same as when you recommend a hotel or a restaurant. You have to understand what do you look for in that place to kind of say, I really enjoyed it. So, for instance, for me, when I try to help people find coworking spaces that they would really like, because I think there is also this analogy of looking for a coworking space sometimes feel very overwhelming. There are too many options when you are in big cities and it’s really difficult for you to say, how do I find one that I would actually like? My advice in general is, like, I always tell people, first ask yourself what’s your primary reason for wanting to join a coworking space? Do you want to join because you want to work away from home? Do you want to join because you want to connect with people? Or maybe you want to have just meetings there in a better setup than home. Or like, really people. I recommend them to list what they want and then I recommend them to do some research on Google. What kind of coworking space are around you? How do you feel when you go on their websites? What their social media communication look, you know, kind of like excites you? Because I remember, for instance, the coworking space I used to run, the first time I came in for the job interview, I had, like, little goosebumps. It was like, wow, what a cool place. I felt so excited. It was an extra motivation for me to get the job. I was like, I really want that job because the space looks fantastic. So I tell people, like, when you enter a coworking space, is that the feeling you get? Or are you like, I’m not sure because I think that’s also important to educate people in finding the right place for them so that they want to return. Because otherwise we’ve met a lot of people who had, I would say, experiences that didn’t meet their expectations. And so now when we meet them and we do workshops and they talk to us, they’re like, for me, coworking doesn’t work. And when you dig deeper, you’re like, but why? And they only tried one and one, and they had a so so experience because, again, the questions or the options they had were not really for them. So my last advice on that, to find your personal favorite, is also to not just try one. Give yourself the time to try a few brands. Very often, coworking spaces, they offer like they have day passes. So book a day pass, try different options around you if you have options, obviously, and just try to compare and see what works for you. And I think that’s really interesting for people to make their own decisions and find their favorites.
Jo Meunier [00:22:18] Yeah, I love how you didn’t answer the question, but you did answer the.
Pauline Roussel [00:22:21] Question.
Jo Meunier [00:22:25] When we spoke before. We talked about how one of the things you wanted to do with the book was to make coworking better. So I’m curious, with your experience, both of running a space and of visiting so many spaces and spending time in so many different spaces, what do you feel is missing from coworking, and how can it become better so that it becomes a really solid part of the future of work?
Pauline Roussel [00:22:48] It’s a great question, and I really want to add into what you just asked me in the sense that our mission is really, as you said, to make coworking better. And the book that we self published is just one of the ways we work to make that happen. And when we say make working better, it’s not necessarily about what is missing, but more so how can the knowledge that we have accumulated and our work experience support the constant growth of the industry? So the book is a bridge, I would say, that connects coworking to the world and vice versa. What we see from people who purchased a copy and from teams who use it is that it really educates readers on the diversity and flexible nature of coworking and all of its benefits, while also simultaneously showcasing the growth and diversity of the coworking community to the world. So, to sum it up, today, a lot of our work, when we say we want to make coworking better, revolves around educating about coworking. We focus on people that do not know about it that much. So we do a lot of work around educating organizations and institutions. So we have a special focus on education for the younger generation who work a lot with high schools and universities so that they can understand what’s coworking and then when they enter the job market, they can actually look for one. Then we also educate a lot traditional brands and companies on what is coworking, but also how they can utilize it for their people. And of course, we help a lot of coworking spaces, having seen so many brands around the world. We really help operators also build better teams and align with their overall mission and vision. And we do a lot of public knowledge sharing activities, online events, et cetera, just so that everybody can learn from each other. So to sum up my thoughts around making coworking better, I think concentrating on education for the public at large, we really try to engage with larger audiences who may not deeply be familiar with coworking yet. And so that’s one of the meanings for us behind our mission to make coworking better and creating more understanding between coworking and the public. So the book is a vehicle, I would say, for us.
Jo Meunier [00:25:15] To build those.
Pauline Roussel [00:25:15] Exactly, yeah.
Jo Meunier [00:25:16] Okay. And just following on from that, we are nearing the end of our conversation, but I just wanted to dive a little bit deeper into how coworking spaces, the impact they can have on people in cities, on specific areas. And I know you’ve covered this quite a lot in your book. So can you talk a little bit about how coworking spaces can help support local entrepreneurs, local businesses and local.
Pauline Roussel [00:25:41] Business communities for anybody that listens to the podcast? Now, I would like for you to imagine two images. The first one would be a Google map where when you type coworking, nothing pops up. There’s no red dots anywhere on that Google map. And then the second image is like when you type coworking, you suddenly have a lot of coworking spaces that pops up around you. Now, when you picture those two, imagine the difference in terms of impact for people who are from smaller teams, from smaller companies, when they can finally or have access to a place where not only will they be able to do their work, but also be able to collaborate with others, learn from others, and most importantly, also access opportunities that they might not have access if there were no coworking spaces like events or workshops or training. I think when we talk about the impact of coworking for local entrepreneurs and businesses, what it really facilitates is that it’s like the connections on different levels in a city. So from providing a place to work and a network to a shared place for sharing ideas, knowledge also, obviously, and skills. And I would even say that we can argue that coworking spaces are becoming the most important social spaces for work globally, actually.
Jo Meunier [00:27:06] Fantastic. It’s so easy to see how it’s becoming such an important part of the future of work. And it’s been building, not slowly, but it’s been building steadily and in recent years, more rapidly, ever since that first coworking space back in 2005. So it’s really fascinating to see how coworking is evolving and shaping depending on local needs. And just one last thing I wanted to ask you. Often when people think or ask about coworking, coliving tends to pop up in the conversation as well. Was this anything that you researched during your during your journey?
Pauline Roussel [00:27:43] We didn’t research it as extensively as coworking, obviously, because otherwise, I think, and I also think that when we started traveling, which was back in 2015, coliving was still blossoming compared to Coworking that was already existing for quite some time. That being said, we did visit a few coliving spaces. There are actually even some in the book. I think we have like two or three brands that are doing co iving. But I would say it’s also a very different animal per se because the way we work together versus the way we live. I think building a coworking space versus building a coliving space is very different in terms of bringing people together. Just because in a work context versus a home context, people act very differently and expect very different things. But we are very interested about coliving as well, and we follow the trend and the coliving communities that exist around the world because we see it becoming also a very big trend all over the world, and not just, again, in big cities, but also in smaller cities and towns.
Jo Meunier [00:28:53] Yeah, fascinating. So that’s another one to watch.
Pauline Roussel [00:28:56] Yes, exactly.
Jo Meunier [00:28:57] Well, thank you so much for Pauline, for coming on and talking to us today. Your knowledge is just wonderful and your enthusiasm is fantastic. So thank you so much for coming on and talking to us all about coworking and about coliving as well. So can you tell us where we can find a copy of your book and how people can contact you if they want to learn more about all?
Pauline Roussel [00:29:19] Yes. So the book which I have here can be found on our website, which is coworkiesbook.com. I’m sure we’ll put the link in the summary of this episode. And to connect with Me or with Dimita, don’t hesitate to come on LinkedIn. We are quite active there. We also have an Instagram account at Coworkies where we are quite active, so that usually the channels where you’ll find us.
Jo Meunier [00:29:44] Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for joining us today, and I look forward to having another catch up in a year or so and seeing how different things are then.
Pauline Roussel [00:29:52] Yeah, thanks a lot for having me.
Jo Meunier [00:29:54] Thank you. Have a good day.
Pauline Roussel [00:29:56] You too.