Imagine this: a state-of-the-art collaborative workspace within walking distance of home. A space that you share with people, not because you’re employed by the same company, but because of proximity. A professional atmosphere but no office politics. Connection, well-being and professional development are encouraged through yoga classes, mentoring programs and evening events, and an on-site daycare supports parents of young children. The space is central to local life; Revitalizing relationships and promoting businesses. Your community will be reborn.
This is co-working 2.0.
For the remote work revolution to thrive, we need a viable alternative to the office — one that offers a stable barrier between life and work, meaningful social connections, and professional benefits without forcing workers to sacrifice the flexibility and autonomy they enjoy have found at home. When we realize the potential of this next generation of coworking spaces, we can have the best of both worlds.
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Around three million people use coworking spaces today; a fraction of the 3.45 billion workers worldwide. For this reason, the remote work debate has been fixated on a home vs. office narrative since the beginning of the pandemic. Alternatives to the office that aren’t isolated, lockdown-imposed working from home have garnered little attention.
If we can take away one positive from the past two years, it’s that companies have been forced into an age of hyper-testing. For the first time in generations, our innate beliefs about where, how and why we work are being challenged. Two hundred years after the original office buildings were constructed – when the stagecoach was the most popular form of transport – there must be a better way.
And there is. Before the pandemic, most people could not have imagined a world where coworking is mainstream, let alone treated as a public good. But now the pandemic has removed the cultural barriers that have prevented remote work for many people, and new and exciting opportunities are beginning to emerge.
Perhaps the problem lies in the term “coworking,” which conjures up images of tech brothers and disastrous IPOs. But as the concept grew in startup land, the applications of local, shared work centers spread far beyond its borders. The digitization of the workforce is increasing rapidly, making remote environments away from home relevant for a variety of workers.
As we move into the next phase of the coworking industry, I believe the term community workspace better captures the broader range of uses and benefits.
What would the workforce look like if everyone could access these fully-equipped collaborative workspaces? Instead of organizing our lives where our employer’s office is located and enduring a soul-wracking commute to get there, we could work with our families, friends, and neighbors, all of whom are just a stroll from home. What would this mean for our relationships, our mental health and the local economy?
We don’t need abstract conjectures for an answer; Evidence suggests that radically restructuring the way we work could help combat loneliness (by providing a space to meet and connect with our community), reduce our cost of living (due to reducing commuting and energy costs) and fight the burnout epidemic (by creating a work-life barrier), boost professional networking (through new contacts and mentoring opportunities), and even help regenerate local areas (by spreading purchasing power to a larger geographic area). is distributed).
If you’re thinking this sounds like the utopian vision of a long-haired, bracelet-clinking digital nomad, you’re only half right; My proposal is anything but immaterial.
In Madeira, Portugal, entrepreneur Gonçalo Hall has teamed up with local authorities to launch the world’s first digital nomad village. Created as a haven for remote workers to live and work together, Ponta do Sol attracts thousands of visitors each year and so far contributes more than €30 million directly to the local economy.
Originally a dynamic tourism program, the project attracts talent and innovation. “The coworking space is the epicenter of the community and the whole nomadic village concept, where people work, network, host events and share their knowledge,” explains Gonçalo.
Ponta do Sol isn’t the only coworking project showing that coworking 2.0 is the natural next step towards a healthier, more sustainable and more inclusive future of work.
Across the pond in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Tulsa Remote is transforming the local economy by attracting thousands of digital workers to relocate to the trendy river town. Central to the program’s success is 36 Degrees North, a 70,000-square-foot coworking palace that offers a quality workspace, helpful resources and a diverse community. This has generated a staggering $572.5 million and thousands of jobs in the local community.
Meanwhile, in rural Germany, Frederik Fischer is responding to the wave of self-employment and the widespread desire for a better quality of life with Neulandia, where he wants to “start a citizens’ movement that will last for years” and “the culture of cooperation, participation and sharing, which we urgently need to tackle the challenges ahead.”
Neulandia achieves this by connecting remote workers to forward-thinking rural communities and housing them in “KoVillages” (CoVillages); sustainably built residences that convert existing infrastructure into coworking spaces. For five years, participants in these communities have helped rejuvenate cities across the country.
In addition to their shared focus on building meaningful communities, these initiatives all have the support of local government officials who have recognized the application of community workplaces to create positive local impact.
This support needs to be reflected at the highest levels of EU and national governments if everyone is to experience the transformative power of Coworking 2.0.
Ahead of the trend is the Irish government, which has created a platform called ConnectedHubs to simplify and streamline the process of sourcing desks and offices in coworking spaces. This initiative offers coworking providers the opportunity to come together under a common identity and build a strong peer-to-peer community, sharing knowledge and best practices.
Within 18 months of launch, they’ve onboarded nearly 300 hubs — a speed almost unheard of by government standards. George Bullman, coworking space provider and member of the ConnectedHubs network, says: “The initiative has connected many rural and urban communities and created a shared environment where support and help is always available.”
A room for everyone
While the benefits of remote work are widely recognized, it’s important to remember that it’s not always just the preferred option — it’s the only option.
For some displaced people, remote work is the only way to earn a legal income. For people with physical and mental disabilities, an office job from nine to five is not always possible. The same is true for parents who cannot afford childcare and for carers, such as a close friend of mine who cared for her terminally ill mother for two years.
In the UK alone, hybrid working could bring back nearly four million people previously out of work (including 1.5 million people with disabilities, 1.2 million parents and 500,000 carers), according to a report by Virgin Media O2 Business and the Center for. Economic and Business Research (CEBR).
And that’s why community workplaces should be considered a public good. The reality is that the traditional office model is deeply exclusionary, while remote work is inherently inclusive, and collaborative workspaces—by enhancing the remote work experience—amplify the benefits that come with it. But for this to work, these spaces must be geographically and financially accessible to all, otherwise only a small, relatively privileged group will continue to reap the benefits and widen existing inequalities.
The next generation of community workplaces with top-down government support can benefit the entire tech-enabled workforce and society at large. Of course, there will never be a one-size-fits-all solution. No one is suggesting that coworking should completely replace home or office work. Ultimately, our goal should be to give all workers the opportunity to work where and how they work best.
Now, for the first time, there are no more technical obstacles in the way. So what do we have to lose?
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