This interview as been initialy published by Massimo Carraro, from the Cowo network, in Italy, one of the most committed player on the European Coworking scene.
Jean-Yves Huwart is the initiator and co-organizer of the Coworking Europe Conference, both 2010 and 2011 editions. As he himself states (see answer no. 1) the discovery of the “coworking spirit” at The Hub Brussels was a revelation for him.
From that point on, coworking has been his everyday professional state of mind.
As the organizer of two important events such as the conferences, he has accumulated a notably extensive view on coworking, in all aspects.
Has your own life changed since you practice coworking?
Definitely. And in an unexpected way.
Like many, I used to be an employee. I was lacking challenges. Three years ago, then, I left my job to start a business of my own. The goal was to speak about the new way companies could organise themselves in a flatter way, using digital social platforms, creating a better collaborative culture and developing a more motivating working environment for the Gen X and Gen Y.
As a starting entrepreneur myself, I first tried to work from home. It was a nightmare. I was losing social contacts and my productivity dropped.
Then, a new coworking space opened up nearby, the Hub Brussels. It has been a kind of a revelation. I found for myself a new working experience which could fullfill my freshly discovered needs as a starter. Moreover, regarding my activities, Coworking appeared to me as a perfect tool and mindset to address the challenges of the economy of the 21st century, which needs more interconnected innovators and entrepreneurs, while the traditional corporation model will be forced to shift to a new paradigm embracing openess, collaboration, sustainability and human values.
That’s why we decided to organise a first international conference on the topic of coworking.
Is coworking a commodity (i.e. the chance to share an office with little money) or a strategic option (i.e. a platform for all kind of sinergies)?
It can be both.
For sure, it starts with the flexible model. For a pre-determined capacity (15, 20, 50 seats or more), 100, 150 or more members will likely sign up. This is the base for the community. If the tenants are there, first, for the purpose of having an office for cheap, so be it. It’s no big deal.
Now, a coworking space can dramaticaly increase its outreach with events, facilitations, games open for non members. This generates traffic in and around the place. Eventually, hundreds of people can take part in the community via an online subscription to the newsletter and discussion on social network.
In a classical office sharing environment, a pre-determined capacity give access to the related number of tenants or less. You meet the same people every day. This can ingrain a community spirit, of course, but never of the size and energy a genuine coworking space can support.
So, once the community is there, you have a platform to sprout almost anything: be a neutral spot for collaboration between third parties, host creative events, network with other communities localy or internationally, work as a gateway for other entrepreneurs, etc.
After all these years of discussing, I think we should know by now if business rhymes with coworking. Does it?
That is one of our goal at the Coworking Europe 2011 conference.
The first Coworking conference, in Brussels, last year, helped to connect the coworking movement and its players on the European and even on the global level. The coworking movement is enterning its teen age. Nowadays, we have all kinds of coworking spaces: self-supported by one or two people, added-on to another organisation, publicly funded… Other a real businesses…
However, we have heard a lot of coworking spaces stories which shut down because they relied too much on one individual who, after two of three years of operations, ended up exhausted.
I think no matter which model you choose. If the cash flows are too low to cover one person salary, at least (on top of the running cost such as the rent or the internet connection), the space won’t be sustainable. So, coworking can be a very good business, as some have already shown in Europe or in the US. The condition for that, though, is more professionalism.
Considering the media craze, the flourishing of spaces, the many online tools coworking-related and… why not,this conference itself, do you envision the risk of tranforming coworking in a sort of bubble, where a minority just trying to make money spoils the beauty of the idea, ultimately depriving the word coworking of its true meaning?
We are at the beginning of a deep economical and cultural shift.
Digital social platform are outdating the former way of coordinate teams. Innovation won’t remain forever in ghettos. Working people, especially the younger generations, demand their professional life to be fullfilling. Moreover, look at the movement of the Indignados in Europe or at the uprisings in the Arab world. Graduated people are struggling to get a first job.
So, we know that in the future, more and more, we will have to create our own economical activity. For these reasons, my assumption is that we will need more coworking spaces around the world. As starters, freelance or even regular employees will more and more look for a human experience. So, the market will learn steadily to make the difference between real coworking spots and fake ones.
What are your feelings about coworking as a public service, just like schooling or health services?
A growing number of public local institutions acknowledge that the traditional tools used to develop entrepreneurship and networking in a city or a region are far from optimal in terms of impact.
The coworking experience seems a much more efficient approach to achieve the same goal. So, to me, they can perfectly support a coworking space financially. Of course, it’s better that the running of the space remain at arm length from the administration. It has to secure the space’s operational autonomy.