On the Global Explosion of Coworking

A handful of coworking experts share their thoughts on the phenomenon.

Attendees share best practices at GCUC Canada in Toronto. Image courtesy of Liz Elam.

Attendees share best practices at GCUC Canada in Toronto. Image courtesy of Liz Elam.

Last year the Global Coworking Unconference Conference (GCUC; pronounced “juicy”) expanded outside of the U.S. to Canada, Australia, and China, and this year, they expanded to South America. We reached out to Liz Elam, GCUC’s executive producer, to get the scoop on the state of the industry on the heels of GCUC’s first conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Here she, and a handful of colleagues, share thoughts on how coworking is spreading around the world.

From GCUC’s partner in Australia, Brad Krauskopf:

As you drive out to Western Sydney you can feel the energy of new developments, in every direction there are greenfield developments popping up over night. For the 300,000 people that live in Western Sydney, it offers more affordable housing, a chance to live closer to extended family, and the lifestyle a quarter-acre block affords. The job opportunities, however, are limited: the average household income is significantly lower in locations that are even a relatively short drive out of the Sydney financial district.

For those that make the switch to outer suburbia and want to retain their office job, this means facing up to a three hour journey (on public transport, each way) to get to their company office. If you haven’t seen the research on the impact of these commutes, let’s just say it statistically reduces you’re chances of being happy and healthy.

In a day and age where professionals can truly “work anywhere”, the daily commute seems out of touch. Working from home isn’t always an option, with children, pets, and household activities providing distracting readily.

Enter coworking. At Oran Park, one of these greenfield developments in Western Sydney, coworking has made a home.  The Oran Park Smart Work Hub opened in 2014, a time in which there were only a few hundred active residents in the area. In the 18 months since launching, it has become a vibrant business community hub, with over 50 members occupying 9,000 square feet.

Workers chat in the Oran Park Smart Work Hub. Photo by Nathan Dyer via oranparksmartworkhub.com.au.

Workers chat in the Oran Park Smart Work Hub. Photo by Nathan Dyer via oranparksmartworkhub.com.au.

For some small businesses, it has become their central business hub. Professionals who were used to working in the Sydney financial districts now use it as their “second office” for the days they don’t need to be in their corporate office.

Its location is interesting, in that it is part of the central shopping plaza. Downstairs is one of the largest supermarkets in the state as well as host over other services. The shopping mall is the natural location for these suburban coworking locations; parking, transport, and everything at your fingertips.

We’d love to see a coworking space within 20 minutes of 80 percent of Australians. For us, that would mean that this concept has really reached the masses, and that all Australians had a chance to have working lives that they enjoyed participating in.

From GCUC’s partner in China, Bob Zheng:

I think for China, the coworking trend is taking off and 2015 was the beginning of the real growth. The number of coworking spaces has grown from only a few to over 30 brands and around 150 new spaces within a year and this trend is accelerating. You can roughly group the spaces into three kinds: incubator/VC backed, real estate, and community based space operators.

China chart

Table courtesy of Bob Zheng.

The general population is starting to have the sense of what a coworking space is, but obviously it is not catching up to the growth of the number of the spaces. Only few spaces such as People Squared and SOHO 3Q can fill out their new opens. Shanghai and Beijing are where most of the new spaces are being built.

If GCUC is any indication of what’s coming, you should know we had a record breaking 800 attendees at GCUC China and expect over 1000 in Beijing and Shaghai this year. We are innovating and moving very quickly, and as Liz likes to say: fasten your seat belt.

From Liz herself, after attending GCUC South America:

South America is very interesting. Brazil is a massive economy but in a devastating economic crisis. This was the worst time to try to sell tickets and get sponsorship, but this was the right time to do GCUC in Brazil because Brazil needs our help. It’s the coworking spaces and small business owners that can lift an economy and inspire change. We had some amazing attendees from Ecuador, Mexico, Argentina, Bangladesh, and many more countries. We will be rebranding GCUC South America as GCUC Latin America (you heard it here first), and Latin America is truly a land of opportunity for coworking.

In a report at GCUC, we discovered that there are over 300 shared workspaces in Sao Paulo alone. We met lots of operators looking to open spaces and current operators looking to grow. We’re also seeing growth in demand for combining incubators and accelerators into coworking. We plan to incorporate more programming around incubators and accelerators in GCUC globally.

One of our favorite things about GCUC are the new partnerships, initiatives, and business formed at the conference. Here is an excellent example: the idea for Colatam, an association of spaces across Latin America, was conceived at GCUC USA and launched at GCUC South America, and it has grown enough that you can now travel between spaces across the region.

From our partner in Canada, Ashley Proctor:

The coworking scene in Toronto has been growing for the past 12 years. As is the case in many cities around the world, the trend has seen steady growth and expansion of these thriving coworking communities now they’re even moving outside of Canada.

  • Canada’s first coworking space, The Centre for Social Innovation, is currently developing its fifth location after expanding its reach to New York City.
  • Toronto’s Creative Blueprint, an artistic coworking community, has recently launched a fourth location in Seattle,  in partnership with coworking pioneers Office Nomads.
  • Workplace One has established four coworking communities in Ontario, and Acme Works is also undergoing an expansion as many new spaces are set to launch in Toronto this spring. This steady growth parallels the industry research and these communities will only continue to grow as the mainstream economy adopts this new work culture.

What’s unique about the Toronto coworking community is that the local spaces have always been working together rather than in competition with each other. The Coworking Toronto Collective is one of the world’s first coworking alliances, and is a testament to the character of those in Toronto who have decided to put their core values into action and to lead by example. Coworking is not simply about improving the work experience, or improving access to business resources — it is also about working together to dream bigger, to help each other thrive, and to shape the future of work. These collaborative Canadians are teaching the rest of the world how it’s done.

All in all, Liz believes that GCUC is a direct reflection of the coworking industry: as coworking sees explosive growth, so does its premier conference series. “Now go find a coworking space in your town,” she added. “Experience why they’re multiplying like bunnies!”

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