Ten years of co-working: the founders share their experiences

This is excerpted from a long collective interview with Cat Johnson for Shareable magazine:

The first question, excerpted in full here, was asked to the founders of various key coworking initiatives:

* Shareable: What are the most surprising things you’ve see from the coworking movement in the last 10 years?

Alex Hillman: I think about the sheer vastness of how far coworking has spread in 10 years and it honestly blows my mind. As of a couple of weeks ago at the inaugural Coworking Africa conference, I’ve gotten to witness coworking on every continent besides Antarctica.

But what never ceases to amaze me is the similarities that can be found across borders. Of course there are nuances from city to city and country to country, but the fundamentals are the same. Coworking is making our very big world feel a lot more intimate. I never expected that.

Ronald van den Hoff: That it actually works so well and that coworking creates a sustainable ecosystem for connection, collaboration and networked value creation.

Ashley Proctor: I’m most surprised that there are so many new players in the industry who believe that coworking is about renting out desks and maximizing real estate. After ten years of steady grassroots growth and such a strong and successful coworking model focused on the core values (openness, accessibility, sustainability, community and collaboration) it surprises me that anyone would want to remove the heart and soul of the movement and focus on the potential for profit. Unfortunately, we see that more and more as coworking becomes more mainstream.

Tony Bacigalupo: I’m most surprised by how big of a business it’s become in such a short period of time. In the early days, we had a sense that coworking was going to be a big deal, but I don’t think anyone anticipated how quickly companies would come along to scale it up as hard and fast as they have. Coworking has become far more of a consumptive, mainstream thing than I’d imagined it would.

Tara Hunt: I don’t know if it’s surprising entirely, but it was something we didn’t completely envision…seeing fully funded ‘coworking’ spaces open up across the country is exciting to me. Though they may toe the line of ‘shared office spaces’, which were around long before coworking, they bring some of the vision of the original coworking movement: creating accessible, collaborative spaces where independents can gather as a community. I just hope that they can exist alongside the more grassroots spaces that are equally as (if not more) important – working together to create an ecosystem that suits everyone’s needs.

Lori Kane: One of the most amazing things I’ve witnessed is automatic succession planning. That is, as people want to move on from day-to-day running of a space, new people show up and/or step forward fluidly, easily, and without “planning” in the traditional sense at all. I keep watching it happen and it’s a deeply beautiful and humbling thing to witness and be part of. True community equals magic.

Another surprising thing is how sticky coworking itself is and how much energy it creates as we learn to trust it and ourselves. It’s like being part of a self-organizing group: once you know you can do it, you’re disinclined to settle for less.

Jacob Sayles: The tremendous growth of coworking does not surprise me. The fact that we are finding each other spread across the globe and working hard to find ways to collaborate does not surprise me. I am surprised how difficult it is to get the word out that this way of working, this way of living, is here and abundant. I’ve been shouting COWORKING on high for eight years now and people still wander in to Office Nomads completely surprised that this exists. And those are the ones that find us. What about all the others stuck at home thinking their lack of productivity is a self discipline problem?

Jeremy Neuner: I’m surprised and delighted by the million-and-one ways that entrepreneurs are constantly re-thinking and re-imagining the idea of coworking. Coworking in shopping malls! Coworking in airports! Coworking on a boat! Coworking on a bus! Coworking in hotel lobbies! Coworking in driverless cars! Like any new industry, the size and kinds of experiments will vary and will meet with a wide range of success or failure. But wherever you can gather together two and 2,000 innovative, collaborative people in a physical location with wifi and coffee, shaazaam!—you’ll get coworking.

Liz Elam: The most surprising thing the coworking movement has taught me is to treat others as collaborators not competitors. When I first came in I thought I was the only shark in the tank and that everyone else was a sitting duck. It didn’t take me long at all to realize that I too was a duck and there are no sharks. I’ve never seen anything like it before but this industry is very unique in its universal support of each other.

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