Australian Coworking Movement Bands Together

The first Coworking Conference Australia organised by DeskwantedHub Melbourne and Inspire9, took place March 1st and 2nd in Melbourne. The conference brought together the Australia's coworking leaders for the first time to explore the future of the movement under the theme, ‘how coworking creates value’.

The first day's presentations, held at Hub Melbourne, were punctuated with discussion of cross-sector collaboration, research into the growth of coworking in the region, and lessons learned  from those on the front lines. A common theme emerged -- the desire for coworking leaders to stand united and coordinate activities in order to achieve shared goals. Day two was an unconference held at Inspire9 and facilitated by Trampoline where the participants took this idea further and committed to forming the world’s first Coworking Industry Association.

Below is a recap of keynote presentations, panel discussions and themes from day one based on my notes, tweets from attendees at the #CCA13 hashtag, and personal interviews with presenters.

Day 1: Friday, 1st March 2013, 9:00am - 5pm

Brad Krauskopf, co-founder of Hub Australia, opened the conference by boldly stating the coworking opportunity is greater in Australia than anywhere in the world based on a number of converging trends:

  • Talent retention, technology  enablement and the rise of the freelance economy is leading to a fundamental shift
  • Urban sprawl is making it more difficult to bring people into the city everyday
  • Australia has a greater need to leverage the diverse knowledge capital of its people post resources boom
  • Changes in the economy is driving organisational competitiveness and the need to leverage collaboration
  • Coworking provides flexibility, cost savings and productivity gains
  • More people are drawn to coworking because they need to collaborate and learn in new ways

Tim Fawcett, General Manager Government Affairs & Policy for Cisco Systems Australia, presented a great round-up of local telework research and related initiatives:

  • The global economy is going through a period of major transition
  • Growth catalysts include more devices; faster broadband speeds; more internet users; and more rich media content
  • Teleworking drivers include greater pressure on families through work/life balance issues [Source: Longitudinal Study of Australian Children: Families make all the difference: Helping kids to grow and learn,May 2012]
  • The global workforce has an increased expectation for flexibility [Source: The 2010 Cisco Connected World Report]
  • Work styles are evolving and the world’s mobile worker population is estimated to reach 1.3 billion by 2015 [Source: IDC]
  • Australia held its own Telework Week in November 2012 based on the success of US Telework Week
  • Research by Deloitte Access Economics for Telework Week said that telework ‘would be the biggest structural change to the labour market this decade.’  

Panel: Coworking around the region facilitated by Libby Sander (The future of work project)

The first panel for the day provided a fascinating peak inside the world of various coworking space operators in Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia. Brodie McCulloch from Spacecubed (Perth) has a diverse mix of social, environmental, technology and creative members and he discussed the importance of having support from backers like Stockland and the City of Perth. Nick Shewring from The Biz Dojo (Auckland NZ) shared his wisdom on understanding what his members businesses needed, rather than just focusing on renting desks. Nick said curation plays a huge part in making sure the community comes together in a productive way. The Biz Dojo has a non-solicitation rule in the member’s agreement to prevent people from overtly selling to each other. Peta Ellis from River City Labs (Brisbane) talked about the challenge of managing the community life-cycle as her space reached 50% capacity within the first two months of opening but then plateaued. This led her to focus on the type of people she was attracting and a reorientation around mentorship, support networks and events. Peta also talked about the value in working with like-minded coworking operators on the same journey through hosting events like Google+ hangouts with Fishburners and York Butter Factory to share stories and learnings.

Anna Cashman, community manager at Deskwanted, gave a highly informative presentation using figures from the latest Global Coworking Census on the growth of the global coworking movement:

  • In the US 439 coworking spaces opened in last 2 years but 78 have closed
  • For every 6 that open, 1 will close its doors
  • Only 27 were from cities with populations under 120,000
  • Majority that closed were on the small size, under 40 desks
  • Failure to promote themselves and build a community
  • Massive rise of the freelancer demographic with 58,300 freelance coworkers of a possible 250 million
  • Preference for local work spaces close to home and growing support for the idea of a “20 minute city”
  • Exciting news that SA government will provide $1 million for Hub Adelaide

Peter Williams, Chief Edge Officer at the Centre for the Edge Deloitte Australia, gave an eye-opening run down of research into the relationship between virtual and physical flows, the role of passion and the power of pull:

  • Gain a deeper understanding of coworking through the lens of flow
  • Different types of flow: knowledge, people flow, virtual and physical
  • There is a correlation between virtual and physical flow
  • Virtual flow does not replace physical flow, it drives it further
  • Passionate people love to connect, amplify and participate in knowledge flows
  • Self-employed people are way more passionate
  • See John Hagel on the impact of being passionate
  • Passionate people build trust-based relationships
  • The coworking host is a serendipity shaper
  • Sometimes we work as me, sometimes we work as we, sometimes we work as us
  • Bodies matter: the inconvenient truth in Marissa Mayer banning telecommuting at Yahoo
  • Social software tools can support exception handling to increase employee productivity
  • Look at the best knowledge communities in the world – WoW and gaming communities - for inspiration

Tony Bacigalupo, founder of New Work City, a coworking space in New York, took us through what coworking is teaching us about the new economy:

  • 5 major trends
  • From industrial production to creative output
  • From owning to sharing
  • From financial profit to true prosperity
  • From suburbanism to new urbanism
  • From employed to independent
  • Independent workforce is now 1 billion people

Steve Coster, Prinicpal at HASSELL, took us through how coworking can inform workplace design:

Places people want to be are..

  • Authentic, attractive, welcoming, comfortable for people 
  • Diverse and intense activity (generates opportunity)
  • Self-organising and user appropriated (change at speed of business)
  • Technology enabled (high tech & low tech)
  • Focus on social capital (the software: aka change management)
  • New measures of success (business outcomes not property)

I also spent some time with Nick Jaffe, co-founder of Electron Workshop, a coworking space in North Melbourne. Here are the main points from our conversation where Nick (speaking in the flavours of coworking panel below) took me through some of the key challenges he's faced in building the community and posed some provocative questions relevant to all coworking space operators:

  • Dealing with community building is the hardest part of being a coworking space operator
  • Community building is about energising a space which takes a lot of energy and charisma
  • A coworking space is a reflection of its founders and is a reflection of its ethos
  • There’s a risk of monocultures developing along with groupthink and how those can be counteracted
  • How can spaces become more connected and more fluid?
  • What are some things a for-profit space can do to counter the commoditisation of community? 

So that's my far from exhaustive recap of the first day at Coworking Conference Australia as there were other presentations and panels I couldn't attend. Thanks again to the organisers Deskwanted, Inspire9 and Hub Melbourne for putting on an awesome couple of days. It was an absolutely fantastic event full of inspirational people who were so generous with their ideas, time and support for each other.

Addtional images courtesy of multiple attendees including David Hood, The Office Collective and scottinsyd. 

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