Elam on 2016 in Coworking

Cat Johnson wrote a piece for Sharable.com called “The Top 10 Sharing Economy Predictions for 2016, by the Experts”.

One of the entries was about what will happen in Coworking, by Liz Elam, Executive Producer of the Global Coworking Unconference Conference (GCUC). (I didn’t know that conferences have “Executive Producers”, but live and learn.)

After some recession in 2015, she expects “in 2016 the wave starts her shift towards forward motion.” Her list of key develpments is interesting:

  • Funding, which has been a problem for smaller players in coworking, will open up

  • Multiple franchises will enter the market

  • We will see multiple entries in the software and app market that are built to run the space and connect the members

  • We’re finally starting to see furniture designed for this market

  • All the explosive growth will come from the far east (specifically China and India)

  • Rural coworking or suburban coworking will finally have its day

The first three are about a flood of cookie-cutter franchises, attempting to replicate a local success in many other locations. Of course, the funding, furniture, and software are only the least important enablers, this expansion will require the ability to replicate the communities of coworkers in new settings.

I expect that this will be easier for some target communities than others. I don’t say “impossible”, but I do predict there will be many failures or slow starters among these franchises, and the issues will be a lack of community response, or mismatches between community and the franchise. This will especially be true where there is a lot of choice among coworking spaces—a given coworker can only be in one place at a time, so walking over to the competitor is potentially lethal!

The last two points on Elam’s list are very interesting. What will coworking look like in India or China? Surely not the same as in the US and Europe. (And I don’t think the furniture is the issue, is it?) How well will the lessons about “community management” carry over to these new communities? It will be very interesting to see, indeed.

Given the nature of cities, I’m not sure that “suburban coworking” is anything different from what I have seen in a lot of smaller cities, except maybe it will be all about free parking. Other than that, it’s the same people, doing the same things, in, say, a storefront in a mall instead of an office tower.

As far as the “rural” coworking: I’m wondering if this will indeed be very common. Coworking works because there is a high density of independent workers in an area, who don’t ordinarily meet in person without the coworkign space. Rural territory, by definition, does not have a high density of people. I note, too, that rural communities are small enough that they already know each other, so the big gain in serendipity promised by urban coworking spaces will be difficult to replicate. You aren’t going to be meeting new people in your coworking space.

So I remain skeptical on this last prediction. But I’m willing to be proven wrong!


What is Coworking?

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