Mary Doyle
May 23 · 10 min read

Freelance and remote work are rapidly growing workforce trends. Coworking has become a global urban response to these changes.

Is rural being left behind?

These rural communities certainly are not!

Six communities across Canada — Quesnel BC, Okotoks, AB, Dauphin MB, Belleville ON, North Hastings ON and Frontenac ON — took part in the Rural on Purpose 30 Day Coworking Takeover Challenge in April/May 2019.

The Challenge

They had 30 Days to introduce, educate, engage, enlist and build a functional coworking ecosystem to support freelancers and remote workers for ONE WEEK — the Coworking Takeover Week™.

A total of 88 businesses and organizations created coworking options for the Takeover Week.

Only one of the communities had a previously established coworking space. That means that 87 NEW options were created for coworkers for that week. That is 87 coworking options that didn’t exist 30 days before!

Before the Challenge almost 59% of the participating businesses rated their knowledge of coworking at the lowest levels of 1 & 2.

After the Challenge no one rated their knowledge at a level 1 or 2. In fact, 76% of businesses rated their knowledge at the highest levels of 4 & 5.

On the Freelancer Survey, 73% of rural freelancers said they were familiar with the concept of coworking and yet 78% of them had never coworked before.

Why is this important?

It’s important because we have coworking service providers with little initial knowledge of what coworking is AND freelancers with no experience coworking.

Rural Coworking is a blank slate of experience and expectation. It is the perfect canvas on which to paint an entirely new and locally rendered picture.


Here’s what Rural on Purpose coworking looks like with examples from the Takeover Week itself:

(this tour is NOT an exhaustive list of all participants)

Public Institutions

Coffee Shops and Restaurants

Traditional Office Space in Businesses

Farms, Country Stores and Markets

Artistic Spaces

Wellness Spaces

Industry Specific Spaces

Unexpected Spaces

Collaborations

Services beyond the Workspace


Public Institutions

Public institutions opened their doors. There were Community Futures Offices, Chambers of Commerce, Tourism Offices, Business Centres, Downtown Business Associations, Municipal Offices, Township Offices, MP and MPP offices and City Halls (as well as many others). Not only did they open their doors to coworkers but they demonstrated incredible leadership by championing the efforts of their local community leads through collaboration and public demonstrations of support.

City Hall in Dauphin was transformed into a Coworking Space.

The Township of Frontenac Islands opened their doors to coworkers, providing convenient work space for people taking the ferry.

The MP from North Hastings made a video with the Challenge Organizers that was viewed almost 10,000 times.

The Economic Development Manager from Okotoks responded publicly in a show of support to a Twitter message from a local business owner.

The Community Futures North Cariboo office allowed its staff to cowork in the community during the Takeover Week.

The Council of the City of Dauphin made an Official Proclamation announcing the Coworking Takeover Week.

The Belleville BDIA opened its doors and profiled every vendor in the Challenge.

Opportunity: Libraries served as coworking spaces long before they were referred to as coworking spaces. With funding cuts and questions about relevance, the Takeover Week served as an opportunity for libraries to reposition and remind community members of their value.


Coffee Shops and Restaurants

Coffee shops and restaurants have become de facto coworking spaces. Most of the time having freelancers and remote workers sitting at cafe tables and buying food and drink is welcomed by the owners but being able to control the time spent and expectations of purchase and space usage is welcomed by both the coworkers and the owners. Many used this week as an opportunity to clarify expectations, pre-book space and create entirely new offerings and deals.


Under-utilized Office Space in Businesses

If there is a consistent need that entrepreneurs in rural communities have, it’s finding temporary professional office space in which to see clients and have meetings. Not only did the Takeover Week solve this problem for local entrepreneurs but it presented an opportunity for many businesses to consider a secondary income for the use of their boardrooms and offices. Many also saw it as a way to start a relationship with potential new clients. Some even bartered professional services for space. We had Mortgage Brokers, Real Estate Companies, Insurance Agents, Accelerators, Makerspaces, Banks, Consultants, Marketing Companies and Printers.


Farms and Country Stores

What could be more rural than the experience of coworking at a working farm or country store? The “experience” of rural coworking is the emphasis here and these unique spaces were truly locally inspired.


Artistic and Creative Spaces

Inspiration is sometimes a struggle when you are working day after day, alone in your home office, especially if you are a creative person or work in an industry that requires out of the box thinking. The Coworking Takeover Week offered many opportunities for inspiration and collaboration.

www.linehamhousegalleries.com

OUTSIDE:

INSIDE:

This vendor also qualifies an an “Unexpected Coworking Space” and serves to highlight the creative people making a living in rural communities. https://ontarioeast.ca/success-stories/port-william-sound


Industry Specific Spaces

What about independent professionals who don’t work online all day but are in need of that community connection? We had coworking spaces specifically for Health Professionals, Dance and Gymnastics Instructors and even Mechanics and Machine Operators.


Wellness Spaces

The reason many people choose to become freelancers is that it allows them to curate their own lifestyle. Work/life balance is important to freelancers and that was evident during the Coworking Takeover Week with many holistic health practitioners participating.

You could even cowork with an on-site Psychic Medium!


Unexpected Spaces

Some of the most unique and creative coworking options resulted from entrepreneurial thinking during the Takeover Week. These are not coworking options that you are likely to see in urban areas.

We had Community Leaders like the United Way.

We had flower shops, coffee bars and even flower shop coffee bars.

We had coworking spaces where you could stay overnight!

Or consider taking your office with you!

A favourite coworking space was the funeral home — named Top Rated Vendor by coworkers in North Hastings.


Collaborations

Coworking Takeover Week was an opportunity for more than just space providers to participate — other professional service providers collaborated with coworking venues to offer training, workshops and presentations.


Services

Everyone got creative and found a way to support the freelance and remote workforce that’s developing. Services beyond the workspace included childcare, laundry, pet friendly environments, yoga breaks, escape room breaks and services specifically for women entrepreneurs.

Or how about a coworking space that provides you with work space and a pedicure at the same time?


What did it mean to the freelancers?


Every time we run this program I am inspired and reassured by the creative capacity that exists in our rural communities. My sincere hope is that participating communities get a taste of what’s possible and that they seek to repeat their success over and over again, building on what they started and generating momentum. Our programs are primers for future focused growth. They help to build the critical mass needed for transformative change. They are a beginning — not an end in itself.

The Rural on Purpose Coworking Takeover Challenge allows communities to take the blank slate of experience and expectation and create something unique (locally inspired and locally owned) — something beyond imitation — true rural innovation.

We’ve learned a great deal more from our cumulative rural freelancer data and will have some updated insight papers available soon.

We’re launching coworkrural.com as a place to help people find rural communities with coworking options. Vendors who decide to continue after the Coworking Takeover Week will be listed here along with others in rural communities around the world.

We want to make it easy for freelancers and remote workers to make the move to a rural community.

If your community is ready to grow and support their own freelancers and remote workers and would like to participate in one of our upcoming Challenges you can register at ruralonpurpose.com/challenge.

Mary Doyle

Written by

I build and pilot programs that support and promote entrepreneurship in rural communities. RuralOnPurpose.com

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