In an abandoned airport hangar (now home to the National Airline History Museum), over 300 people from across the globe gathered for the Global Coworking Unconference Conference (better known as GCUC). This year marked the first time the conference was held in a new city, moving away from it’s Austin, Texas roots. Kansas City, Missouri was a great choice. The city has taken shape over the last few years and has reinvented itself as a thriving art and startup scene. Many businesses have reclaimed old buildings in an area of Kansas City called the Crossroad. The city has helped by promoting the first Friday of each month as a local favorite with galleries and shops remaining open later in the evening. We were lucky enough to be down in that area and it was great to see thousands of people enjoying what the city had to offer.This was my first time at GCUC and my goal was simple: to learn as much as I could about people’s spaces. As part of the Robin crew, it was easy to stand out since we were one of only a handful of software companies in the room. The event kicked off with people bingo as an icebreaker. We were instructed to meet people who could sign-off on one of the attitudes on our card. This provided a great opportunity to listen to the stories coming from coworking spaces. I soon realized that with over 40 spaces represented, each one had a unique story to tell. We were soon making friends by asking them questions like “did they eat BBQ in the last 12 hours, who had gotten drunk with coworkers, and if it was their first time in Kansas City”. Full disclosure: I’m guilty of all of them.
The icebreaker set the tone for the conference. I was told by someone that Google uses this same one at all their conferences to get people active. It certainly did the trick.
The rest of the first day was filled with panels and presenters ranging from Steve King from Emergent Research who gave the crowd an update on coworking trends (his forecast has 1 million coworking members worldwide by 2018) to growth models from experts who operate small to large spaces. If you’re interested in reading about our take on the panels, you can find them here.
The first day ended with happy hour and an organized effort to catch a ride to dinner. Kansas City’s reputation as a BBQ heaven didn’t disappoint. My fave? Fiorella’s Jack’s Stack Barbecue.
Day two was focused on the unconference part of the event. If you’ve never been to an unconference before, let me explain. Attendees vote on topics proposed by other attendees to create the agenda on the spot. An unconference helps to take a step deeper into topics that would otherwise not be covered in a larger panel. We were fascinated to hear people share their stories about the struggles and successes with opening spaces, maintaining a community and creating different revenue models. There was even a lengthy discussion about how to keep out a**holes from becoming members! The secret? Trust your current members to help these people self-select that they are not a good fit.
The one thing that stood out to me during the sessions was the amount of information and knowledge these space owners were willing to share. They don’t see each other as competitors because coworking spaces bring something different to the community. As Colin Loretz from Reno Collective explained, “If someone walks in looking for a private office and fax machine, I know where to send them in town. We don’t have either so it’s not a fit”.
The day ended with GCUC organizer Liz Elam from Link Coworking leading people out of the venue via a conga line. Easily the best way I’ve ever seen to get people to leave. We promise no robots were harmed during the precession (see picture on the right).
The lasting takeaway as I boarded my plane back to Boston was how coworking accelerates the creation of strong communities. The idea of shared office space has been around for a while but the key innovation of today’s coworking movement is to build a community within these spaces. This is driven by a new generation of early-adopters and startups. In turn, this has become a change-agent for the mainstream as traditional companies are beginning to embrace the ideals of coworking by redesigning their offices and rethinking digital experiences in hopes of attracting a new wave of employees. We are truly seeing the evolution of work unfold in front of our eyes.
At Robin, we are super-excited to work with this group of pioneers to help better understand their spaces, connect with employees, and foster vibrant communities.