Note: The following is from this week’s edition of the Coworking Out Loud Newsletter. I’ve received such an enthusiastic response to it that I decided to republish it here.
Well, GCUC NYC happened and, as expected, it was outstanding.
My head is still spinning from all the ideas and connections from the conference. My heart is soaring because I got to hang out with a bunch of my favorite people, all in the same space, for days on end. I count my blessings to be part of such an open, diverse, future-forward, fun, cool, global community.
I moderated a panel on coworking in the future city that went well, and the content marketing unconference session, which is always a treasure trove of ideas and sharing, did not disappoint. I think it was the largest marketing breakout session yet. When the hive mind gets together to share tips and ideas, we can get the room buzzing.
The GCUC Elephant in the Room
For those of you who might be a bit….um….concerned…or puzzled…or stressed about some of the stuff you heard at GCUC, I want to address the elephant in the room.
There are two things happening at the same time at GCUC. One one side, you have huge money real estate people who talk about 300 million dollar projects and how 10 million dollars is a small amount of funding. They work at scale and—nothing against them—what they’re talking about doesn’t much resemble coworking as you and I might know it. They’re the folks who will ride this workspace wave until the next big thing comes along then move on.
On the other hand, a lot of people at GCUC are sole owner/operators who run spaces with a small team. They focus on community, connection, supporting underserved entrepreneurs, strengthening their town’s professional ecosystem, being part of a vibrant neighborhood, and providing access to shared amenities and other humans.
The divide between these two groups feels huge.
During the real estate moments of GCUC, my phone and Twitter were blowing up with confused, annoyed friends and space operators trying to figure out WTF the speakers were talking about and how it has anything to do with coworking.
To be honest, I’m not sure—other than the fact that there’s a shared workspace industry on the rise and, as happens with money-generating things on the rise, people get into global domination mindset.
It’s not coworky, it feels like community as a commodity, and it’s not my jam.
It might not be your jam either.
And that’s ok because, as Steve King from Emergent Research likes to remind me, this is a barbell industry. At one end are lots of big money players, consolidated brands (We’ll see more of those in the next few years.), and big commercial real estate projects fronting as coworking spaces.
On the other side of the barbell, we have small, independent, community-focused coworking spaces.
Coworking and Coffee
Think of it like the coffee industry. One one side, you have Folgers and Maxwell House and Starbucks. On the other side, you have countless local, craft coffee roasters in towns and cities all over the world carefully making coffee for their local community at human scale.
Personally, I’ll walk past three Starbucks locations to get to a good local coffee roaster.
The successful craft coffee folks aren’t freaking out about Starbucks and Folgers. They’re focused on their craft, their products, their customers, the experience they offer, their brand, their outreach, their content, and engaging in their communities.
Don’t get scared off by big money shared workspaces. They’re here and we’re going to see lots more of them in coming years. Big money chases whatever is hot and the workspace industry is hot right now. Those folks are here and they’re not going away.
But small, independent spaces with a solid business backbone and a strong focus on what their members and community want are here too. And I assure you, the big money folks are trying to figure out how the hell to grow an amazing, connected, mutually-supportive community. Because they can’t buy that.
Don’t get caught up in the chatter of billion dollar valuations and all that. That has nothing to do with most space operators who are on the other side of the barbell. There’s plenty of room for everyone and, as with a good local coffee shop, a good local coworking space is far more appealing than big box coworking to a lot of us.
I saw eyes glazed over or rolling repeatedly during some of the real estate programming. But the real estate folks are now part of this industry. They just are.
But did you catch Angel’s talk? The one where she brought the heart of coworking out from the shadows to the center of the conversation? The one where she focused on connection and human-scale coworking? The one where she was honest and vulnerable? She brought the truth about this life-changing movement and the room erupted in shouts and hollers and fuck yeahs.
She got a standing ovation.
It was glorious, and real, and human.
Don’t forget that moment.
You do you. Take care of your business, take care of your people, make your space better every day, and make sure your members and community are your priority. The best coworking communities could thrive in any space because, in the end, coworking—real coworking—has very little to do with the spaces and everything to do with the human connections formed within them.
To wrap back to my love for GCUC, I’m definitely one of the people whose eyes glaze over during the billion dollar talks. But I try to embrace that aspect of the conference because all that big money supports the conference and the conference is where all the coworking legends go to chat, share, connect, swap stories and get in-person time.
GCUC is also a space where we talk about diversity, and being more neighborly, and supporting underserved segments of our communities, and how to better connect with each other inside coworking spaces and outside of them. We get to meet and solve problems and create plans for the future of work. It’s fantastic.
GCUC is a highlight of my year every year. I have a great deal of respect and appreciation for my friend and GCUC executive producer Liz Elam. She creates this magnificent thing and holds the space for all of us to make lasting friendships, to learn, to connect and to share.
GCUC is, at its essence, very coworky. You just have to find what works for you, leave the rest, and embrace the conference as a wonderful, complex, multi-dimensional thing that reflects the coworking movement and workspace industry as a whole.
What do you think of all this? What was your experience at GCUC? Hit reply and let me know.
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