Still bathing in the afterglow of GCUC UK, I’ve readjusted back to Pacific time and have had a few days to let my London coworking experience steep.
Here are 22 thoughts, a-ha’s and takeaways from GCUC UK 2019:
1. The best part of GCUC—no matter where it is—is the people. The agenda provides structure, but the magic happens in the connections and conversations.
2. The best data is humanized. What’s the story that goes along with the coworking numbers? That’s where the good stuff is.
3. I’m getting pretty good with the fork-in-left-hand thing.
4. The most courageous people are the ones who are willing to talk openly about their challenges and shortcomings. This happened a few times from stage and every time it did, you could feel the audience sit up and tune in.
5. If you’re focused on creating a community coworking space, fantastic! If you’re focused on creating a community coworking space and ignoring the business aspect, you’re in trouble. Competition is coming and they know how to run profitable, sustainable businesses full of everything your members—and potential members—need to level-up their businesses. If community is the only thing you offer, there are far easier ways to bring people together than to run a coworking space.
6. Shazia Mustafa from Third Door is the real deal. Shazia and I have connected several times for interviews and a recent episode of the Coworking Out Loud Podcast. We met briefly at GCUC UK last year, but this year I had the privilege and pleasure of having numerous conversations (and laughs) with her about the absolute necessity of having diverse voices and perspectives represented whenever and wherever possible; shared concerns about well-meaning space operators having to close their doors because they don’t have the financial piece of the business figured out; the subtle differences in regional English accents (and my California accent); and so much more.
7. A VIP dinner in London was far less intimidating—and more enjoyable—than I made it out to be in my mind. Highlights of the evening: talking about belonging, the humanness of coworking, and being brave enough to be real, with Tom Ball from Desklodge; and (finally) connecting in real life with Kathryn O’Callahan Mills from Area about music, color and London’s endless opportunities for discovery.
8. It’s time to let go of the false polarity between community coworking and scaled workspace brands.
9. Coworking has little to do with your vision and everything to do with creating a space that works for your members. Different members want different things. Figure out who you serve and serve them well. I recently shared a thread on this.
10. The world is a very big place. People are doing amazing work everywhere. Highlights of my connections this year: talking with Abdullah BinSabbar from 67 | 22 about his workspace in Saudi Arabia; meeting the team from Outwork who have plans to convert a barn in Kent into a coworking space and in the meantime are running pop-up coworking out of pubs and other places; hearing about the rise of coliving projects in Mexico, Paris and beyond; and a woman partnering with her local council on a multi-faceted coworking space/entrepreneurial ecosystem.
11. Coworking flatmates are the best flatmates. Going home each night to catch up with my friends and collaborators Karina Patel and Tracy Wilson from CloudVO and Pacific Workplaces created a temporary home away from home. We chatted about coworking, the conference, marketing, must-meet people and must-do things. Plus, they helped me navigate the city and Underground like a pro. It was an unforgettable experience.
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12. GCUC UK has an opportunity to champion diversity. This was a hot topic of conversation in my circles before the conference, during the conference and after the conference. People on-stage were mostly white and mostly male. Participants were mostly white. London is an international city and coworking is a global movement and industry. GCUC UK could reflect that. There are really exciting things happening around social justice, collaborating with local governments and educational facilities, creating truly inclusive spaces that foster innovation and new ways of being, boundary-pushing sustainability projects, the power of collaboration within coworking spaces, rural and small town coworking, reimagining churches and historic buildings as coworking spaces, and more. There’s room for more of these conversations at GCUC UK. A coworking operator doesn’t have to run a workspace empire to have really valuable ideas and strategies to share. There’s an opportunity here to be an epicenter for the global coworking movement and a workspace industry that truly serves members and communities.
13. Instant coffee is…doable. It’s a thing in England, so I played along. But…
14. The best latte I’ve ever had was the result of wandering around London’s maze-like streets and randomly finding Prufrock Coffee, which doubles as a barista training center. My instant coffee was tossed when I discovered this treasure.
15. Brunching in an amazing London loft that was converted from a building with a rich history with Barbara and Ken from Satellite Deskworks—and their British family members—gave me a glimpse into real life in (and around) the city. It was a delightful way to spend a Sunday morning. Our Deskworks headquarters are in the redwoods of Northern California so it was a fun adventure to meet and visit in the UK.
16. London lights up my soul. I’m not sure if it’s a genetic thing (My family is English and French), a past life thing (Those streets are really familiar), or just because it’s an absolutely magical place brimming with history and culture (It is). But it suits me quite nicely. I could have stayed a year.
17. A one-dimensional focus on commercial real estate is not coworking. It’s really just not. The most fabulous spaces in the world are not sustainable if people don’t want to be in them. And people want to be in spaces where we feel a sense of belonging. Office rental and nice buildings are nothing new. If you’re trying to transform a building into a coworking space, find—and share—the humanness of your project. No amenities in the world can replace the sense of belonging that coworking promises.
18. Nightly exploits around London eateries with my friends and GCUC masterminds Liz Elam and Stormy McBride provided a whirlwind tour of the city and some of its neighborhoods. We experienced sky-high views from the banks of the Thames, intimate meals in tiny, historic rooms, and everything in-between.
19. Jet lag is real. Those homeopathic tablets helped a lot with physical symptoms, but I spent several nights staring at the ceiling at 3 am.
20. One morning I stumbled onto St. John’s Gate, which was built in the 1100s and rebuilt in 1505. There it was, nestled among the restaurants and shops. This type of living history will never cease to amaze me.
21. Life is grand. And hard, and beautiful. While waiting for my flight from Heathrow back to San Jose, California I put on Van Morrison’s “Whenever God Shines His Light” and may have teared up at the beauty of it all. A few years ago, I could never have imagined this life for myself. But here we are. I tweeted this through misty eyes:
It’s not over there.
It’s right here.
It’s right now.
It’s in the joy, heartache, beauty, grief and elation.
It’s in a favorite song, shared laughter, food with friends, a crowded airport and sleepless nights.
Don’t wait. This is it.
22. GCUC UK is a highlight of my year. Last year I hardly knew anyone—this year I reconnected with lots of people, deepened friendships and sparked several more. This is the magic of GCUC. My understanding of the workspace industry and where all of this is going was catapulted forward when I joined the GCUC UK community. The London workspace scene is mature, forward-thinking and very exciting.
Thanks for the memories and adventure, Tim, Vanessa, Justin, Liz, Stormy and the rest of the GCUC UK team. I’m counting the days until next year.
Indie coworking space operators
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