Coworking communities create social capital and drive innovation through collaboration and by making connections.
While there are many definitions of coworking, it essentially refers to the concept of a workplace shared by a community of independent users or organisations that leverage social capital to create innovation and business opportunities. More than just a shared space or serviced office, coworking communities are focused on creating a network of mutually supportive relationships, connections and entrepreneurial opportunities among members.
In the current knowledge-based economy, there is a prevailing trend towards increased flexibility, mobility and autonomy of individual workers, supported by rapid technological innovation, especially developments with mobile devices and wireless networks. The emergence of coworking is a recent resulting opportunity that points the way towards the future of work.
For freelance workers and small start-up organisations, coworking communities provide a community of like-minded individuals and relief from isolation. For larger organisations, they provide an opportunity to access more dynamic, short-term, project-based skills and capabilities.
For local communities, coworking communities can help keep economic activity local, while for major cities, they are a mechanism to distribute work across a network of suburban, local communities – an inherently more sensible and sustainable use of public infrastructure than the daily commute to the city centre.
The HUB Network is a successful international network in this emerging global phenomenon, with locations across Europe, the United States, Asia and Australia. HUB Melbourne is a case study coworking community, established in 2011 with 140 members, and expanded in 2012 to now support 600 members.
The design of physical places plays a critical role in supporting successful coworking communities. The success of the community at HUB Melbourne is achieved through a range of mechanisms. Spaces must be authentic, welcoming, comfortable and meaningful for their members as they can only exist if people choose to pay to use them. With remote work steadily increasing, the value of desirable, meaningful places will only become more critical.
The HUB has been designed to ensure a deep and genuine sense of ownership by users. It has also been designed in such a way that it can easily be reconfigured, as fast as the speed of business. Technological support is also crucial, provided through a ‘bring-your-own-device’ model, where network access and high-cost elements form a basic framework for rapidly changing technology platforms provided by the users themselves.
Places can play a critical role in supporting communication, knowledge transfer and valuable new ideas, but they must be the right kind of places. Good design is part of getting them right.