Like the coworking industry itself, the Global Coworking Unconference Conference (GCUC – pronounced “juicy”) is expanding rapidly to new continents. The group announced an upcoming conference in Mexico City, in addition to the five already planned for 2018 in Sydney, London, Banff, Dubai and China (city TBA).
Last month, GCUC hosted its second consecutive conference in New York City, where our Occupant Experience team, and colleagues from New York, Los Angeles and the Philippines, mingled with a wide range of attendees from the coworking, finance, real estate and architecture professions. We saw three themes emerge across the three days of conversations:
1. Coworking at the Center of Public Health: As coworking membership grows rapidly around the world, operators increasingly have the power to impact the overall health of members. Liz Elam, the Founder of GCUC, announced that this year’s conference would officially emphasize health and wellness. Beyond the usual technology solution providers, such as essensys and Davinci, we also saw a number of furniture solutions providers marketing products such as flexible desks. Drawing from various research studies, Karen Quintana of the International WELL Building Institute highlighted how the decisions that coworking operators make — in selecting a space, engineering it, designing it, and programming it — matter from an occupant perspective. This conversation builds on my presentation at the 2016 conference in Los Angeles on multisensory design trends in coworking environments.
2. Financing the Future of Workplace Experiences: Investing in a healthy workplace is not cheap, but innovative strategies can be employed to finance coworking enhancements, from both the operator and member perspectives. A panel titled “Lovenotes to your Landlords and REITs,” which included our Los Angeles colleague Michael Nieman, discussed how operators can leverage landlord interest in coworking to get capital contributions in the form of financial vehicles such as joint venture partnerships. In a data-centric presentation, Carsten Foertsch of DeskMag reported his findings about the growth and profitability of coworking from his annual survey. Two data points stood out: 42% of coworking spaces globally are currently profitable and 38% of operators surveyed are planning to open a new location. On the membership side, we spoke with the startup Salaryo, which bills itself as the bank of coworking. In return for a monthly fee, Salaryo will cover the deposit and first three months of rent, lowering the barrier of entry to coworking membership and reducing risks that face coworking providers.
3. Keeping Up with Workforce & Workplace Change: The third theme was change. In a presentation called “The Gamers Grew Up: Adapting to the New Media Age,” Trisha Williams and Joseph Unger, co-founders of the game development company Pigeon Hole Productions, spoke about the modern workplace needs of the digital native. It was refreshing to hear the conversation about millennials reframed in terms of digital literacy and the virtual worlds in which they grew up.
Overall, it was clear that the coworking industry believes in its potential and its responsibility to continue to positively impact our communities, organizations and selves. We are looking forward to continuing this global conversation in London at GCUC, where I will participate on a panel about the intersection of corporate real estate and coworking.
Have questions about where coworking might fit in your commercial real estate strategy? Contact me at MMarsh@savills-studley.com.