We’ve attended the first Coworking Unconference of Asia, organized by Hubud (The Hub in Ubud, Bali) as again, we have this privileged feeling to have witnessed something new, half-way between a tectonic, societal move and the birth of an ecosystem of organisations willing to innovate in a new field.

The event was co-organized by some of the biggest and most pioneering coworking spaces from South-East Asia, namely Comma (Indonesia), Hub Singapore (Singapore), Hubba (Thailand), Hub Australia (Australia).

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Attendees came from existing or upcoming coworking spaces, such as Colab (Philippines), 1961 and AngkorHub (Cambodia), Hub Dhaka (Bangladesh), Mingle (Mumbai, India), KoHub (Koh Lantah, Thailand), MAGIC (Malaysia) and an amazing gang from Bandung, Indonesia, which included Co & Co, Kolaborasi.

Special mention to the attendees from Aldeia Coworking (Brazil), Coconat (Berlin, Germany) and Avatech (Iran) for the long trip to Bali!

It was both the opportunity to get a better understanding of what the coworking culture is, and how it fits into the broader picture of the future of work.

 

Welcome to a smaller world governed by the power of many

As Grace Sai, co-founder of The Hub Singapore, shared in her introductory keynote, “technology and budget airlines have made the world smaller. As a result, there is more consciousness in the world. The current generation of leaders and doers are reversing the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs, aiming to self-actualize first and leaving a legacy from a young age”.

 

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Study from the late DeskWanted (data from 2011)

Companies need to integrate this reality, and coworking spaces are where this redefinition and recreation is made possible.

Brad Krauskopf from Hub Australia added this amazing figure, that today, “only 7% of the generation Y, born between 1980 and 2000 (they’re also called Millennials) is willing to work for a Fortune 500 company. By 2025, they will account for 75% of the workforce.”

If a recurring topic of the conference was how coworking spaces could strike partnerships with corporates to be financially more sustainable, it’s fair to add that how coworking spaces could help corporates adapt to the future of work was as relevant.

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Unconference: participants choose their topics, discuss them and try to find solutions

Coworking spaces have already begun to host part of the outsourced innovation from large companies. At the Hub Singapore, over two years, about 70 CEOs, mayors and ministers paid a visit to learn how to innovate faster through the help of collaborative communities.

Speakers hinted that the financial dilemma of most coworking spaces, who struggle to break even as their community are as growing as they are volatile (hence, creative), could be solved by governments and corporates paying more for the precious, innovative and cohesive matter coworking spaces are producing.

 

Prototyping in the city, and beyond?

The future of work and the role of coworking spaces would also have an impact on the way the public sector work, or rather, the way it shows limitation in an age of technology, transparency and mobility.

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Thought leaders with some style at the Coworking Unconference Asia 2015

Coworking spaces, their collaborative culture and their mindset of impacting their environment positively are an alternative to government owned or powered community centres, youth centres and other programs designed to produce more of the cohesive glue individual-centric societies tend to lose over time.

A few examples include:

  • The Hub Australia in Melbourne is partnering with PWC and the Government of South-Australia to fund $5K worth of space + mentoring of young, local “sparks” so that they can create their own job and company and not leaving the vicinity in a form of brain drain. So far, 75% of the sparks have been
  • Tribe Wanted in the UK helps burnt-out managers and corporates to retrieve energy and taste for life through retreats and collaborative programs, such as camps with no technology in forested areas of the UK or abroad.
  • Cowerks, based on the New Jersey seashore at Asbury Park, getting $240k funding from the state Economic Development Authority. The investment will go both to an expansion of the spaces and of the programs: As literacy in computer science and programming quickly becomes a basic requirement for tomorrow’s workforce, enrichment programs for young individuals is the surest way to make certain this core competency is met”.

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The Spark program at Hub Australia

In a nutshell, coworking spaces and community powered entities are now able to help solve local issues which government should solve, but may not have the agility, the resources and the political will to do so.

The combination of this trend with the new set of skills and attitudes our digital, mobile and fast economies require makes really sense, and offer to coworking spaces more than a legitimacy, with possibly a business model.

 

From the community to the company and the city: coworking spaces must go outside their boundaries

To do so, Alex Hillman, a community builder managing one of the best resource blog on this topic, suggested in a live Hangout from Philadelphia that coworking spaces, after having built a first solid base of community, ought to go the vast world, and outside their own comfort zone – the space they typically own and manage.

The coworking culture is still pretty new (the concept itself would have been crafted around 2005), and for newcomers from the corporate and government world, the spaces they grow is far from their skyscrapers, headquarters, cabinets and forums.

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Chatting with coworking god Alex Hillman under Bali’s Green School bamboo “town hall”

Alex Hillman made it clear: “Don’t try to get the corporates into your collaborative workspace, focus on where people are and help them create a new experience in their own place. Try to find where people have a hard time of finding each other and go help them”.

This advice was also acting as cautious about the temptation of “a coworking for X”, meaning the verticalisation of collaborative spaces, with, say, a coworking for women, one for tech startups, another one for the agribusiness…

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Unconferencing, and creating the future of work

So the topic of the future of work is pretty exciting, even more in Asia where young and dynamic population, lots of demographic, environmental and social issues to solve, and economic growth create a fertile ground for experimenting through collaboration.

A huge congrats to the organizing team from Hubud: Peter Wall, Steve Munroe, Sisie Muthia, and Vitto Christaldi.

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CUAsia 2015 participants collaborate under the eyes of a drone

For another view on community building in a different context, check out our visit of Zappos and its Downtown Project in Las Vegas. With $350m of real estate, startup and SME funding, it could well be a possible future for coworking spaces too.

CU in 2016 : )