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Piotr Boulangé:How understanding coworking’s history might help us predict the future of work

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For this episode of the Coworking Values Podcast, we are back with our host Bernie J Mitchell talking with Piotr Boulangé. 

Piotr is the Founder and CEO of Multi Cowork, Director of Founder Institute Warsawand a Coworking Expert. He has worked for and advised both corporate businesses and start-ups.
 
Bernie and Piotr will be talking about how crucial is to understand the history of coworking and how it can help predict the future of work. 
 

Highlights from the podcast:

 

– The socialisation part of coworking is quite crucial. And there isn’t much you can do about it. Because that is the main aspect of the Coworking. And you may say that the serendipity effect, or simply having your creativity develop, is a byproduct of it. Because when you meet so many different people and discuss your ideas, projects, or whatever you’re doing, you constantly receive feedback from them, which gets you right back on track and tells you hey, there’s something wrong with it, or hey, this is wonderful. And you should redo it or reconsider it. How to do it once more. But, you know, that was the beginning of the Coworking. To be honest, I missed it as well. Because right now, when I go to the big Coworking space or have a desk purchased by one of my clients, I just sit down and work, and I don’t have a lot of time to socialise. There’s also the COVID impact to consider. But, yes, I miss those moments as well. (6.44)

 

– We know in the past that Coworking was created by Freelancers for other Freelancers. Currently, businesses that use coworking spaces for their employees are gradually taking over. Coworking spaces will be largely used by corporations in the future, or firms will make their offices look like coworking spaces to attract employees.

So, coworking is losing its creative edge. But that doesn’t make it bad. I’m only stating that we have to deal with the changes that are coming and that the only thing that remains from the original Coworking is the location.

So it was because, like a Coworking place, you choose a certain location. You still have socialisation, so you meet other individuals, which leads to serendipity, chaos, and innovation.

The future of coworking will be figuring out how to combine the corporate and creative sectors without making it tough. (12.23)

 

– This is just one of my predictions for the future. Coworking spaces are an effective HR strategy for most businesses since individuals have learned over the last two years that they do not need to travel to work for the firm to succeed.

The bosses’ sources notice it too, but I suppose they are afraid of the consequences if they don’t. So, I believe that coworking is a good choice for people who don’t want to drive two hours each way to work but still want to feel professional. And, for the most part, their employers will learn that working from a coworking space is both a business and a playful atmosphere. It may also be simple, but that’s a wish.

However, I believe this strategy could be effective, especially for the people who are recovering after COVID isolation. And I see a lot of them who could use a nice, environmental social space where they could, you know, kind of tiptoe around the official business strain. (20.40)

powered by Sounder

Zeljko Crnjaković  0:07  

This episode is brought to you by the European Coworking Assembly. We are everything coworking Europe. If you head to the Coworking Assembly website you can connect with our Rural Coworking, European Freelancers’ Week. Coworking Symposium, Coworking Library and Cowork Tools.

 

Bernie J Mitchel  0:26  

Hello ladies and gentlemen and welcome to today’s episode of the Coworking Values podcast, which is the podcast of the European Coworking Assembly, and in the studio today, we have Piotr. So, what are you known for? And what would you like to be known for?

 

Piotr Boulangé  0:54  

Okay, so I’m known in Poland, at least for being one of the faces of the coworking industry, or maybe. I don’t want to say the face but I’m one of the few people who’s been in this business for over a decade. And I’d like to say, for a guy who not only knows about coworking but also helps to introduce coworking to the broader audience, especially in the business audience and trying to show the people how to use coworking in their benefit to make sure that their work productivity and creativity is blossoming.

 

Bernie J Mitchel  1:33  

That’s nice. So, I pulled you in here today because I noticed on The Research Group for Collaborative Spaces Symposium, you were talking about how to look at the past of coworking to help predict the future, so can you set the scene a little bit?

 

Piotr Boulangé  2:05  

 So, for the people who are new to coworking or maybe didn’t explore the subject as much as I did. I think it’s very important that when we are defining, especially new trends, new ideas, we try to figure out how did we came upon them. Where did they start? And in coworking, in my opinion it is very important to remember that it started as an answer to creative people’s problem when they were working at home and back then when coworking was starting. 

So, it was like the 1990s, the new class called the creative class. Right? We call them freelancers or the solopreneurs. But back then, the creative class had a very hard problem because they were on the outskirts of the regular labor market because they were the people who were in full time employment by any corporation or clients. They will just come in every now and then to meet the clients and then receive the jobs that they had to do and then do them on their own. And usually, they were doing that at home. And one of those freelancers was called brother but decided that he’s fed up with working alone, and he created a space which was called Ramos. And he said to other freelancing friends of his that, Hey guys, I’m doing I’m renting out this house. Let’s meet once a week. So, we can have the feeling of working together of having other people around. But let’s keep on working on our regular stuff. And this is actually the beginning of the cloaking, and I believe that for many, many years, it was the core of the coworking industry in the business. And the majority of the co working spaces usually were quite small spaces. And they started off either being greenhouses, small houses, or maybe small apartments thrown into the offices. And for many years, this is how the business was developing. 

Then big players started coming into the coworking industry. And they started to change how the coworking businesses look like. So today when you say to anybody about the coworking space, the majority of the people probably don’t think about the small local buildings changing to the offices, but they will think about molecule big office spaces, where are just nicer office spaces. And right now, we have big chains of coworking. Global marks local marks, and this is actually what changed over the decades. So, the coworking group from the very small places into  very big international corporations. So, this is setting up the background you have to start burning enough something else.

 

Bernie J Mitchel  4:59  

So, as you’re talking, I’m thinking  and listening because that’s how I really got started working in coworking. I worked in a coworking space called The Innovation Warehouse in 2010 in London, and I discovered coworking with Tony Batcher gloopy  when I joined Meetup in 2008. And I saw what he was doing in cities. I didn’t know what it was. But I looked at it and was like, oh my god that’s what I want to do, isn’t it? And probably if  I’d been smart then I would have opened a coworking space. And, you know, I would have opened a coworking space and I would have been one of the first coworking spaces in China, but I didn’t know anything about real estate. I didn’t really know anything about business. So that’s where we were but then a bit later on about 2011/2012, I joined a group meetup for Freelancers called Kindred and we met in a different coworking space every day. 

So, it was and that’s how I got to know so many coworking spaces in London and it was exactly those people, it was a group of people who had nowhere to go or didn’t want to work at home for all the lack of connection and mental health issues. And  now I’m so into it. I missed that running into town to go to a coworking space with a little gang of people that we went to a different place every day. It was a lovely feeling and one of my fondest coworking memories and then when we just went out with any groups of people. I actually find it more fun running to a coworking space and sitting around a table with a group of people than I do being a member of a coworking space. And I know you’re not supposed to say that out loud, but it is the getting together and doing stuff together that I really enjoy.

 

Piotr Boulangé  7:08  

Yeah, that socialization aspect of the coworking is very important. There is actually nothing you can do about it. Because that’s the key feature of coworking. You can say that the byproduct of that is the serendipity effect, or just getting your creativity blossoming. Because like when we encounter so many different people, and you talk about your ideas or projects or whatever you’re doing, you always get feedback from them, which puts you right back on the track and tells you hey, something’s wrong with it, or hey, this is amazing, and you should redo it or rethink about it. How to perform it once more. But yeah, but that was the beginning of the coworking and to be honest I also miss it because right now usually when I go to the big coworking space where I’m bought by my clients. I just sit down, and work and I don’t have that much time to socialize. And of course, there’s also the COVID effect but I miss those times as well, Bernie. 

 

Bernie J Mitchel  8:12  

I think it’s a personal thing. There’s this fine line between your coworking space being an office and your coworking space being that lovely gooey community feeling and because when one has, probably non-stop for the last eight years, I’ve been a member of a coworking space to  different spaces in London. And almost like a even though that is definitely the most productive place to want to be. When I ended up going to the same place every day. I felt like I do in this place here. I feel this thing, I’m not a part of a community even though I love this place. 

 

Piotr Boulangé  9:01  

Are you using that coworking space as a separate office or do have your dedicated desk or maybe you’re using some open space?

 

Bernie J Mitchel  9:12  

I have a separate office that I share with someone else I met in a coworking space.

 

Piotr Boulangé  9:17  

And this is the difference I’m talking about in my presentation. Because the old coworking that we are missing, Bernie, is the action like the open space where you just met other people, drank coffee, heard the coffee machine noises around you. And this was the core of the basic coworking spaces. What has changed with the bigger companies coming in is that they have introduced the flexible offices or the shared offices, virtual offices depending on the country but they’re a little different but the coworking today are actually those reception areas with the open space surrounded by the closed offices. And this is the biggest difference right now because you don’t have that many freelancers in the entire coworking space. But you have the percentage of employees has grown dramatically in the past couple of years. And in my opinion, this is the biggest change that is impacting the entire industry. Because when you have freelancers, the freelancers had something which you call independence or freewill which made them decide okay, today I want to go to the coworking space. And they had their inner flexibility which told them okay, today I’ll go to work at 11am and if I have a good feeling I’ll stay there until 11pm. But on the other hand, when you have the full-time employees employed by the companies, it’s usual that they lose their flexibility and independence in choosing their work place and work time. 

And this is actually changing the coworking industry a lot in my opinion, because right now you have those people who are forced by the employers to go to the specific place and to work from specific hours usually from 9:30am till five or six and it’s also killing the creativity and the flow because like I don’t know how much you know about the flow or being in the zone but once you get in it, you want to stay in that space as long as possible. Because if you lose it, there is no guarantee you will get back to it the next day at 9am when you go back to work, right? So being the freelancer allowed you maybe to work 24 hours, but then you could rest how much you like, whilst when you’re an employee, you have to go to the office and be there from nine to five and it doesn’t matter if you had a flow, at six you have to leave and come back another day and pretend you still have the flow and explore yourself.

 

Bernie J Mitchel  12:02  

When you said I feel like going there at 11 and staying there till 1pm, that happens. Even nowadays that happens a lot. 

 

Piotr Boulangé  12:12  

Yeah, that’s what distinguishes the coworking space from the previous ones than right now. The creatives owned the space by the habit, by the way that they work, by the routines. And today’s offices are more like business offices than just coworking spaces that they use.

 

Bernie J Mitchel  12:38  

I’m intrigued by this, like how do we look to the past to predict the future  for coworking?

 

Piotr Boulangé  13:00  

What I’m saying about looking in the past to predict the future is that in the past, we knew that coworking was created by freelancers or other freelancers. Currently, you’ll see that because more and more spaces are being overtaken by the corporations who are using them for their employees. So, in my opinion, the future of the coworking industry will be that majority of  coworking spaces will be used by the corporation or the corporations who will make their offices look like the coworking spaces and try to put them this thing of what we call the creative, a little more interesting for employees. So, what I’m saying is just that coworking is losing its creativity. But it doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. I’m just saying that we have to cope with the changes that are coming and when you look at the changes which are coming into the market, I think we have to remember that actually what stays from the old coworking is the place. So, because like when you go to the coworking choosing a specific place. You still have the socialization, so you meet other people and because of that socialization, you get this serendipity, creative nudge a little bit. And I think that in the future, coworking spaces operators will have to figure out how to combine the two worlds, how to make both the corporate and the creative world work together in one space without being problematic. 

For example, in one of the spaces I was in, have the habit that like sometimes I was walking barefoot on the floor, move the carpet in the space and on the other hand, there were the people from the corporate or from the business or working all the time in the in the business shoes in the in their suits, business shirts in their ties, and they really didn’t like that there was somebody who was working the t shirt and the subsequent offices. So, you’re like, this might sound funny, but actually I think those small things were will be the things that will have to be taken over by the colloquium staff in the future to make sure that everyone feels good there and that everyone wants to come to that space, even though it’s very diverse part.

 

Bernie J Mitchel  15:41  

I think people do this thing in business where they act like they think they should be businessy. And I just met and read and followed so many people that confuse being professional with being a being businessy. And they think oh, this is what a professional businesses place looks like. And actually, that professional businesses space is the sort of corporate cubicle office factory thing that everyone kind of hates, but they slip back into this old paradigm of like, when I grow up, like you know in our company, when we grow up, we’ll get lots of floors, and we’ll have lots of people working in cubicles, because that’s what I think a business place looks like. 

 

Piotr Boulangé  16:38  

It’s one of the attributes of business life so like if you want to be a business professional, you have to dress in suit of a tie, wear a shirt, you know, wear specific shoes, etc. Then when you grow up, you feel that if you’re not doing this, you’re not professional. On the other hand, I think that our generation is the generation that can change that I’m for example, from a generation of people who are making jobs that when you look at person in the inner suit, it’s as you think of a successful person until you realize that the person works for somebody in the t-shirt or a blouse, right. So those kinds of jokes and making the business a little less official, I think, will change the industry.

 

Bernie J Mitchel  17:28  

Because there’s always that confusion between creative people. It’s not many creative people I know that walk around in a polyester suit and a tie. They kind of wear what they’re relaxed in and I know a lot of people who don’t really pay much attention to how they look. They don’t look scruffy and disgusting but they just put on what’s nearest, like jeans and a T-shirt because they don’t have to think about it because all their mental energy is on how they’re going to build this thing or create this thing or talk to these people.

 

Piotr Boulangé  18:10  

Agree with you and this is kind of like my lifestyle on the other hand I understand the businesspeople because usually by working for somebody they represent not only themselves in contrast to the to the freelancer, but they also represent the brand that stands behind them as their employers. I think even though we might not like it that much I think we have to be respectful of that. And we have to understand that if a banker comes, because he’s from this big international bank, he wants to make sure that people treat him seriously and on the other hand, for his supervisors, it’s just like showing the respect to the company or to the customer. So, there are different aspects of that, but I feel a lot better in the entrepreneur creative life and that’s why I chose it and that’s why I’m working in the coworking spaces for over a  decade right now and I don’t feel like going back to the office.

 

Bernie J Mitchel  19:10  

I’ve got two examples there about feet. So, you said about walking around barefoot there’s Sanjay, who is an accountant here in our building, So his team is like 20 people. And he walks around barefoot all day, which I really appreciate. And then Professor Brandy Brown from the University of Texas, she studies shame and vulnerability and now she’s just grown in the last decade. She’s grown hugely after her TED Talk and publishing a lot of books. And she tells a story about when she was talking at a business conference about being authentic and shame and vulnerability and bringing your whole self to work. And the people that had hired her said you have to wear shoes. So, she was about to put her shoes on before she went on stage, and she felt really uncomfortable. And then she just went on stage in her clogs because her whole thing was like how can I talk to people about being myself when I’m not going to be myself? Why am I changing myself to fit in? And it’s not like she was doing anything offensive. She just dived into being herself and that’s the kind of spirit I really value.

 

Piotr Boulangé  20:37  

Yeah, but you have to understand not everybody feels good in that role. There are a majority of people who just like other people to tell them what to wear, how to behave. They feel good in that situation.

 

Bernie J Mitchel  20:50  

There’s some so what are the last pointers we are looking for?

 

Piotr Boulangé  21:03  

Well, I think we’re just dreaming about how this might look and one of the opinions in the way I expect the future will change and I think that the pandemic has accelerated this change is that the coworking spaces might be used as a very good HR strategy for majority of the companies. Because people for the past two years have learned that they don’t have to go to the office in order for the company to survive. The boss has also seen that, but I think they’re afraid that if they don’t overall look at the people that people don’t work. 

So, I think that the coworking option might actually be quite a healthy solution for that problem of making people love to  commute two hours each way to work, and on the other hand, feel like they’re still in the business environment. And last, their employers will find out that working from a coworking space is not just working from a playground, but it’s actually working from a business environment. It might also be easy, but it’s maybe more of my hopes than predictions. But I really think that this kind of a solution might be useful especially for the people who are recovering after COVID isolation. And I see many of them that could really use some friendly environmental social space in which they could go on their tiptoes a little bit, inside, outside, that they wouldn’t feel that much professional business stress around them.

 

Bernie J Mitchel  22:50  

I feel that I can see that happening in London already. And that is my big hope as well. I was talking to someone from the local authority here in London where we’re based and there’s some local authorities which is like the municipality or the government who are really very forward-thinking even before COVID, about encouraging open shared workspaces and what we call coworking and how that would really benefit the local community. And everything that goes with that conversation that both you and I are on the same page about and then other local authorities are kind of missing that they haven’t taken the initiative to instigate any shared workspaces or coworking spaces where they are like you know where I am and what will happen is people will then start going back into the city and back into London, not because they want to. 

Because one of the things that’s come out of a lot of research around COVID and how we work is people like going to work but they don’t like going on a commute and because there’s no way really in where I am in Redbridge in London. People will just go to work how they used to because there’s nothing else, so if local areas offer places either privately or run by the government offer places for people to work, they’ll stay there. And when people stay in the local area, there’s acres of research that people stay in the local area. The economy thrives because we’re spending our money with our local area. 

 

Piotr Boulangé  24:34  

I agree that there’s a problem on this corporate management level or on the city government governance level and in my opinion, they’re responsible for that is the like, when you say about this maybe not urban myths, but actually those two biases that the coworking has on itself. And the first bias is that the co working space is for the startups. And the second bias is that the startups are usually done by young people who are usually students or right after university. Where in reality, like when you go to the coworking spaces, there aren’t that many startups doing their business. And second of all, the majority of the co-workers are people in their late 30s. 

And I think those are the two things that should come to our attention to the decision makers that the coworking spaces are usually occupied by people who are professionals in their businesses. It doesn’t matter that the business is created but there are professionals either in computer software, in graphic design, in accounting in screenwriting, etc. There are actually no younger kids in the coworking areas, and I think that this should be the voice that should be heard by the decision makers.

 

Bernie J Mitchel  26:01  

That’s a big part of what we’re talking about, is educating people about coworking and shared workspace. In London out of all the conversations we’ve had with everybody who’s connected to what we’re doing, whether it’s space owners in the London Coworking Assembly or its software companies in the local coworking assembly that a lot of people from the local authority are educating people. 

 

Piotr Boulangé  26:38  

You have a point though. We Work was such a good brand which had a good PR that right now for majority of the people that coworking is what was inside We Work, and companies like We Work , that is what people imagined when they think about coworking.

 

Bernie J Mitchel  27:23  

Which is like thinking of a restaurant and thinking of TGI Fridays, but it’s an education piece that we need to work on as an industry in a community to let people know that this is available for you because it’s a great thing. So where is the best place to find you online or track you down or have a coffee with you?

 

Piotr Boulangé  27:45  

Coffee probably the best place would be Warsaw, majority of the time I spend here right now but sometimes I’m also traveling to other cities. The second-best place virtual I think would be LinkedIn. Just find me on LinkedIn or email me.

 

Bernie J Mitchel  28:06  

We’ll put a link to your LinkedIn profile, which I linked too many times in the show notes. Okay. Thank you very much for your time today. I would love to keep on talking but we got to go. I’m looking forward to seeing you in London. Ladies Gentlemen, thank you for your time and attention today if you go to coworkingassembly.eu, you’ll find a podcast, so you’ll find our blog content that comes out every week. And also, there’s a newsletter there where we send you news about events and projects, or projects we are organizing or taking part in or supporting and that includes things from the German Coworking Federation, Coworking Spain, Coworking Europe, and Research Group for Collaborative Spaces. And of course, everyone’s favorite library, the Coworking Library. So take care of yourself. Be careful out there, it is a jungle.

 

Piotr Boulangé  29:01  

Thank you very much. Bye.




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